Gusts of air wafted at me from the row of seats a few yards away. I held my breath and assessed the large man in his late fifties surrounded by plastic bags of his belongings and a child’s backpack. My internal storyteller instantly compiled a possible scenario of how this man ended up sprawled on a row of benches in the Phoenix Greyhound Bus station at 1:30 am. I continued to hold my breathe trying to avoid his fanned air and returned to the final pages of my book. Thirty minutes later, I stood up to stretch a little bit and apparently that proved to open the floodgates from the man in front of me.
“Are you married, How old are you?” Just as before on the Amtrak when JoMamma graced me with her presence, I slowly removed my ear buds and implied that I was really involved in my music– to no avail.
“No- you’re in your 30s and not married, how is that so? Will you marry me? No, seriously. Marry me. I get a check from the government each month. That’s why I’m here in Phoenix, I have to go to Bank of America and pick it up. I got that Bank of America in my pocket. I’m serious. I can make you happy, marry me. Give me your number. Really. We can go somewhere. I work the carnivals, run the rides. I’ll make you happy, you’re really not married?”
“What do you do? Oh, you’re a writer?” I began creating my make-believe persona for him and shared fictitious details. “Really, I’ve got a story for you, I’ve got a big story. Its huge, if people knew what I knew, well, they wouldn’t know what to do, its huge. If people knew. I don’t know what they’d do. But I’ve got a story. A big one, a real big story. You’d be famous, really famous, a huge writer.
At this point, I just started slowly trying to figure out my exit strategy. I looked at the woman behind me, maybe I could just start talking to her and then walk away from the crazy conversation. She was having none of it. No eye contact, no acknowledgment that I was even standing in front of her.
“I used to work the carnival in Virginia, and Washington, and Portland, and California, I ran the rides. I can get you a job at the ticket booth. I’m friends with the owners, the millionaire owners. They like me alot and let me work the rides at lots of their carnivals. My cousin is a hair dresser in DC, he does wigs and stuff, do you need a wig, no, you don’t need a wig, you have nice hair. He could style your hair for you, I can set that up, won’t charge you anything. DC is great, I used to work at Tyson Chicken in Richmond, VA. Do you eat Tyson chicken? Can I get your number, I have a huge story, if people knew what I knew, I’m smart, people don’t think so, but I’m smart. If people knew, boy, what they would do if they knew I knew. Its a huge story. You’d be famous. A real famous writer, the most famous writer in the world, if you knew what I knew.”
For twenty minutes or longer, Carnie Fred spat out different variations of these statements. At this point he was getting a little agitated by what he knew and what people would do if they knew what he knew and a little too excited, so I figured now was the time to politely make an excuse to get to the other side of the station. He would almost instantly forget this transaction, so just sitting on the other side of the room was not a big deal.
“I have to go make a phone call. It was nice talking to you.” I slowly gathered my things so as to not seem anxious to flee this insane conversation.
“Give me your number, no really. Do you remember my name. I can make you famous. Seriously, just write down your number.” I smiled and said that I didn’t have a cell phone. I walked over to the phone booth and pretended to make a phone call. After a couple of minutes I sat next to the phones, clear across the room and made a sideways glance at Carnie Fred. Making eye contact could reactivate the desire for Carnie Fred to come talk at me some more. Luckily, he had dozed off already sitting in his seat surrounded by the plastic shopping bags of his belongings and shoes that were too small to lace up.
Wow. I don’t even know where to take the possibilities of writing his character into a sitcom one day. That’s just too rich. During his conversation at me, my internal voices were having their own conflicted dialogue. My little internal storyteller was like yes- jackpot- milk it and get more information about his life story, this is fascinating. My common sense voice worked on the exit strategy, my inner cynic was in denial that this was actually happening at 2 am at a Greyhound station in downtown Phoenix and wondering if my forehead really does have a billboard that says “crazy people start talking now.” Eventually the common sense voice won the argument, justifying the merits of actually talking to Carnie Fred for another hour and a half before my bus left. Maybe if my brain wasn’t deprived of vital hours of sleep, I might have delved into the conversation with Carnie Fred. But alas, this was not to be.
A McDonald’s Fruit Platter?
When I finally boarded the bus, I handed my luggage to the bus attendant. I told him my destination and he laughed and shouted, “Quartzsite” to his buddies, implying that wow, someone is actually getting of this Los Angeles bound bus in the middle of nowhere. The workers must have an ongoing pool about people who actually travel to Quartzsite. The bus driver dropped me off two hours later in Quartzsite at a McDonalds and with a smile he said we’ll see you next time.
An elderly cowboy held up by the familiar brick wall of the Golden Arches and took a deep drag off his cigarette causing his skeletal frame to shake beneath his proper white cowboy hat. I entered the domain of the McDonalds and stood staring at the menu, trying to decide which breakfast would hurt the least.
“You don’t have to hold those bags, you can just set them next to your table. No one will take them,” the immaculately dressed cowboy stated as he shuffled past me, his shoulders hunched from 80 or more years of a rough life. The implied message of ‘you’re not in the big city anymore’ sunk in and I realized that I have arrived in the oddity that is Quartzsite.
“He’s still going,” stated the woman behind the counter as she looked at the cowboy while she slowly separated a large stack of coffee filters.
“Fill me up,” grumbled another local senior as he shuffled up to this woman. She gave him some grief, in a playful manner that indicated many mornings had passed with the same ritual. He turned away after his refill and glanced at me. “She always gives me a hard time.”
I ordered the only fruit platter in the joint and some espresso. Being the youngest by 30 years, except for the employees, I felt out of place as I set up my temporary office with my laptop, crackberry and espresso. And fruit- who orders fruit at McDonalds?
Small groups of retired folks gathered around booths and tables drinking their morning coffee and biscuits. The group of cowboys sat in a plush semi circular booth fixated on a flat screen with Fox “News” and talked about gall bladder infections and the occasional Fox “News” talking point.
As I opened my laptop, a man sat across from me seeking advice about his computer. We talked about some of his gold prospecting and the books he authored on the topic and I directed him to the wonderful world of E-Books and E-Junkie. He glanced at my book, Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klien and commented about tragedy of declining capitalism in our country. Unbeknownst to him, I am a Liberal of the strongest kind- one of those ‘intellectual elitists’ that certain news shows claim are the devil and that book stated the case that to implement free market capitalism, violence, wars and disasters were necessary. He said he just read Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck’s books and they were just excellent writers. Wow. At this point, I have no comment and just gave a polite smile while my internal cynic, storyteller and common sense voices all engaged in a shouting match of proper responses. No prevailing voice won and I just heaved a deep and sad internal sigh.
“Our country is in a world of trouble. Won’t matter much to me, I’m old and won’t be around for most of it. But you’re gonna have to deal with it,” stated the gold prospector.
Don’t I know it.