As whoever reads this blog may or may not have noticed, I have not updated it in over a month. There’s a reason for that: I have been mulling over whether to write the post I am about to write. It’s been kicking around in my skull for over a month now.
Why the indecisiveness? Well, it’s sorta complicated.
Actually, it’s not complicated at all, I am just making it complicated by over-thinking it. It’s actually pretty simple:
My writing it entails a slight admission of racism on my part.
And that’s racism I am conscious of. There may be latent racism elsewhere in this post or other posts, and if so, feel free to point it out. Actually, I insist that you point it out, should you notice any. I can’t get rid of it if I don’t know it’s there.
But moving on, this long-delayed post has to do with a trip I took a little over a month ago. I went to visit my cousin and his family in the greater Dallas, TX area, a visit that was equal parts social and work-related: I built some shelves for their garage, and did some other minor handyman-type stuff around their house. And before you compliment me on my generosity or anything, you should know that I was paid for my work, and my transportation to and from Dallas was also paid for. And not only that, I ate for free the whole time I was there, and I also had free beer. So compliment my cousin on his generosity if you compliment anyone – as a matter of fact, he’s also the person who designed this website, and currently it’s piggybacking on his GoDaddy account, and all I have paid him for his services as of yet was a liter of Maker’s Mark.
But I digress.
My transportation there and about halfway back was on a Greyhound bus. Actually, the first leg of the trip was on a CADC bus (Central Arkansas Development Council, I think) that went from El Dorado to Malvern, making a few stops along the way. Greyhound buses don’t actually come to El Dorado any more, so I had to ride a shuttle to the Greyhound terminal in Malvern…which is essentially a CADC office with a covered bench and a Dr. Pepper machine out front.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
As I mentioned, my ticket was paid for by my cousin. I got an email with a confirmation number, and to be able to get on the bus, I had to take the confirmation number to the CADC/Greyhound office in El Dorado and have the ticket printed off.
The website said to arrive at the Greyhound station at least an hour before the bus left, to ensure that I’d have plenty of time to get my ticket and get on the bus. Being that the entire trip was going to take around ten hours, I didn’t want to spend any more time at the terminal in El Dorado than I had to, so I went the day before my trip and had my tickets printed off.
When I went into the office, a young black woman and her mom were talking to the white lady that worked there, planning a trip somewhere. While waiting for my turn to talk to her, I absentmindedly began reading various things posted to the wall, as I tend to do in such situations.
One thing caught my eye: it was a poster with a list of things that were banned on Greyhound buses, including a list of things that were illegal to carry in your checked luggage, the luggage they put in the compartment in the bottom of the bus.
One of the items was “laptop computers.” This struck me as exceedingly odd, especially since Greyhound offers free wifi on their buses.
The mother and daughter finished planning the trip, and they got up and started to leave. The woman behind the desk wasn’t finished printing their tickets, though, and I had to chase them down and tell them to come back in. I am including that detail not to make myself look chivalrous or something, but because I did essentially the same thing they did before my return trip at the Dallas terminal…but I am getting ahead of myself again.
I had been planning on bringing my laptop with me on the trip, in my trusty Targus laptop backpack, which I would use as a carry on, like I normally do in such situations. I asked the woman behind the desk about the backpack thing, and she said not to pay any attention to that poster, I could carry whatever I wanted, and a laptop was fine to carry on the bus, and so on. Which I thought was kinda weird; I mean why hang the poster on the wall if it’s not actually a valid list, but I didn’t say that out loud.
But the lady said something else about laptops, and this is where the trouble started regarding me and my slight slip into racism: she said something like “I think they were worried about bombs, is why they put laptops on that list.”
Which, well, if you know me personally, you know that I have a tendency toward paranoia. And long story short, I didn’t just forget what that lady said about bombs, the idea of the bus I was on exploding during the trip started bouncing around my skull, much like this post has been doing.
Anyways, the next day, I got to the terminal in El Dorado about 20 minutes before departure time. And even though there was a scale there in the office, I was not required to weigh my bags. I had already weighed them here at home, and they were well under the weight limit, but anyways I guess that’s another digression.
The shuttle to Malvern – incidentally Malvern is pretty much in the opposite direction from Dallas, with respect to El Dorado – was driven by an older white man wearing a cap that indicated he was a veteran of some sort. I don’t remember from when, but I am guessing it was from the Vietnam War era, based on his approximate age. Including him and me, there were only five people on this bus. There were two black women – one probably in her mid twenties, the other maybe in her thirties…the older one was a truck driver I think, going to meet up with a truck she would then drive – and one young white woman who was maybe around 19 or 20. Her boyfriend or perhaps husband was at the El Dorado terminal, and he made an impression on me because of the way he was protectively kissing her goodbye, as if to let me and every other male person there know that she was his girl, and nobody better get any ideas to the contrary. I have to say I found the whole performance both cute and somewhat gross…there seemed to be a bit of “I own this woman” about it, but anyways that’s none of my business.
It’s worth noting that this detail of the trip stood out to me, and I have planned to include it the entire time this post has been bouncing around my skull, but I only just now remembered that the older black woman’s husband (or maybe boyfriend) was also there in El Dorado to see her off, and he was also hugging her and telling her he hoped she had a safe trip, and so on, but his demeanor seemed to be more of a “I am sincerely going to miss you” sort of vibe happening, as opposed to whatever I may or may not have accurately detected from the younger white kid.
I am including basic racial descriptions of people in this post for a couple of reasons, for the record. One, I am not a racist, and I believe in treating everyone equally and fairly no matter their skin color, but at the same time, I do not consider myself to be “color blind” when it comes to skin color. As much as I would like to live in a world where skin color makes no difference, well, the world doesn’t actually work like that. A person’s skin color does, all too often, make a difference in the experiences they have in their lives. I don’t like that fact, and I want to do everything I can to change that fact, but pretending that everyone has the same life experiences no matter their skin color is not going to help the situation. But I guess I am digressing. There are many articles online discussing this issue, and I encourage you to read them.
Two, due to the fact that I had an arguably racist thought a little later in the trip, well, I feel that it’s necessary to list the skin color of various people I encountered on the trip.
Moving on, the CADC bus stopped at a couple other CADC offices on the way, but we didn’t pick anybody else up. We stopped at one gas station, and the driver advised us to go get something to eat while we were there, because there wasn’t going to be anywhere to eat near the terminal in Malvern. I took advantage of this and bought an order of fried chicken livers and a decent sized catfish fillet (YUMMY!) along with another Dr. Pepper. I had brought one to the El Dorado terminal to take on the trip, and had drank most of it by the time we got to this gas station.
There was no wifi on this bus, and I thought to myself that if the whole trip wasn’t going to be any more crowded than this, these ten hours wouldn’t be all that bad. I was in for a rude awakening a few hours later, but again, I am getting ahead of myself.
When we got to Malvern, the driver let us all off and wished us a safe trip. The older black woman almost immediately walked off somewhere, I am not sure where, and the two younger women sat in the covered bench area. I opted to stand off to the side, both because I didn’t want to be all up in their business (the covered bench thing had two benches facing each other, and they weren’t very far apart) and also because the white girl was smoking in there, essentially “hot-boxing” the thing, and if you aren’t familiar with that term, just think about it for a second.
I got to looking at my ticket, and I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of the itinerary, but the bus to Dallas wasn’t going to arrive in Malvern for a couple hours. It was around one pm, maybe a little after, and my bus wasn’t supposed to get there until 3:40. I showed my ticket to the two young women in the hot box (I waited for the smoke to clear) and asked them “Am I looking at this right?” And they looked at their tickets, and their bus was due in like half an hour or so…they were going to Little Rock. When the older black lady got back from wherever she went, she mentioned that she was going to Little Rock and on to Manchester, I guess the Manchester in Tennessee. At any rate, my three traveling companions from El Dorado to Malvern and I parted company, and I remained at the bus stop for a couple more hours.
There was one other passenger getting on the bus to Dallas, a woman probably in her fifties who was Hispanic or maybe Native American. She and I talked a little, but not much. Her destination was Tuscon, Arizona, I think she said, and the bus from Dallas to Tuscon left at like three in the morning, I think she said. She smoked what looked like a Black and Mild cigar, and I went through a brief phase in college where I smoked those things, and without trying to sound too snobby or whatever, I am really glad I quit them. Apparently they are not good for teeth, and that’s all I will say about that.
The bus was an hour late. It had been held up because of a wreck on I-30, the driver said. The driver of this bus was a black lady. And anyways, when I got on the bus, I was quite disappointed to find out that this bus – the bus I would be on for about six hours – was quite crowded. There weren’t any empty seats – the lady that smoked the Black and Milds got the last one – and I began scanning the bus for the optimal seating partner.
Everyone who wasn’t already sitting next to somebody had their carry-on in the seat next to them, and they avoided eye contact, so as to discourage anyone from sitting next to them. Which, yeah, I would probably have been doing the same thing.
I didn’t want to sit next to any of the women on the bus, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I am not an especially threatening-looking person or anything, but at the same time, I realize that a woman might not want to sit next to a strange man on a Greyhound bus for six hours. So I began looking for the optimal male seatmate: the physically smallest person I could find. This was simply to maximize my own personal space in the seat, you understand.
I settled on a skinny black dude – he kinda reminded me of Dave Chappelle, I guess – who was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, asked if he minded if I sat there, and he moved his bag from the seat and I sat down. He “manspreaded” a little into my territory, but I “manspreaded” out into the aisle to compensate, and all in all the seating arrangement wasn’t too uncomfortable.
It was at this point that I had my involuntary episode of mild racism. But it wasn’t against my seatmate, it was against the person sitting in front of us.
And let me remind the reader about the question I had asked the day before regarding laptops, and what the answer was: “Take anything you want,” pretty much was the answer, and “laptops are on that list because they’re worried about bombs” or something.
The guy sitting in front of me had light brown skin, curly black hair, and he had a goatee that was an inch or two long. I don’t actually know his ethnicity, but it could have been Egyptian, or maybe Cuban, or possibly part Hispanic and part African-American. I honestly don’t know.
His appearance regarding his ethnicity wasn’t exactly what set off the involuntary racism, though: he looked like he was pissed off. Like really, really, super-duper pissed off about something. And combined with his appearance, and combined with the mention of “bombs” the day before, especially since nobody even gave my bag a second look…well, I involuntarily went on a bit of a paranoid fantasy trip for about ten minutes where the bus pulled into the terminal in Dallas and exploded because this pissed-off looking fellow had planted a bomb in his suitcase.
As you have probably intuited, there was no bomb, outside of my paranoid and arguably racist little daydream. And I had only been on the bus for maybe ten minutes when I figured out why the fellow was pissed off:
I was sitting in the aisle seat, and he was sitting in the seat in front of me, next to the window. I could see the side of his face well enough to see his pissed-off expression, and anyways his phone went off – at least I think it went off, he might have initiated the call – and he began a video chat with who I assume was his girlfriend or wife. The face of a woman appeared on his cracked smartphone screen, and she was asking him where something was. She didn’t seem to want to take “I don’t know!” as a viable answer from him, and their conversation ended with him angrily tapping the “end call” button on his phone.
And I realized how much of a bigot I had been being, with my paranoid fantasy about him being an Islamist suicide bomber. He was pissed off over a squabble with his significant other, not at Western civilization. And right then and there is when I began mentally writing this post, and simultaneously, right then and there is where I began debating with myself over whether I wanted to write this down and publish it. It doesn’t exactly make me look good, I mean.
That morning, at the CADC office in El Dorado, I had been having a discussion on Facebook with another white dude over the concept of “white privilege.” He said it didn’t exist, I said it did…and my original angle for this post was that my racist reaction – which went on entirely in my head – to this pissed-off, vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow sitting in front of me on the Greyhound bus was, in my mind, proof that “white privilege” does in fact exist.
Nobody is ever going to accuse me, a white dude, of being a terrorist. Nobody is ever going to look at me while I am pissed off and wonder if I am pissed off at America. That’s never going to happen, at least not here in the USA.
I felt stupid, sitting there. I felt like a hypocrite. I call people out on racism all the time, and there I was, thinking a racist thought. I hesitate to say “Islamophobia” here, because for one, Islamophobia is to my view just one of many types of racism, and for two, I didn’t even notice the lady wearing a Hijab near the front of the bus until after I saw the angry “I don’t know where it is!” video chat conversation and realized how much of an idiot I had been.
I’m not perfect. I hope this isn’t reason enough for anybody to want to cut ties with me, but nonetheless there you have it.
Anyways, most of the rest of the trip was uneventful. Boring, yes, slightly uncomfortable, yes, and the wifi was weaker than my normal phone data connection. I got booted from a live chess game, and those games require practically nothing, from a data use perspective. I read a little, and eventually decided to take a nap.
On over in Texas somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, two more passengers got on: a black dude who was probably in his fifties, and a white dude in his twenties who looked like Mac from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” with long hair who reminded me of Richard Linklater’s character from his first movie, “Slacker”: he was very talkative and enthusiastic, and he spoke with the unique east Texas drawl/surfer dude mixture that Linklater spoke in in that film. Without even asking, I and the rest of the people in the back half of the bus learned that he could play like fourteen musical instruments, that he had a bachelor’s degree in music but couldn’t find a music-related teaching job, and that he had just finished truck driving school and was on his way to his first trucking job. I can’t honestly say he was “annoying” or anything, but he did talk a whole lot.
The bus ride continued on uneventfully until we got to Greenville, which is just outside Dallas.
This is where things got weird.
The bus pulled into the stop, and the driver informed us that a sheriff would be boarding the bus. He was going to check everyone’s bags.
Several people asked if they could get off the bus to go smoke – we had skipped a couple stops because the bus was behind schedule – and the driver said that would be fine. So several people got up and started heading to the front of the bus, but before anybody got off, a sheriff – a black man in his forties or fifties, plain-clothed, wearing a baseball cap and a badge on a chain around his neck, got on the bus and somewhat angrily told everyone to sit back down, and that he was going to check our bags for “drugs, money…and bombs.”
Almost immediately, the fellow sitting in front of me was removed from the bus. As soon as he was taken off of the bus, a white woman – mid to late 20s, dressed slightly “hippie-ish” – got on the bus. She sat in the only open seat, the one vacated by the fellow sitting in front of me. Before she sat down – and this might be the weirdest part of the whole thing – she put a plain white cardboard box into the overhead compartment. The box was about the size of a small cake or maybe a pie, and it had clear plastic tape going around the middle of it, like around it in both directions, forming a cross on the top of the box. I almost offered to give her a hand – that is to say, I almost touched this box, which would leave a fingerprint on it – but something told me not to.
The sheriff went to the back of the bus and began looking through bags. He instructed us to have our bags open and ready by the time he got to us. I put my trusty Targus laptop backpack in my lap and opened all the zippers, staring straight ahead and remaining silent.
For the record, if you ever find yourself in a situation involving the police, do not – repeat, do NOT – take it upon yourself to smart off at them. This goes for everyone. It is not going to help the situation, and it could potentially get you into trouble. Or worse. Don’t talk back, and do what they ask you…as long as what they’re asking you to do is legal, of course.
Actually, I am not 100% sure that a sheriff boarding a Greyhound and demanding to look through everyone’s bags is actually legal, now that I think about it. That may or may not fall under “unreasonable search and seizure,” but I may be all wet on that. At any rate, if Greyhound actually bothered to look at anyone’s luggage the way airlines do, this sort of inconvenience would be totally unnecessary…but again, I digress.
The black man who had gotten on the bus a few stops back with Linklater, Jr. was approximately the same age as the black sheriff. And the sheriff accused him of being drunk, and demanded that he get off the bus, also.
The dude didn’t look the least bit drunk to me, when he got on the bus, for the record, and he didn’t act drunk at all when he got off the bus or back on it a few minutes later. At any rate, I had been thinking to myself just prior to this stop that this whole trip would actually kinda be fun if I had been hammered…but I suppose it’s fortunate I know you can get into trouble for that now, ha ha.
The sheriff also made a black woman – maybe 20, 21 – get off the bus. I think she looked at him funny, or maybe said something he didn’t like. As I said, I faced the front of the bus for most of this episode, keeping quiet.
There was a white couple – early 30s, I am guessing – in the seat next to mine. They had tattoos, and a slight “punk rock” aesthetic about them, and the sheriff looked through their bags quite a bit. He made the woman pat her belly, like to hold her shirt up against her skin, to prove she didn’t have anything taped to her.
Then he searched my seatmate’s bag. He told me to get up while he did, so he could search my seatmate’s bag more easily. I got up and put my bag in the seat in front of me.
I don’t remember for sure, but the white woman may have gotten back off the bus temporarily. Maybe not, I can’t remember. Her appearance at the scene seemed, I dunno, weird somehow.
Anyways, my seatmate seemed to share my philosophy regarding the police: stay quiet, do what they ask, and don’t do anything to piss them off. He didn’t do anything, he didn’t smart off, he did exactly what the sheriff asked him to – moving things out of the way in his bag, so the sheriff could see the bottom – and the sheriff gave him a hard time anyway. He accused him of smarting off, of not cooperating, that sort of thing. My seatmate didn’t smart off, and he did exactly what the sheriff asked, and when the sheriff didn’t find anything in his bag, he asked to see mine.
I placed it on my seat, still standing. The zippers were all unzipped.
“Well, open it,” the sheriff said.
I opened the bag about halfway, revealing the two or three books I had brought, and then my laptop. “Books, laptop computer,” I said, and he told me to sit down and he moved on to the next person.
I wasn’t carrying anything illegal in my bag. The thing is, though, I very easily could have been. I am not writing this to encourage anyone to try and smuggle contraband on Greyhound buses – you are an idiot if you think that’s a good idea – I am writing to report that my bag was not as thoroughly searched as my seatmate’s, or as thoroughly searched as many other people’s on the bus.
To be fair, my bag was not as cluttered as my seatmate’s, or as cluttered as the white couple next to me who got searched much more thoroughly. The sheriff made a point to see the bottom of their bags, but not mine.
After I sat back down, the guy in the seat next to me brought out a bag of chips and declared that he was exited, because now he had dinner and a show. The sheriff said something back to him, but he didn’t make him get off the bus or anything.
Eventually all the bags were searched, and everybody who was taken off the bus – the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow, the middle aged black man, and the young black woman – got back on. The sheriffs didn’t find anything, despite taking the luggage out from under the bus and letting drug dogs sniff it.
The fellow in front of me told everyone about his experience off the bus. He said that the dogs went after his bag, but when the sheriffs opened it, they didn’t find anything. A white sheriff asked him, “Do you smoke weed?” and the guy said “Yeah.” The sheriff said that was probably why the dogs went after his bag. He went on to say that next time he went on a trip he was flying, that the only reason he went on Greyhound was because it was cheap, and he didn’t mind the long trip but the thing with the sheriffs was bullshit. I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.
Linklater, Jr. got off the bus a few stops later, and as we were about to pull into the Greyhound terminal in downtown Dallas, the driver came over the intercom and said that she was sorry the trip got delayed, but it couldn’t have been helped, and we should all be thankful that the accident that held the bus up originally didn’t involve the bus itself, and thanks for traveling with Greyhound.
Several people, including the fellow in front of me, said, “F**K GREYHOUND!”
Which I have to admit was kinda funny.
Here’s what’s weird about the white woman who put the box in the overhead compartment: she left it in the overhead compartment when she got off the bus. And this was the end of the line for this particular bus; i.e. nobody was getting back on, people going past Dallas had to get on different buses.
I started to mention it to her, but I decided not to.
I don’t know if that was the right decision; I was ready to be at my cousin’s house and I didn’t want to be involved in anything else Greyhound-related that night. I don’t know what was in that box, and for all I knew, she left it on the bus on purpose.
Wouldn’t that be something?