Leave the Driving to Us

I had lived in San Francisco without the need for a car for quite a few years. The East Bay, San Jose, and even Marin County were easily accessible via public transit. However, to get to Sacramento, or to my parent’s home in Nevada City, I had to rely on Greyhound. I had ridden Greyhound for quite a few years and had met quite a few colorful characters. But few would compare to this ride.

I was to meet some friends in Sacramento and then we would head off for a camping event. I had left work and run to catch the early bus so that we would have more daylight available to us. I should have taken my time. But at the time, getting the first express bus seemed like the best idea. And normally it would have been.

We had only one stop between San Francisco and Sacramento and that was Oakland. Quite a number of interesting folks got on there, but there was one in particular that stood out. He was well built and muscular and was pulsating with nervous energy. He seemed quite agitated, the type of agitation that results from certain recreational drugs. I immediately thought this guy was trouble. But he settled down soon after we got onto the freeway and it seemed like we would have a quiet ride after all. And we did, until we got to Davis.

As we were passing by Davis an older black lady who was sitting in the front row with her husband traversed the narrow aisle way towards the lavatory in the back. She had passed me and was a few rows back when I heard her say, “Oh, I’m sorry”. And then Mr. Agitation became very vocal. Bitch this and bitch that.

The woman, quite wisely, retreated to the front of the bus. But that didn’t soothe Mr Agitation’s rage. I kept on. Now making threats. I should kill you.... If I had my gun... When we get off the bus... and on and on. The woman’s husband got up and tried to talk sense to him. But he was beyond reason. And he got up and advanced. The two of them came together right next to where I was sitting.

I was sitting against the window and a young lady was sitting in the aisle seat. I stood up, she slid into my seat. I put one foot on her seat, launched myself into the aisle between the combatants and pushed them apart. Stop this now!

As I pulled my left hand away from Mr. Agitation, it was covered in blood. In fact there was a spray pattern of blood all over the seats, my pants and my brand new white tennis shoes. The older gentleman was sporting a nasty little cut over his eye. He had used a pocket knife to poke some holes in Mr. Agitation, while Mr. Agitation in return had used a sharpened crucifix to cut the gentleman’s face.

We were now on the side of the road. The drive had pulled over when the fight began and jumped off the bus and run to a call box. He came back from the call box and told everyone to get off the bus. The old black couple had already gotten off and were heading for the frontage road. Most of the passengers got off and I kept an eye on Mr. Agitation who was now pacing around in the aisle bleeding profusely as his girlfriend tried to talk to him. Eventually, I too would get off the bus.

We were very close to the Yolo Causeway and I could see Sacramento in the distance. And this being before the ubiquitousness of cell phones, I had no way of calling my friends to let them know what had happened. The police and ambulances arrived in short order. Mr. Agitation had gotten off the bus and was still pacing like a wounded animal. He had to be restrained by the authorities and tied down to the gurney. And then he was taken away. The couple who had been beating tracks the whole time were picked up by a police car and taken away.

As for the rest of us passengers, our statements were taken by the police. Actually the police hadn’t seemed too interested in talking with me, even after the other people on the bus had mentioned my part in ending the conflict. But I eventually gave my tale and they left.

And we, the passengers, remained stranded on the side of the freeway. We got to watch the next four greyhound buses pass us by on their way to Sacramento. Four hours later an Amtrak bus came to pick us up. It seems there had been no other Greyhound buses to pick us up. So Amtrak came out to rescue use. And boy, was their bus nicer than the Greyhound bus. The seats were very comfortable.

As we headed back to Sacramento everyone was talking with one another. We had all been brought momentarily together by our shared trial. I was talking with one fellow about Mr. Anxiety and how crazy it was that this entire episode had begun because she had tripped over his foot.

The guy shook his head and grinned a bit. “I was sitting right behind him. She didn’t trip over his foot. She tripped over mine.”

Pale Horse

His heart beats under my hand. Fast, too fast. This is not the heartbeat of life. It is the heartbeat of pain and agony. Of death’s rapid approach. Boom boom boom boom. The pace never slackens, it never slows. It only gets softer and softer and softer. Boom boom boom boom and then it is gone. And in that brief moment before I snatch my hand back from a now lifeless corpse I feel death. I am acquainted with him all too intimately. And once I have left the room the reality of it is distorted, toyed with. And there are days when I am sure that I will see my brother again laughing and talking. Then my mind remembers and brings me back to that moment. And I feel the icy fingers.

Or, perhaps the time the rope couldn’t seem to slow my fall. As I plunged down the cliff face I was certain beyond all reckoning that this was it. And for a moment fear gave way to a calm acceptance. Then the rope went taut and I bounced crashing down to the ground. First, there was the shooting pain in my ankle, the reminder of the reality of life. And then sheer elation from having been so close to the end only to be snapped back at the last moment. A brief glimpse into the eternal abyss. Air never felt so sweet.

Or there are the random moments, the times when it sneaks up on you unaware. The bicycle underneath me is behaving all too well. But there is something, a wobble a stray thought, and then the memory of too many times being knocked to the pavement. The feel of concrete tearing at my flesh. Those moments come back to life in my mind’s eye and confidence is shaken. And when I yell at the woman in the mini-van who rolls through the stop sign without stopping, it is not her I am yelling at but the grim visage of death upon her grill. Metal teeth awaiting to flay my flesh.

There are the times when I feel that something is missing. That grey uncertainty that swells from my gut that tells me that all is not right with the world. The sun is setting, touching the waters of the Pacific slowly being extinguished. And I know that life should be something more, that there is indeed something greater. And I long for it. Out of the grief something calls to me and I strain trying to understand. Can the world be a better place? Can I be a better person? Does one lead to the other? Somewhere there is a dim picture of greatness, of philosophers, statesmen, rebels, healers, artists, dreamers, doers. How much is reality and how much is fantasy?

Fear is like that. It is in part reality and in part fantasy. There is a moment, a split moment when it is real. It ceases to be real when we fail to give it up, when we hold onto it beyond the moment. Falling from a cliff, I knew fear. Being hit by a car, a truck, a bus.... then I knew fear. Wading into the middle of a knife fight, I didn’t know fear. But I should have.

So, the question. Do you hold onto the anxiety or do you let it go and live? There is a moment when life is sweetest, when you look death in the eye and survive. And there was that moment... that moment when I was calm... plunging to my death and yet calm. I had given up the fear and accepted my mortality. And yet, why wait for that final moment to be calm. Why let life be shackled by a death that is yet to come.

No. I accept it now. Wherever and whenever it will come, it will come. And until that moment I am free from it. I cast off the chains of anxiety and am free to live. And I see that it is indeed a beautiful night. And I know those that are missing will always exist, as long as my heart beats.

Unexpected Guest

Here's a movie moment for you. However this actually happened to me on October 15, 2001.

I wake up this morning and look over and see someone sleeping on my couch. It looks like Sean only he has buzzed his hair. So, I go about things check my email, etc. I then jump in the shower. When I get out he is on the phone calling in sick in the living room. I sit down at my chair in my room. He comes in with the phone and says, "Who are you?"
I reply, "I'm Eric, this is my apartment"
Him: "How did I get here?"
"I don't know"
"Where's Brian? Do you know Brian?"
"Do you have a roommate, was there some people over last night?"
"Then how did I get here? Where am I?"
"And 23rd avenue in the Richmond."
"Oh Shit. How did I get this far out? How did I end up on your couch? How did I even get in?"
"I must have forgotten to lock the door."
"But I wouldn't have just come in.... Wait there's popcorn here, are you sure you didn't have people over."

Looks around dazed and confused.

"Well, I'm sorry about this. I appreciate your candor."

We shake hands

"Have a better day"

"yah...." and he walks out.

That was my morning.