The first stop after Nashville was Chattanooga, I barely raised my head there. I was in some kind of traveler's fog, neither sleeping nor awake. I was aware of people getting off and others getting on. I took a deep pull of my travelers mug, saluting this way station. I like Chattanooga, especially the aquarium which I think is the best in the MidSouth. And the little train that runs on Lookout Mountain, I remember with great fondness. Under different circumstances I would have stopped here, but today it was on to Atlanta.
So we went on, it was now total darkness, on some stretches of road disembodied headlights flew by, like traveler's souls detached from their owners but still journeying on. There were odd patches of light in the distance suggesting small towns or villages. I was amazed at the profusion of life on the highway. It was a never ending brilliantly lit procession that showed no signs of slackening even at the midnight hour.
On the bus some had found sleep. The burly guy behind me was snoring gently, the young girl in the blanket had not stirred and the hispanic women were up now, whispering softly together. The young guy with the torn jeans and the laptop seemed to run on energizer batteries. He was still at it on his laptop, occasionally on his phone and all the time listening to music on his head phones. Upfront the relief bus driver was standing and chatting with the driver. Right at the back of the bus somebody was reading in the glow of their overhead light. It was the lone older black guy with the mustache and sideburns. I had not taken him for a reader and I had not seen a book with him, but he must have had one someplace. A good book makes a great fellow traveler. I envied him a little, my books were soaking in sesame seed oil.
We came into Atlanta at one am. This was our first real stop, we were to be here until four am. For a big city bus stop, the station at Atlanta was a real let down. First of all the bus let us down in the street, then we had to scramble for our bags on the sidewalk and then drag them up a long ramp to the terminal. Outside, hobos and panhandlers roamed. Fellow travelers all. If I had a little change handy I would gladly have parted with it to such as these. But alas, I had emptied my pocket change into a small pocket in my back pack and it was now covered in sesame seed oil.
Inside the station I found that there were no power outlets in the seating area and only a few outlets at a phone charging station and all were already taken up. This meant that I could not use my laptop or charge my phone, whose battery was dangerously depleted. Oh well I would charge on the next bus.
My first task in the Atlanta station was to rescue my books from the sesame seed oil. If you ever spill sesame seed oil on anything prepare for the big clean. It does not come off easily. Handfuls of paper towels and napkins from the concessionary later and everything was still covered with oil, now including my hands and pants. A forty something hispanic woman sitting across from me on the hard wire mesh chairs, was casting a doubtful eye on my sisyphean labors. I nodded at her and mumbled something about a disaster in my backpack. She smiled meaningfully and asked me if I had come far.
We chatted for a while, passing some station time, and grumbling about the chairs. How could we be expected to sleep on them? She was from Colombia and lived in Ft Lauderdale Florida and was headed to Kentucky, she would be leaving at six am.I on the other hand would be leaving at four am, headed to Jacksonville Florida. Here in a bus station in Atlanta we met as fellow travelers and we would part as fellow travelers. I went on with my oil cleaning labors and after a while she moved of to sleep on the hard concrete floor. I still could not sleep and taking a break from my cleaning, I took in the scene around me.
The station was full of people, seemingly of every ethnicity, nationality, race and age imaginable. The constant babble in the station consisted of at least five or six different languages, I thought I heard a couple different African languages, Vietnamese, Spanish and Hindi. An elderly woman in a beautifully tied African print headdress was obviously west African. Her twenty something daughter, on the other hand, dressed in spandex, sneakers and a sweater, was indistinguishable by dress from the African American girls in the station. Clearly a generational transformation had taken place, a kind of journey in itself. I wondered what their journey was, where had it begun and where were they journeying to? Theirs was a multilayered journey, a journey in space-time and a journey in cultural space, across the generational gulf.
In a sense this was my own journey. I opened my journal and began writing.