the Amarillo Bus Station
I get on the bus in Austin at 10:30pm, ride all night, now it's 10:30
in the morning and I'm still in Texas. What's worse, I'm in Amarillo,
Texas. I can't believe the two cities are in the same Universe, let alone
the same state.
You ride and ride from Dallas, passing through towns with names like
Vernon, Childress, Hedley. You look at West Texas, knowing there is so
goddamn much of it, and it being what it is, you begin to wonder again
if there is a God.
Amarillo, you are perhaps the worst, perhaps the closest place to hell
that exists on this plane. I make this observation, and then am told that
my connecting Greyhound is two hours late, and I'm gonna have to spend
that much more time here.
I see desolation on the faces of my fellow passengers. I see how the
eternally uncomfortable seats and interminably frequent stops in tiny
skeletons of towns have scraped off the facade that covers their lives.
The pain -- the desperation that Thoreau wrote about -- is laid bare for
all to see.
Amarillo is pain. I see it so clearly in the creased face of the middle-aged
bleach blond grandmother who fries hamburgers here in the bus station.
Her forced smile says that she's making the best of a very difficult life,
having to work so menially just to survive.
I go outside, to the West Texas January chill. "It's a dead motherfucker,"
says one of my new Greyhound acquaintances. There are no cars on the streets
of this Saturday morning sound bite of Americana. No one would show their
face in this graveyard. The pain coats these ancient brick buildings.
It screams from the empty storefronts. I can't take more than a block
or two of it, so I hurry back to the bus station: a very very odd form
There, one of the two Grateful Dead fans, the one who has been sleeping
peacefully in the backseat, is strumming a road-beaten and tattooed guitar,
mumbling a song, George Strait: "Amarillo by morning..." Another of the
group has doffed his leather jacket, and his harley-davidson belt buckle
shows its tarnished gleam. He sings along mournfully from the adjacent
plastic butt-formed seat. All night on the bus he wore shades, but now
that the sun shines his hollow, sunken eyes are exposed. Over 6:30am coffee
at the McDonald's in Vernon, I mentioned the NFL playoffs, and he expressed
to me his disdain for sports. He said, "I live by the four P's: partyin',
puttin', pool, and pussy."
The late-teens deadhead partners are on their way from Richmond, VA
to see the West Coast shows in February. I can smell the miles they have
traveled. I love their young, trustful innocence. They're riding on that
clichéd "wing and a prayer", and I know they'll get there. They
say they are getting off in Albuquerque for a stay of undetermined length.
The biker man is stopping in Q-town as well. By now they all know I live
there and I've given cheap advice about dealing with the landscape. Silently
I wrestle with myself, knowing they would all probably like to follow
me home. They all have friends in town, but none are real sure where they'll
stay. My place is only 10 blocks from the bus station. Remembering that
the Chiefs, the team I loved as a child, are playing while I am stuck
in Amarillo, I decide to watch a quarter's worth of the game. The screen
goes blank when my time runs out. The picture is bad enough that I can
wait for the score in tomorrow's newspaper.
I walk back into the bus station restaurant to try one of the Amarillo
woman's burgers. Perhaps I do this to assist in some obscure way with
her poorly masked despair. She tries so very hard to be courteous, and
courteous she is. Sitting in the plastic booth, I haven't forgotten that
I am one of these people. And not just one of the Greyhounders. I am one
of all the people in the world. And at the core, we are all the same,
and we are all One. I remember the unmistakable resonance of Truth when
I was told that no component of the Universe is any higher than any other
component. Thinking back to Austin, the coolest component this side of
Pluto, I look out again at Amarillo.
If Amarillo is pain, then whose pain is it?