You see some crazy behavior and hear unhinged conversations when riding on a Greyhound Bus.
I was thinking this when, three hours south of Denver, our bus made a short stop to pick up more passengers. The bus was nearly full so the new passengers were taking the first available seats they came across. I was near the back watching the boarding passengers when I saw a friend from Denver, Beto, getting on. I waved to get his attention and he made his way to the extra seat beside me, smiling the whole way. I hadn’t seen Beto since a couple of months before summer, which was now winding down.
“I saw how crowded the bus was and I was thinkin’ ‘there’s gotta be someone on there I know so I’m not even worried about a seat’,” Beto said. We started talking about how we usually ran across at least one Native person on the bus. If the Native is a stranger, we still approach them and ask what tribe they are or where they’re from. Sometimes there aren’t any Natives on long bus rides but the rides can still be interesting.
On one ride, a just-released inmate boarded the bus and for some reason was still wearing his inmate uniform. He went into the bathroom and changed into the release clothes he was carrying and went to the front, dumping his prison garb into the bus trash. A young guy of about eighteen years old asked the ex-inmate if he could have the trashed uniform. The inmate said it was okay and the young guy took it out of the garbage and put it on, displaying the same pride one might have wearing their first suit. From that point on, he got out of the bus to swagger around the small stores, looking mean and trying to scare anyone who happened to notice.
Sleeping on a bus is hard enough but even more so when the other passengers are having problems. One night as we slept, the bus drove through the dark Kansas night. Earlier, I had spoken with one of the guys sitting a few rows ahead of me and learned he was an ex-gang member travelling from los Angeles to Kansas. I was jolted from a dream when I heard the guy shout “Oh, #$%@! We’re gonna get smoked!” Other people woke up and began turning on their overhead lights. The guy realized he had been having nightmares and said loudly “Im sorry, I was dreaming.” Everyone settled back into sleep and as I was falling asleep, the same guy shouted “Oh, @%#$ HE’S GOT A GUN!” which sent a bunch of people into a panic. The guy again apologized for his outburst and everyone went back to sleep.
I was telling Beto about these and other episodes when the passenger in front of us turned around and introdueced himself as a Pomo Native. As usually happens, this simple introduction eventually led us into a discussion about our different tribal cultures and traditions.
The bus was completely filled and it seemed as if every other passenger was also having a discussion across the aisles and over the seats. We had to compete with the loud voices, each sharing their experiences with one another.
“So I was hooked on meth but I was never a thief and…” “Yeah so my girlfriend tried to stab me and I…” “I better not catch her around my man cause the next time…” “They’re gonna have to catch me cause no way am I turning myself in…” “I know there has to be a liquor store at the next stop so I’m going to….”
Our Pomo friend began asking about types of Plains ceremonies and we were doing our best to answer his questions. We spoke of our respective tribal histories, the history of the land we were riding through and the traditional lifeways of the summer. It was when we were talking about “dragging skulls” that I noticed everyone around us was quiet. Im not sure how long they had been listening but I glanced around and noticed quite a few staring straight ahead; some expressionless and other looking somewhat horrified.
I motioned for our conversation to stop and we abruptly went silent with everyone else. After a while, the rest of the passengers started talking again but I noticed no one would look our way.
Riding on a bus, you meet all types of characters. Outlandish behavior and conversations are considered the norm for so many passengers. However, our earnest, friendly discussion about culture was enough to silence the other voices for awhile, and though those people heard us, I doubt they were truly listening.
Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/rckiowa. He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO.