I'm not sure if this constitutes "fame," but I did have the honor of being interviewed by Cincinnati's public radio station, WVXU, while I was on the Florida leg of my Journey.
Here is the link to the interview.
Although the source is disputed, Andy Warhol is credited for first using the line: "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."
I'm not sure if this constitutes "fame," but I did have the honor of being interviewed by Cincinnati's public radio station, WVXU, while I was on the Florida leg of my Journey.
Here is the link to the interview.
I didn't know my sister Renee very well. She was born six years after me, a gap that always seemed challenging to traverse. The older I got, the more I resented having to baby-sit my kid sister. After all, I was a teenage boy, consumed by my own ego, lacking empathy, focused only on my needs.
I went away to college, happy to escape a home besieged by an anger that was fueled by drink. During breaks, I would work, stay out late, eventually developing my own brand of drink-fueled anger and self-absorption.
At 19, Renee fell in love a kid from the church and moved away with him to Florida. I suppose escape was one thing we had in common back then.
We both married..too young as it would ultimately play out. We exchanged greeting cards and occasional calls, perhaps more obligatory than anything of depth. I was too caught up in my life, my career to have anything more than an obligatory relationship with a sister I hardly knew.
We shared each other's pain as well. I didn't make it to the christening of her first daughter, Ashley. But I was with Renee four months later, when she buried Ashley, the victim of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It was the most gut-wrenching experience of my life to watch my sister try to make sense out of something so tragic, so mysterious. I remember reading once of a Buddhist monk, an evolved being, losing a young son to a rare disease. One of his devotees reminded the monk of his teachings that death, like life, is simply an illusion. To which the monk replied: "Yes, but the death of a child is the ultimate illusion." Indeed.
Almost nine months to the day after losing Ashley, my niece Whitney was born. Several years later, my nephew Gregory. And my son had cousins on my side of the family. And, in a strange way, the kids brought us closer, made us more of a family. The kids gave us something in common, a reason to call, to share triumphs and tribulations.
I traveled to West Palm Beach on this Journey, to visit my sister, to experience her children. Whitney is heading to medical school. Gregory is a firefighter. My kid sister, the little girl who I barely knew, who was often an afterthought in my life, who experienced pain that I can never imagine, has created an exceptional life for herself. She was able to fight off the demons that consumed her mother, the love of her life.
I was only supposed to spend one evening with Renee. I planned it that way. I didn't want to intrude, to force the "brother-sister" dynamic that, in earlier days, was often uncomfortable. As soon as I arrived, I regretted my decision to stay one night, as I found myself consumed by a desire to be with my family, a family I really never knew. When I called Greyhound to make my reservation for the next leg of the trip, I discovered that the bus was sold out and I'd need to wait an extra day.
It was a wonderful extra day.
“If I get married, I want to be very married.”
Sonny and Doris are very married.
The day I met them, they were celebrating 60 years of being very married. They are neighbors of my good friend Karl, in the Rose Lake Estates “Over-55” trailer park on the outskirts of Tampa.
We sat together in their comfortable double wide, surrounded by photos of their three children and six grand children. I asked them if it was love at first sight. They looked at each other, smiling, almost a conspiratorial smile for a question that, I’m sure, has been asked countless times.
“Well, you could say it was love without first sight,” Sonny said, emphasizing the word without. Another smile. I waited for the story they were anxious to tell.
Sonny and Doris were farm kids from Wisconsin. Sonny had 11 sisters, 10 older and one younger. “You could imagine why I didn’t care much for girls,” Sonny said. I could.
Doris was one of four kids. “My life wasn’t quite as interesting as Sonny’s,” she said. “But it was a good life.”
One of Sonny’s sisters was blind. Each summer, she attended a special camp for the blind outside Milwaukee. Doris had an uncle who was also blind and attended the same camp. The sister and the uncle became friends. Soon, they began talking about Doris and Sonny, at the time, 16 and 17 respectively.
“Doris’ uncle had never seen her,” Sonny said. “And my sister never saw me. So, they could only talk about the fact that we were really great kids and began to hatch a plan to get us together.”
They met at the end of that summer. Sonny drove to call on Doris at her family home in La Crosse. “I guess you could call this the ultimate blind date,” Sonny said. “I just knew Doris was a great gal, but had no idea if she was pretty or not.” Now the conspiratorial smile makes sense, as I’m sure they’ve told this story and used the blind date punch line hundreds of times.
It ended up being love at first sight for Doris and Sonny. “She was wearing a red sweater,” he said. “I can still see it. And her hair was long and blond. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.” It was the perfect set up for another “blind date” joke, but I let it pass.
Both of their families relocated to Milwaukee soon after that first meeting, giving them more of a chance to get to know each other. They married in 1955. I asked if they went on a honeymoon.
“Well, we didn’t have much money,” Doris said. “But Sonny’s sister gave us a $10 bill and told us to at least go to a hotel for the night.”
Sonny continued the story. “We stayed at the Edge of the Woods Motel. So, when people would ask where we went on our honeymoon, we’d tell them we went to the "edge of the woods." And, wouldn’t you know it, that building still stands today, but now it’s a nursing home.”
I asked if there was ever a time when they thought it wasn’t going to work, maybe thought that it would be better to split up, be with other people.
“Never,” said Doris. “We saw marriage as a commitment, something you did for life. We’ve always been good about sharing what’s on our mind. And we’re good at taking care of each other.”
Sonny added: “And we just like spending time together.”
Of course, it’s what you do when you’re very married.
It was 2AM in the Tampa Greyhound station. I had to wait until 6AM before my friend Karl would pick me up. Ten minutes in a Greyhound station is arduous. Four hours is simply inhumane. Every Greyhound station that I encountered was furnished with the same metal chairs that were, I’m sure, once used as antique torture devices.
Sydney must have spied me trying to contort my body into a sleep-worthy position. He made his way over to me. “Dis Greyhound is crazy mon,” he said. “They are bad people.” I liked him immediately.
We spent two hours chatting about everything from American politics to goat farming. He came to the United States from Kingston 16 years ago after an armed intruder broke into his house and shot him in the chest. Things were bad in Jamaica. Police and government corruption made it impossible to find justice and heavily populated cities like Kingston became increasingly dangerous.
So, Sydney left for New York City, where he had some distant relatives. His wife stayed to manage the small farm they owned, waiting for Sydney to get settled and make some money before calling her to join him. I asked how long it took before he went back to get his wife. With a wide, infectious grin, he said: “Couple of years, mon. But she already sold the farm, the animals and my tools and ran off with my best friend. I guess she didn’t want to wait.”
Fortunately, Sydney was a master welder, so he was able to find good work in the booming New York construction business. He became a U.S. citizen in 2009. Several years ago, he met and fell in love with a woman from South Carolina, eventually settling in Buefort. He’s saved up enough money and is about to invest to start raising goats. “Goat meat gonna be the new beef,” he says, trying to convince someone who tasted and rejected goat after a visit to Jamaica many years ago.
Sydney is a beautiful soul, curious and opinionated. Regardless of the topic, he would stop, touch my arm and ask: “What you think about dat, mon?” I ask if he might ever return to Jamaica. He waves me off. “Jamaica more beautiful than America, more green,” he says. “But too corrupt. I love America.”
He gave me the opening to ask whom he would vote for in the next Presidential election, even though I was 100% certain of his answer. Without hesitation, he said: “Mrs. Clinton, must be President. She’s a good person like her husband.”
After two hours, we shook hands, promising ourselves and each other that we’d try to get some sleep. He stopped me, grabbed my arm one more time. “You like Bob Marley, mon?” he asked. Before I could answer in the affirmative, he said: “You listen closely. He the prophet everyone waiting for.” He smiled and walked away.
And yes, neither one of us slept.
The Atlanta Greyhound station was chaos. It was a rainy Monday. Buses were late. Some were cancelled (which happens frequently because drivers simply don’t show up for work). And, because there are no digital status boards or signs, nobody knows when their bus may be leaving, or arriving.
While I wasn’t happy with the situation, I’ve become used to life in chaotic terminals, so I put my noise-reducing headphones on and tried to listen to a book through the noise that wasn’t being reduced. Directly across from me was an African American family, a mom, son and, what I assumed to be, a grandmother. They were noteworthy only because they’d been sitting and waiting for as long as I’d been in the terminal.
Somehow, through the chaos, I started to drift asleep. I awoke to a frightening scream. There was a commotion, but I couldn’t see what was happening because of the line of people standing in front of me, waiting to board a bus. As the line broke, I could see that the commotion was coming from the family across from me. A young man, in his 20’s I guessed, was hovering over the younger woman, the one I assumed was the mother. She was crying hysterically, almost inconsolable. She couldn’t catch her breath and, for a moment, I thought she might have a heart attack. The only words I could hear her saying were “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord.”
When things calmed, I approached them, told the about the Journey and asked about what I had just witnessed. The mother, whose name I learned was Debra, was out of breath, unable to construct a coherent sentence. So, I turned to the younger man.
He introduced himself as Anthony. He was Debra’s 29 year-old son. Anthony had just been released from Georgia State Prison the previous day. He’d been convicted of armed robbery when he was 19. Debra has only seen him once in 10 years, unable to afford the time off of work to visit her son in prison, at the other end of the state.
Having confirmed his release date, Anthony arranged with his Aunt Sydney, the older of the two women, to invite Debra and his younger brother, Keshon, to Atlanta for the weekend. Upon his release, the Georgia Department of Corrections gave Anthony a $100 check and a one-way ticket home to Forrest Park, Georgia. His bus made one stop, in Atlanta. There he would transfer to the bus headed for Forrest Park. But only after a reunion with his mother.
Their bus was called and the family rose to get into the boarding line. I never did get a chance to talk to Debra because she was so overcome with emotion. But I guess I didn’t need to. What could she say that I hadn’t already witnessed. As they moved toward the gate, she gripped Anthony’s arm, with both hands, not wanting to let go of her son, to risk losing him again. And, all the while, her lips moved gently, simply repeating: “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord.”
I met Fish in a church basement in Birmingham.
My friends Jim and Betsey are part of a group that feeds Birmingham’s growing population of homeless people. I joined them on his particular Saturday. They feed in excess of 200 people on a given morning, sometimes more depending on the weather. Eggs. Biscuits. Grits. Coffee. A hearty meal for many grateful people.
If there is food remaining after everyone passes through once, they re-open the line for seconds. With the food dwindling and the line of seconds thinning out, a young man came through, a backpack slung over his shoulder. Soft spoken, he asked if there was anything left. While we plated his food, he said that he just got into town. When someone probed as to his mode of transportation, he said: “I ride the rails.”
He took his food to an empty table. I took him another biscuit. He declined. I shared about the Journey and asked if he would be willing to tell his story. Even though he wasn’t traveling on a Greyhound Bus, I’d never known anybody who traveled by boxcar. He was a little hesitant at first, but eventually agreed.
I asked his name and he told me it was Fish. When I asked about the origin of his nickname he said, in a matter-of-fact tone: “I always drank like a fish.” Then, a smile. He continued: “I’ve been drinking since I was six, but I’ve been sober, more or less, for the past ten years.”
Fish was 36 years old. I asked about the train. “I’ve been riding boxcars for about 18 years,” he said. “I can’t think of another way to live. I guess you could call me a nomad.”
Fish shared that he was a Messianic Jew. Messianic Judaism is a movement that combines Christianity with elements of Judaism and Jewish Tradition. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
“The second coming is close at hand,” he said. “I travel the country on boxcars to proclaim the truth.”
I wasn’t sure what truth he was proclaiming, but let it pass. “Do you work?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” he said. “But I don’t have ID, so I’m not always welcome in the towns where I stop. And it makes it hard to get a job.”
When I asked if I could take his picture, he held up his hands. “No, the sect I belong to believes that it is evil to have your picture taken. Plus, there are a few people looking for me, so I really don’t want my picture out on the Internet.”
I’m thinking it was more of the latter than the former, but didn’t say anything. His breakfast finished, he begins to gather his belongings. I notice something tattooed on his knuckles and asked if I could take a look. He puts his fists together. The knuckles spell out: FAREWELL. “I’m always saying goodbye,” he says, with a smile.
Then, he reverses his hands, showing me that how the knuckles then say: WELLFARE. Again, he smiles, pointing to his empty plate: “We all need a little welfare once in a while.”
After some coaxing, he let me take a picture of his tattooed knuckles. He then threw his backpack over his shoulder, thanked the staff and started to walk off. I asked where he was going.
“Not sure,” he said. “I really won’t know until I get there.”
With that, Fish put his fists up, showing me his knuckles, his way of saying goodbye: FAREWELL. Then he headed into the Birmingham morning. Fish had a boxcar to catch.
I hated Alabama. Not the state. I don't have anything against the state. I hated the football team, the Crimson Tide. The Crimson Tide coached by the late, gnarly old dude in the Hounds-tooth hat, Bear Bryant.
I'm not a hater, abhor the word. But my issue with the Crimson Tide, my hate, came naturally as a result of one game, one day, January 1st, 1979. That was the day that Bear Bryant and the much despised Crimson Tide, stopped my Penn State Nittany Lions four straight times from the one yard line, stopped our dream of a first National Championship. I was in New Orleans that day. I was there with my roommates, Tim and Glen. It was supposed to be our day, a day of celebration, for the glory of old Penn State. But Bear Bryant and his damn Houndstooth hat ruined everything.
To be honest, I didn't hate Alabama because they beat us. I mean, that was bad. But my antipathy grew because our drive back to Pennsylvania took us through the heart of Crimson Tide country. In a driving rain. We had to endure a seemingly endless stream of cars, rolling past us, windows open, drunk 'Bama fans hanging in the wind shouting that most annoying of football battle cries: "Roooollll Tide." You can see, dear reader, why my hatred might be justified?
Fast forward 36 years. A grayer, heavier, more mature, more accepting version of me is in Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama. I'm visiting my dear friends and 'Bama alums, Jim and Betsey Harmon. They are treating me to the "Bama experience: tailgate parties, fraternity mixers, Alabama cheerleaders (they were clearly drawn to my Yankee animal magnetism). Oh, and a "Bama football game (against some team I never heard of).
As a guest of the Harmon's, I was also an honorary Crimson Tide fan for the day. That meant I was obligated to say "Roll Tide" countless times. You don't say hello in Tuscaloosa, you say Roll Tide. Goodbye? Roll Tide. Thank you? Roll Tide. Please? Roll Tide. A first down during the game? 100,000 fans shout Roll Tide.
I thought about that rainy, depressing New Years Day, 1979, driving through Dixie, seething every time I heard "Rooollll Tide" from a passing car. It's funny now to look back on that time, to consider how much emotion I invested in a football game, as if its outcome could somehow change the course of my life. And surely, that younger, more stupid version of me could have never imagined that one day, in the distant future, an older, slightly wiser version of himself would be in Tuscaloosa, of all places, partying with the enemy, having the time of his life. Rooolllll Tide!
“With six pieces of wood, I’m building a life, and my coffin.”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title
Daryl has been a carpenter more than half of his life. He is 29 and was first introduced to carpentry when he was 13.
Daryl loves to create, to mold wood, to build homes, expensive homes for people he will likely never meet. He considers himself an artist. Holding up his hands, he says to me, proudly: "There's nothing I can't do with these hands."
Daryl is also a heroin addict. I sat with him on the bus from Montgomery to Birmingham, Alabama. He was heading to his parent's home in Birmingham, having just left a job, building homes, creating art at an exclusive development in Montgomery. The site foreman found a syringe near Daryl's locker, confronted him with the evidence. Daryl admitted it was his, then quit, gathering his stuff for the trip back to Birmingham.
"It doesn't sound like you were fired," I said. "Why would you quit a job you liked."
"Because I've been here before," he said."Once they know, they're always looking over your shoulder, always looking for you to screw up. He tried to talk me into staying because he liked my work, but it's not worth it."
We talked about recovery. Daryl's been using for more than 10 years. Four years earlier, he was able to quit, entered a rehab program, joined Narcotics Anonymous.
"I was clean for three years," he said. "My sponsor was an older dude who owned a construction company. He found me good jobs and I was doing my best work ever. Then I met his daughter who had just moved back to town. He thought she was clean, but it was a lie. She got me back on the stuff and I haven't been able to get off."
I ask him if he is afraid, afraid that he'll overdose, afraid that he'll die.
"I'm not afraid," he says. "I've tried to kill myself twice, cause sometimes I just get tired, don't wanna play this game anymore. I think about going back to meetings. He trails off and looks out the window.
I ask Daryl what he's going to do when he gets to Birmingham.
"First thing I'm gonna do is find a fix," he says, matter-of-factly. "Then I'll go to see my girlfriend or my parents."
I suggest that he call his sponsor instead of finding a fix. He takes a moment, as if giving serious consideration to my suggestion. "Maybe I will," he said. But I think he was being polite, telling me what I'd like to hear.
We pull into Birmingham. I give him a few dollars for a beer. We shake hands and I urge him to call his sponsor. He lies and says he will.
I ask if he'll be able to find work. He smiles. "Everybody needs a good carpenter," he says. "And I'm the best there is."
I suspect I was drawn to Steve for a reason, as I have been drawn to others throughout my Journey. Or, perhaps, them to me.
He sat alone on a packed bus, leaving New Orleans for points north. He didn’t appear to be someone who would have an interesting story, so I sidled up to him, somewhat reluctantly. We ended up talking, non-stop, for three hours.
Steve is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. He was visiting his grown children, who are spread throughout the country. I asked why a Greyhound Bus, assuming the answer would be cost savings. “I find the bus very meditative,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to relax and see the country.”
While I could debate the “relaxing” part, I could not argue with Steve’s claim that the bus is a great way to experience the natural beauty of America, truck stops notwithstanding.
Steve turned out to be one of the more fascinating people I met on the Journey. He was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. His father sent him to live in Israel with an aunt when he was 14. Steve was also a horse lover, having owned and sold his own horse while living on a farm in Eastern Pennsylvania. He ultimately channeled his love of horses into a career. “I went to horse shoeing school in Israel,” he said. “I became one of the most sought after shoers in the country. In fact, I was the personal horse shoer for Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel.”
Imagine, I was sitting next to a celebrity horse shoer! Steve shoed horses for more than 30 years, earning enough money to own a small farm near the Gaza Strip. I asked him if he ever felt threatened, his home near one of the most dangerous strips of land n the world. “Never,” he said. “Everyone with a horse sought me out. I was a friend to Jews, Arabs and Christians alike.”
After a short lull in the conversation, Steve apologized to me, saying that he was going to take a few minutes to meditate. I’m a meditator, have been for many years. I asked him about his practice.
“I meditate five hours every day,” he said. “Meditation saved my life.”
Steve proceeded to tell me that his youngest son died in a snow mobile accident many years ago. He had been dabbling in meditation. The grief over loosing his son drove him deeper into practice. “There is nothing like the grief of losing a child,” he said, “While the pain never goes away, my meditation has helped me to manage my grief, and to get along in the world.”
Steve has practiced with some of the most notable teachers in the world. In fact, once he completes the visits with his children, Steve will depart for India, where he will sit in a silent meditation retreat for 60 days. He is one of a select group of Westerners who are qualified to participate in what is the only 60-day retreat in the world.
He wants to write books about both his horseshoeing experience and meditation, and asked if I knew of an editor. I told him I knew of a few people and we exchanged contact information
He smiled, a man at peace, settled in his seat and closed his eyes in meditation. I followed suit, settling back, breathing slowly, relaxing. On the bus, of all places.
. As I wrote yesterday, I'm off the road, at least for now.
I attended Steve Harris' funeral in Cleveland with my good friend Sharon McCormick. It was a beautiful celebration of his life, during which friends and family shared observations attesting to Steve's passion for radio, love of family and faith in God. Oh, and it was also mentioned about two dozen times that Steve loved the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes more than anything else. It was a fitting send off to an extraordinary man.
Even thought I'm not traveling, I have a backlog of stories from the road. So, I will keep posting for the time being on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.
I'm so grateful for the response I've been getting to the posts. The fact that someone would take the time to read them is gratifying enough. So thank you.
It's been strange re-adjusting to life beyond the confines of a Greyhound Bus. At bedtime, I find myself wanting to contort my body into the most uncomfortable position possible, in a tiny corner of the bed. Instead of eating fruits and vegetables, I'm inclined to drive out to a truck stop and over-microwave a frozen burrito. At 2AM. It's been particularly difficult adjusting to life without stale coffee, mixed with powder coffee creamer. I've been trying to convince Kate to wake me every two hours, shining a flashlight in my eyes and yelling: "You have a ten minute rest stop. If you're not back on the bus in ten minutes, I'm leaving you in the middle of nowhere."
Today I'm posting the second video created by my friend Robert Parish. Thanks Robert for your interest in the Journey and for taking the time to create these videos.