This is a short piece of creative fiction. It’s based on several of my recent bus rides back and forth from Missoula to Billings. It’s not exactly true; but it’s not exactly not.
This not being my first bus riding rodeo, I arrived early and intentionally find a seat toward the front. Last time, I mistakenly sat too far back, where a sketchy guy with a Russian accent asked to borrow my phone. I was too nervous to refuse. Now I’m worried my phone number is on Robert Mueller’s list.
Today is a different day on a different bus in a different city. But, as I board, I still avoid eye contact with everyone sitting in the back.
Butte is our first stop. There are some tough ass dudes there, and although I have a Montana Handgunning Certificate of Achievement, I’m not packing. The driver, a wrinkled woman who looks older than Grandma Moses announces, “Federal law prohibits guns, knives, and weapons on the bus.” That’s the government for you; always taking away our freedoms.
A man across the aisle uses the word fuck so often that it blends in and hovers around with the bus buzz and body odor. “That fucking manager. He fucking won’t let me do fucking anything. So then when I got fucking sick I was fucked, but he don’t fucking care about shit.”
Judgment flows into my pores, through my thoughts, picking up speed like a downhill skier. He sounds like an angry asshole. I glance over. He looks like an angry asshole. That figures.
Later, as dusk softens the light in the bus, the angry asshole’s voice changes. “Hi Sis,” he says. “Thanks for calling me back.” The word fuck is absent. Instead, there’s sad talk of divorce. Anger surrenders to pain. I’m close enough to hear about his daughter, his dead-end job, and an upcoming birthday.
“Hey Sis,” he says. “Can I borrow 20 bucks to buy Clarice a birthday present?”
One problem with judgment is that it’s easy to lock it in, even when it’s wrong. Once locked in, it’s hard to revise. I’m a mental health professional. I get paid big bucks to make judgments about whether thoughts are rational, about mental health, and about mental fitness. It occurs to me that’s ass-backward; we should pay people like me to not make judgments.
In this moment, on this planet, how many annoying jerks are riding in buses on American freeways? How many are on a round trip from anger to pain, only to get re-routed to sadness and despair before arriving back where they started? Resentment is there too, sometimes it’s my seat-mate, except for when it’s not, because I’m cradling it in my lap.
I’m thankful for federal law. None of these difficult emotions have to go online to buy tickets; they ride for free.
Harsh judgments rode with me until we got to Livingston. They whispered sweet somethings in my ear, telling me I was better, than the smoking, swearing, smelly, rabble around me. Then, I found a twenty dollar bill and left it, along with my judgment, at the Livingston bus stop.
Not to be dismissed, judgment caught up with me in Billings, when the man in the front seat started sounding off about the bitches who were trying to take down the government. But boy-howdy, that 115 miles from Livingston to Billings, that was one nice fucking bus ride, even if I do say so myself.