26 June 2017

Chicken McNuggets Were Still New [1982]


[bus trip, 26 June 1982]
M
y cousin had gotten up late enough that we basically did nothing except go to the LA terminal; she drove me there so that I could catch the 11:00 bus to Portland, which I did. I arrived there within minutes of departure time and for a while it looked as if I would miss the bus regardless (which didn’t worry me because I knew I could just catch the 1pm or so bus, but which did worry my cousin) but with the help of (and sometimes in spite of the help of) my cousin I got on the bus and said goodbye to her and all that. There was only one seat vacant on the bus I could see (although it developed afterwards that there was probably one other vacant seat which I missed somehow) and it was occupied by a vast man of vaguely Mexican cast who it turned out spoke little or no English. Half-occupied, I mean; he had his own seat and sprawled into the other.  I sat beside him, and went to sleep. When getting on the bus I checked my other bag to Portland, so I had only my carryon piece to worry about.
It turned out that I was sort of surrounded by a family of five—two brothers, two sisters, and the wife of the oldest brother—who were going up to a small town in Washington which even I had never heard of which was about 37 miles from the Canadian border. They were going to visit their dying father whom they hadn’t seen in years (why I don’t know—the youngest of the kids must have been still in high school). They had left from Virginia the day before, or maybe the day before that—it wasn’t clear. They were appallingly ignorant of local geography; for some reason they suffered from the delusion that Portland was just over the California border and so were amazed at the extent of the state [of California] (an extent which is amazing enough with­out giving it most of Oregon as well), and they argued about whether Vancouver was in Washington or Canada.
I had drifted off to sleep quite nicely (although plagued by nausea and headache) when I was awakened by an appalling racket from the back of the bus. A little girl, maybe six years old, was singing at the top of her lungs a song about putting Satan in a box, and about how glad she was she had salvation from the Lord. She sang another song which seemed to be about sheep, and then the members of the family which was more or less scattered about my area began to call out requests. “Do you know ‘Jesus loves me’?” She didn’t seem to, but she did know a song about how Jesus loves the little children, and, delighted by the attention, drifted up to a point more or less in the middle of the family, which happened to be directly beside my seat, and sang that at the top of her lungs. This excruciating torment went on for—it seemed—hours, as the child had a large repertory of these numbers, which, it developed, were sung in her church. When she had gone through them all two or three times (with all joining in on some of the choruses) she got tired of it and went back to her seat. I drifted back off to sleep, and when I awoke again my head hurt less and my nausea had vanished.
Some time around three in the afternoon we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere which consisted mainly of a McDonalds. Most of us zipped inside to eat there including my seat companion, but I stayed on the bus, not feeling up to moving. I ate my tuna fish sandwiches—the half-eaten one from the morning and the other which I had made for the trip. The younger members of that family had gone in to the McDonalds while the older had gone to an Arby’s or something, and the younger came back complaining that the Chicken McNuggets were still new here and they didn’t have the McRibs at all … These disasters notwithstanding they had good meals of hamburgers and other hot sandwiches before the bus took off. Others ate similarly.
We next stopped briefly at Stockton I think it was but only to let various members of the troupe off. Among these were my seat companion and our humorist from the back section who had enlivened the trip by singing “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer” and by making wisecracks about everyone who came back to use the bus restroom.
At Sacramento I just missed witnessing a knifing and I ate two baconburgers and an order of fries from the local Burger King. Everything there was all screwed up. The bus waited there for about an hour, and I waited with it.
At some stop soon after—or perhaps even at Sacramento itself—I acquired a new seat companion. I had already stolen the window seat and now was watching as the new riders got on. I asked the gods to let the seat stay empty or to provide me with a lovely young lady if the former was (as I suspected) out of the question, and, after a fashion, the request was honored. The best-looking female in the bunch sat next to me. She didn’t talk, preferring to listen to an inaudible tape recorder, and she was too damn young, really—she couldn’t have been much out of high school, if at all. She spent part of the night sleeping with her head against my shoulder. Leg pressed against mine. Warm accidental contact.
Late in the evening we acquired a bus driver—he took us into Oregon—who was a kind of humorist, and at that hour of the night he was even funny. I think he got on at Orland or some such imaginary place.

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