D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e  April 2006

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Living Foods Learning Center offers an alternative to a "toxic" world.

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For graffiti artists, the world is their canvas.

The Bus Stops Here
By bus from the Phoenix suburbs to Lordsburg.

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SOUTHWEST JOURNAL

The Bus Stops Here

Going Greyhound, from the Phoenix suburbs to Lordsburg, and living to tell about it.

By John R. Catsis

The first time I rode a bus farther than five miles was in 1952. I was 19 and on my way from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to Denver and a new duty assignment at Fitzsimons Army Hospital.

This past summer I took my second long bus ride. It was from my home near Mesa, Ariz., to Lordsburg. There, I would pick up my freshly repaired van that had decided to quit running two weeks previously.

 

A thunderstorm en route, near Safford, Arizona.
(Photo by John R. Catsis)

 

I approached this trip with apprehension, not because I was concerned the van would not be repaired to my liking, but that the bus ride would not be to my liking. After all, I had been accustomed to flying or driving my own car whenever I needed to get anywhere. Accustomed? "Spoiled" might be a better word.

But this time, after considering all the options for getting to Lordsburg, I concluded there was only one workable solution. With some reluctance I went to the Mesa Greyhound station to buy what I knew would be a one-way ticket to adventure. "Where you going?" the ticket lady asked. When I told her, she suggested I buy a ticket to Las Cruces instead, and "just get off in Lordsburg." Even though Las Cruces is about 125 miles farther, the fare is $15 cheaper. Go figure.

So I made the commitment.

And saved $15.

D-Day, my departure day, arrived all too quickly. A friend transported me to the bus station in Mesa. It's not really a bus station. It's a storefront in a tiny strip mall. There, my friend dropped me off. Before he pulled away he smiled and wished me luck. I wondered what he meant by that?

He quickly left the parking lot and turned to head toward the security of his own home. That lucky guy, I thought. Standing there on the curb I felt so alone. I truly knew the meaning of angst.

I entered the "bus station" and took a plastic seat in the bare waiting room. It wasn't very homey or even welcoming. "Sterile" might be an appropriate word. The only framed items hanging on the walls were warning signs printed in two languages. I read them dutifully and promised myself to obey. Retrieving a magazine from my suitcase, I attempted to present the image of a well-seasoned bus traveler.

I wasn't fooling anyone. Perhaps it was because I was too well dressed.

A short time later a young man shuffled in, shoelaces untied and dragging along the floor, and sat next to me, even though there were at least 20 other empty plastic seats available. That's probably because I was seated close to the "gate," perhaps more accurately described as the back door. The young man was wearing earphones, listening to rap from some kind of electronic sound device. I knew it was rap because I could hear it leaking out. I wonder if he knew that permanent ear damage can occur from exposure to loud sounds?

I hoped he wouldn't sit next to me on the bus. He didn't. Fortunately, the bus had 52 seats and only 20 were occupied. Mostly young people. To me, anyone under 50 is young.

Actually, 24 seats were taken: two with luggage and two more with two young ladies who were sprawled out, fast asleep, with blankets and pillows they'd obviously brought with them. How did I know? I don't think the bus company provides polar-fleece-covered pillows decorated with images of Bugs Bunny. As the two women slept, I wondered what kind of night they'd had that made them so tired. Must have been a doozie to remember. Or forget.

"What happens on this bus," I told myself, "stays on this bus."

Even though I'd bought a Greyhound ticket, the bus had "Kerrville" painted on the side. I guess Greyhound couldn't make it that day. That's OK, just as long as I got to Lordsburg. I asked the driver as I gave him my ticket, just to make sure.

We left right on time, and headed east on US 60. The first stop came after 18 miles, near the eastern edge of Apache Junction. The bus station was a Burger King. Two young men in their 20s got on. One was wearing jeans, a green shirt and matching green sneakers. The other was wearing a tank-top undershirt that revealed a swastika on his right shoulder. The Nazi kind.

I pretended to be reading as Mr. Swastika slithered down the aisle and then went past me, heading toward the rear. Good. Since I was near the middle, I figured this should be OK.

Ten minutes after we were back on the road, the bus began a slow uphill climb. A sign read "Tonto National Forest." I wondered if it was named after the Lone Ranger's sidekick?

A few miles later, I spotted three white crosses planted by the side of the road. Just a half-mile later, four more crosses. They were newer. Two large and two small. A family perhaps?

As we approached the old mining town of Superior, I noted that gasoline was selling for 10 cents a gallon less than in the Phoenix area. Why? This is an out-of-the-way almost-ghost town.

No time for answers. The driver pulled up next to Southwest Towing and Repairs. Must be Superior's bus station. It was a small shop, with several demolished vehicles gracing the front parking area. No one got on or off.

Continuing our journey, Hwy. 60 entered one of its most scenic areas. Rock walls snuggled both sides of the two-lane road as we entered a canyon. There was a chain-link fence off to the right—not to keep people from getting to the rocks, but to keep falling rocks from getting to the people.

Down below about a hundred feet I spotted the remains of an old road. As I studied it, the bus suddenly went dark. We were in a tunnel. At the other end we were greeted by deciduous trees displaying bright springtime green colors. It was as if we'd traveled through a time tunnel, from one season to another.

As we passed a sign that said we'd reached 4,600 feet elevation, we began heading downhill. Hold on there, driver. Aren't you taking these curves a little fast? He slowed down, as if he had heard my thoughts. But as we passed the Mountain Breeze Memorial Gardens cemetery, I wondered if he'd slowed as a way of paying respect.

We entered Miami, Ariz. Twice. That was because there were two official-looking "City Limits" signs a mile apart. Apparently, there's disagreement as to where the city begins. Doesn't really matter. Few people seem to want to live in Miami anymore. Building after building was vacant. The signs told the stories of hopes gone south, or maybe east to Globe: "For rent." "For sale." "Moved." A lumber yard sat vacant. A jackrabbit foraged in the yard.

Miami is adjacent to Globe. The twin cities of eastern Arizona, you might say. In today's world, Globe is where it's at. Got a McDonald's. And that's where we stopped. "Thirty-minute rest," announced the driver. Everyone got off to stretch or to buy a McSomething. Everyone, that is, except for the two sleeping princesses.

Twenty-eight minutes into the rest stop, the two women awoke and decided to get a bite. As they disappeared inside the restaurant, the driver entered the bus and began counting. He was missing two passengers. "Do you ever leave without everyone?" I asked. He ignored me. The driver found the two women standing in line at the restaurant and convinced them it was in their best interest to suspend any plans they might have had for lunch, and to return to the bus.

They grumbled. Their unhappiness was evident as they plopped into their seats. The bus left Mickey D's and headed east toward Safford. Right on time. A 30-minute break he'd announced and a 30-minute break it was. "This guy's good," I told myself.

As we hit the open road, the fellow with the green shirt and shoes decided to call someone on his cell phone. It was one of those walkie-talkie types, where you can hear both sides of the conversation—even if you don't want to. And to make the experience even more annoying, there are those frequent beeps.

This seemed to have inspired the two young women, who were now fully awake. Who wouldn't be, if you had missed lunch? They produced their own cell phones and dialed up who-knows-who. Fortunately, neither of their cell phones was the walkie-talkie weepy-beepy type.

I decided to move to an empty, somewhat quieter seat closer to the front, where I prayed the bus would soon enter the Bermuda Triangle of cell-phone signal loss.

One of the advantages of riding a bus, I decided, is that I can see scenery in a way that's not possible when I'm the driver. For example, when we passed an airstrip serving an Indian casino, I spotted a rather large amphibian parked on the tarmac. What was it doing so far from water?

A mile or two later I saw a small home with two satellite dishes. Why two?

We were now in the San Carlos Indian Reservation. As we neared a built-up area, a young man approached the driver from the rear and asked to be let off at the next gas station. He obliged. Now that's convenience. Can't do that with a plane, or even a train, I told myself.

The scenery was now getting a little monotonous, and I was getting a little tired.

Forty-five minutes later I realized I'd been sleeping. I was now refreshed. Refreshed and in Safford, where the bus stopped at a Greyhound-marked storefront. There, Mr. Greenshoes and Mr. Swastika got out to grab a smoke. When it was time to leave, an elderly woman and a young man of about eight got on board and took the seats directly in front of me. It was clear the woman was the young man's grandmother. How did I know? Because he called her "grandma." She, in turn, called her grandson "Donovan."

Donovan turned out to be a precocious young man. Fidgety, too. Grandma couldn't read even a page of her paperback novel. She might have been trying to do so for years, because the pages display edges of yellow, a telltale sign of age. Donovan was a perpetual talking machine, asking questions or making comments—sometimes, both at the same time. At one point, the road became bumpy because of construction. This caused Donovan to look up with alarm. He spotted the driver and was reassured. "Oh," he said, "I thought the driver was gone."

The bus entered a broad green valley, in the center of which was the small community of Duncan. The road through the village is called the Old West Highway. Fitting, even though most motorists know it as US 70.

A short time later we were welcomed to New Mexico. Time to move my watch ahead an hour, into Daylight Savings Time. The road was now becoming flatter. Another bus approached. It's a Greyhound—said so on the side. Kerrville meeting Greyhound. Probably heading toward Mesa. The other driver flashed his lights in greeting. Presumably our driver did the same.

Donovan turned around to follow the passing bus and spotted me. "Hello, Donovan," I said.

"Have I met you?" he asked.

"No, but you have now."

Donovan was not impressed. He returned to his coloring. I returned to staring out the window.

Lordsburg loomed on the horizon. It wasn't a bad trip after all. Pretty nice, in fact. Bus made good time. Even with the stops, I couldn't have done much better in my own vehicle. Maybe I'd use this route when I drove home in my van.

"Welcome to Lordsburg," the driver announced a few miles later. We've pulled up to a modern bus station. Behind McDonald's, of course. How convenient. I wondered which came first?

I was the only one to get off here. And no one got on to leave Lordsburg. Maybe that's because all those who wanted to leave, already had. Mr. Greenshoes and Mr. Swastika were outside enjoying another break, as were the two princesses. All would get back on to resume their trips to wherever.

As the bus pulled away, I saw Donovan staring out the window. I waved. He turned his head away. I guess I didn't make a good impression.

I was left standing at the curb, much as in Mesa. Alone for the moment. Welcome to Lordsburg.

John Catsis, who lives in Chandler, Ariz., plans to move to Silver City next year, where his freelance writing, photography and travels will continue, using an old car with a new engine.

 

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