I so badly need to get back to writing. Writing is my lifeline. I've been so consumed with matters of life and death (especially death) that I've slippped away. So I just made myself sit down and do a writing exercise, anything to get me going. A prompt from a brilliant clear thinker, Michael Harrington, a writer whose study on poverty in America, written in the 1960s, had a huge influence on my thinking and my attitudes about society and life and politics. I've taken it in a completely different direction, but it's an exercise and I'm not Michael Harrington. May he rest in peace.
Michael Harrington, “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” p. 19.
“It is made up of Puerto Ricans and Negroes, alcoholics, drifters, and disturbed people.”
A breeze started to stir the still, humid air, and the leaves on the trees began to quiver. I stood at the bus depot, watching the sky turn gray and threatening. And the sky darkened to the color of a fresh bruise as the wind began to shake the awning and lightning jigged and jagged closer and closer to town. I prayed that the bus would arrive before the storm and I prayed that Delmar wouldn’t just happen to leave work early and drive by the bus depot on his way home from the plant. The bus depot was part of Essie Jenk’s gasoline station, little more than a concrete slab, a ticket window, and an awning. I stood next to the cinderblock wall, as far from the road as I could, cowering between the soda machine and the door to a restroom marked “Whites Only.” The skies opened up and rain poured down just as the bus arrived. The bus stopped, the doors creaked open, and I grabbed my suitcase and ran for the open door. But I couldn’t run fast enough to outrun the rain—I was soaked. The bus driver nodded and took my ticket and I sat down in the first free row I could find, two rows behind the driver. The air in the bus was stifling and sick with the odor of unwashed bodies. But I sat for hours with my head pressed to the window, listening to the windshield wipers, the swish of the wheels in the rain, and a baby crying softly in the back of the bus. My life was about to change forever. In my mind I was going to Boston. I had never been to Boston, never knew anyone who had, but I once had seen a picture of an old church in Boston in the snow and I just felt that was where I needed to be, that is where I could find a new family. We would have Sunday supper and walk in the snow and take care of one another. That was the extent of my escape plan. Into the second day on the bus, we stopped in Newark, New Jersey, where I was going to buy a ticket for another bus that would take me to Boston. Wrapped in a rubber band, buried deep in my purse, I had a roll of dollar bills that I had been saving for months and months as I hatched my escape plan. I looked in my purse and the roll of bills was gone. I searched everywhere, tore through every inch of my suitcase and every inch of the bus where I had been sitting for hours and hours. The driver just shook his head no when I asked him had he seen my money. I had fallen asleep at some point in the trip and thought about that old lady who sat next to me from Richmond to Baltimore, and began to wonder why she got off the bus in such a hurry. So Newark, New Jersey, became my destination, not Boston. There I was in Newark with only a suitcase and a handful of coins. Instead of finding the church in the snow, I found a homeless shelter in dirty city, with no ticket home. If I found a new family, it is far from the family I expected to find in Boston. It is made up of Puerto Ricans and Negroes, alcoholics, drifters, and disturbed people.