The year was 1993, and I was trying to get home. It was the first time I can remember where I was really on my own in the world for the first time. It was spring break you see, and my friend’s van had broken down. I needed to get back in time for school, if I skipped one more day I’d flunk out of whatever studio class I was taking. It was my freshman year, and I was not a good student. 19 years old, not stupid but not worldly in any sense. So, I found myself alone on a greyhoud bus somewhere in Illinois stoping in nameless towns making my way back to Central Ohio.
It’s the moments at the bus stops waiting to transfer that I remember the most. I sat with a woman and her kids on a park bench. She didn’t have proper luggage, just her and her children’s clothing in trash bags. I remember thinking she was old, but I don’t think she was much older than I was. When the bus arrived he wouldn’t let her on because she didn’t have her things in cases. I was traveling with a small backpack and my pillow n blanket rolled up. I could sense her desperation, and her defeat as the bus drove away. I hope she got her ticket refunded and found her way to a safe place.
Then I found myself in this industrial place. Metal boxes stacked like a forgotten mini airport from the 70s all painted light blue. I remember standing on the pavement, feeling heat come up from the ground through my thin leather moccasins that I was wearing as shoes. I don’t know why the ground was so hot. The sun was setting, and the colors I recall, pale blue, orange, steel, black. I went to the bus terminal, and heard people arguing in another language. I saw people with facial tattoos in person for the first time, and I knew they were gang related. I kept to myself, and listened and watched. I felt invisible. I often felt invisible then. Sometimes I still do. An observer nobody pays attention to. Things in the station settled down, and the gang folk exchanged themselves for a quieter set of characters. The next bus arrived. I didn’t know what station I was at or what city or what the next stop was. Only I had to keep going. The next bus ride was the only time I recall who I was sitting next to. A man of indeterminate age wearing a velvet mauve suit, a wide brimmed hat, and wing tip shoes. He slept the entire time.
Next stop was an indoor situation with those plastic 70s style bench-chairs that aren’t around anymore. A man who had some obvious mental illness decided I would be the person he wanted to talk to that night. I don’t remember what was said, it was likely just nonsense. I humored him but also trying to move away in away that wasn’t obvious. A bus station worker, the janitor I think, joined us. He knew the man, and got him to become distracted by something else. When the mentally ill gent was distracted he made sure I was ok. I was ok.
I did make it back home finally. My mom picked me up to make sure I was safe and well, and took me back to my dorm. My friends made it back a few hours before I did. They had gotten lucky and found a mechanic to service their van earlier than we thought. So… I took my separate trip for nothing. If I had waited I would have gotten back in time anyway without the expense of a bus ticket.
That was 24 years ago. I can’t say why that’s on my mind now really. What I remember… or what strikes me now about that experience is I wasn’t afraid. I wanted this adventure, and it was a part of a much longer adventure with college roommates and dorm friends in an old church van in Northern Illinois. All the problems in the world seemed very far away. I was young and excited and I wanted to explore everything. I felt if I was mindful of where I was and kept my wits I’d be ok, and I wasn’t wrong about that. The internet wasn’t much of a thing, any photos were still taken and developed on film. I didn’t think or worry what the world would think of what I was doing, because any documentation would be in a handful of photos I no longer have, and my memory.
I’m still sketching away, more or less forgotten by my local contemporaries because I haven’t had a proper exhibition in town for quite some time. I’m just trying to decide what to say… beyond what I am doing for myself. I’m painting and drawing exercises and thoughts. It’s not worth sharing.
I have many memories like this and not like this. I’m going to write some of them down, because I believe it’s part of the process to get me wherever I need to be (and I need to be there soon). Maybe you’ll enjoy them. Maybe I’ll sketch out some things relating to it. We shall see.
My take away, is the 19 yr old I was couldn’t exist now. I would have found social media seductive, and recording myself for that would mean I wouldn’t be in the moment. There’s so much more division and fear now. Politics were a thing but fear wasn’t a propaganda tool then. The Berlin wall fell, and I had grown up in an era of mostly peace, barring the cold war with its nuclear threat and movies/tv constantly telling us how evil the Soviets were. The 19 yr olds today have grown up with a country at war, even though the battlefields are a world away. Fear, social anxiety, constant reminders of threats are the norm. It’s like people forgot that it wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to stay like this. Not that the early 90’s were perfect, we’ve made great social strides since then. However there were some good things back then that we have since lost. Or maybe it’s easy to rose color the past.