Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World
On the second day of my married life, I found myself sitting next to Edgar Rawlings in the back seat of a Greyhound Bus bound for Montreal. I was on my honeymoon. Edgar was returning to prison. It was snowing.
My first day in this new world hadn’t gone so well. It was my wedding day and I’d left Crystal’s ring at my parent’s house on Long Island. When I told her, she tried to give me her angry look, but she couldn’t pull it off and started giggling. She would tell the “Joel forgot my wedding ring” story for the next thirty years. She thought she was so funny. Crystal died last year.
Forgetting the ring unnerved me but was nothing compared to how I felt when her father asked me about our honeymoon plans.
“We’re driving to Montreal. Staying at the Hotel Bonaventure,” I said. Her father was tall, grey, and imperious. I unfolded my roadmap on his desk and showed him how I’d red-penciled our route. He didn’t even look at it.
“Joel, how the hell are you going to drive to Montreal? Don’t you know they aren’t selling gas on weekends?”
It was December 1973. I was aware of the energy crisis in sort of an academic way, but in grad school we never drove anywhere. I stood in his den, clutching my stupid map, my face burning. I was going to be married in three hours and had already screwed up our honeymoon.
He tossed me a phonebook. “Call Greyhound.”
We spent our wedding night at the local Holiday Inn, overslept, and nearly missed the bus. Crystal squeezed into a window seat next to a woman who had to weigh three hundred pounds. She winked at me and started writing thank you notes. I found a seat in the last row, next to a skinny kid in green workpants and a baggy flannel shirt.
He moved his bag. “Here partner, take a load off.” He patted the seat. “I was hoping they’d oversell and bump me. Get to extend my furlough.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Edgar Rawlings.”
We shook hands. “I’m Joel. You’re a soldier?” I asked.
“Nah. Prison furlough. Trustee’s meeting the bus at Napier to drive me back.”
Edgar had a rough buzz-cut and the hint of whiskers on his chin and upper lip. He opened his sack and took out a croissant. He pushed the bag towards me, “My mom baked them.”
I wondered if there were rules about eating on the bus, but didn’t want to offend him. “These taste awesome, Edgar,” I said, my mouth full.
His face lit up. “Where you headed, Joel?”
When I told him I was going to Montreal on my honeymoon he nearly jumped out of his seat. “Montreal’s the greatest city in the world. I know a place has rolls almost as good as Mom’s. Let me borrow your pen.”
I reached for the silver Cross pen in my shirt pocket. Edgar ripped a piece of paper out of his notebook and wrote down the name of the bakery. “Ask for Mario. Tell him Edgar Rawlings sent you.”
Turned out Edgar was a Yankees fan. When I told him I’d grown up on Long Island and had actually been to Yankee Stadium he pumped me for information. What was Billy Martin like? What did I think of Winfield? Did I ever see Mickey Mantle play? When the bus stopped in Napier, I couldn’t believe we’d been talking for two hours.
“Good luck, Edgar.” I stood up and shook his hand.
“You and your girl gonna love Mario’s.” As he reached the bus door he looked over at Crystal, still shoehorned into her seat, and gave me a thumbs-up. He didn’t act like someone going back to prison. He didn’t act like he’d been in prison. He was just a kid, like me.
I watched him stroll towards a rusty van parked near the bus. The driver, a bear of a man with greasy matted hair and a beard, got out. He pushed Edgar up against the vehicle and frisked him. Then he shoved him into the back of the van and marched over to the bus driver who was smoking a cigarette at the curb. The bus driver shrugged and lit another cigarette as the van driver boarded the bus and headed down the aisle to my seat. “This your pen?” he asked.
He was holding my Cross pen. My hand rose to my shirt pocket. “Uh….”
“That punk stole it from you. Damn stupid thing to do.”
I could tell Edgar was in big trouble. “It’s not my pen,” I blurted.
“I gave it to him for, uh…his croissants.”
“Sure you did.” He wrinkled up his face and poked the pen into my pocket like I was a grade-schooler. “Cons can’t have fancy college-boy pens. Might make a shiv. Hurt someone. Wouldn’t want that on your do-gooder conscience.”
He wheeled around and stomped off the bus. As we headed off down that highway I looked out the window at the van taking Edgar back to prison. I wondered what would happen to him. He was a good guy.
So was Joel. Somewhere on that highway he got lost. Some days I forget he ever existed. But on these cold lonely nights when snow covers my world, I miss that boy.