Coming in from Mississippi, Arkansas was rural, and then rainy. The warm sunny skies and cotton fields made way for clouds and small houses, where it seemed even the most run down house had a column in front. Somewhere past Little Rock I was in the pouring rain and blaring a few different songs, most prominently “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” as I turned the wipers up to maximum. Somewhere in the west of the state I split towards Ft. Smith, and drove through the Ozarks. The rain made big puffs of mist rise through the mountains as I went over bridges and up mountains, and the rain hammered down. Eventually, right before Fayetteville, the sun glowed orange over the sky, outlined perfectly by a straight gray line that went over the horizon. By dark, I had settled in.
I went to a restaurant near the parking lot of where I was staying, a general chain but above say, a Subway or McDonalds in terms of quality and variety. Being Friday it was full of students and couples. Me being alone, I ate at the bar, where the college-aged girl insisted I got a straw for my water. She was nice enough, but busy.
I sat next to one guy a few stools down and a couple to my right, neither of whom were interested in talking. An older guy with a Papa John’s hat then sat down next to me, ordered a diet coke and an order of southwestern egg rolls without looking at the menu. He made sure to get the avocado ranch dipping sauce too.
By and by I asked him if he was from around here, and he says he has been for a few years, but originally he was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He said that he moved here to live next to one of his four daughters (he also had two sons). He lived to try to live near them for awhile. He also had a son who worked at Disney world, a couple children in California, and one in Mississippi. He used to drive buses for Travelwind, but they shut down. He asked me if it didn’t sound suspicious that the CEO of Greyhound was fired in the 80s, became head of Travelwind, and then went back to Greyhound? I said it did. He said he had been to all states but five. I asked if North Dakota was one. It was not, he had been to Minot, and drove some country music singers there from across Canada, starting in Calgary. It snowed. I said that sounded like North Dakota
The Busdriver said that he hadn’t been to Washington, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, and Alaska. He also mentioned that he still wanted to work, so he got a job delivering pizzas, but he had a Ford Taurus and the gas mileage didn’t make it very profitable. I told him mine had been going up on the highway, and he asked what model, and I told him. He said that was a good car. He talked slow and in few words, and so did I. When his food came, he took off his hat and prayed over it. I told him a bit about driving to Fargo, and why I had been in Mississippi, and about how the Director of the Graduate program at Ole Miss had more or less brushed me off, which he had. He asked if that would affect my decision to go there. I said it would, because I didn’t want to work with him, but I’d have a long drive to think about it.
We talked about rent in California, among other things, and how he once lived there and ate breakfast in a hotel every day (about twenty-two dollars a night) until the waitress told him about some good rooms in her apartment. They were, and the Busdriver asked why she hadn’t mentioned them before, and she said that it was because she wanted to see if he was a good guy.
He got some more Diet Coke and dipping sauce, and asked for the rest in a to-go cup. We talked a little more, and he told me to drive safe, and that he’d be praying for me. I said “thank you” and then, after a pause, “back at you” and he also said “thank you.” He asked my name and I asked his, and we shook hands. His hand was strong (but not that annoying strong where you feel like your fingers are being broken) and calloused. We sat in silence while the checks came. I thought of wishing him luck, but I didn’t know in what, as he seemed to have it, mostly. I said it was nice to meet him, we shook hands again. I told him to have a good one, and left.
There are always good people about wherever you go. Just sometimes they are a little less at places, but it seems to balance out in the end.