Speaking of jail…

    Riding the Dog

Walking into the Greyhound station in Oakland, I note that 20th and San Pablo at night is quite a scene. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, having lived only a stone’s throw away for years: the requisite crazies wearing a single house slipper, the hustlers, the beat-up bus bench missing most of its pieces, working folk on their way to somewhere else, the desolate expanses of asphalt left facing you when the 9 to 5 business traffic disappears.
But, you may ask “What could be kookier than 20th and San Pablo at night?”
A: The inside of the Greyhound station at 20th and San Pablo at

Imagine a multicultural repertory company staging a production of “Gummo.” Now combine that with Kafka’s “The Castle.” Oakland at its finest. All colors and sizes of Oaktown crustacean. Most everybody is sporting hoodies (and I’m guessing an arrest record.)
I fit right in.
It’s an absudly bright fishbowl lit by a thousand fluorescent tubes, It’s a crucible of the poor fed by a large flatscreen TV mounted high spewing ‘entertainment news.’ Hey, at least, traveling this way , I can keep my knife and not have to show ID. Both little victories in my book. WRONG.

…Enter the “guard” halfheartedly stuffing his metal detector wand into my bags…
“You shipping that?” (motioning at my $4 “throwaway” knife)
“I sure am.” (as I pick it up and toss it the width of the room into the trashcan –2 points!!)
After a thoroughly uninspired search of my bags, he walks over to the trash can and pulls out my knife,
“Gotta send it to Texas.” (Weird, but perhaps he has some private mailart trash fetish thing goin’.)
“You’re kidding.”
“Yeah, I’m not.”
“What?… You mean, my knife might, on its own, hijack the trash can?”
“Gotta send it to Texas.”
“First name?”
“Last name?”

I hope it costs them 6 bucks to send my $4 knife to Texas. Meanwhile, they have left me my toothbrush, my cartridge razor and a lighter. I do what any good Oaklander would do and go to the bathroom to make a shiv.

No ID check at the counter, though. Sullen troglodyte sends me to wait in the line at Gate number 8. Huh…Ticket says to wait at #2… signs over the gates tell me it’s #2. I put my faith in the inanimate objects.

The half pint of Tequila with which I fortified myself is serving me well. Some scraggly white-boy crustacean is making conversation with just about everybody. I christen him “SuperFriend.” Everything is funny. Folks are kibbutzing/complaining about the lines and the screwed up schedules. I mention that they should have fortified themselves like yours truly: “It’s all comedy, man!” Polite, nervous smiles. Heh. Dude is chatting up the only marginally available white girl who is in line for LA. SuperFriend mentions that he is getting into LA at 3am; “Man! Y’ever see the neighborhood around the that bus station at 3 am?!” I chime in “YEAH Holmes! It’s Fabulous, man… if you want to (pantomiming jabbing motion at arm) score some junk!!” More nervous smiles. Silence. Heh.
Reading my ticket is a hoot. “An advance ticket doesn’t guarantee you a seat.” Maybe I gotta go Paki style and ride the roof like the natives in the Punjab. They advise you to pack food, water, pillows, blankets, etc.. That, with the queues, the searches and the fluorescent lights, It strikes me that “riding the Dog” is a combination of camping and jail, but on wheels.

Finally, the bus to Sacramento, where I will transfer, shows up. It’s about 7 pm. Me and some nameless, harmless white boy note the muttering guy that’s pacing near us. WBoy sez mr. guy has been here since 4 and is going apeshit. “What, 4 am?!” “No.. pm.” “Shit, that’s nothing, man. Lighten up, holmes.” More muttering. My ensuing passage secure, I now see fit to goad him: “That’s so fucked up, man. You ought to do something. They’ve forgotten about you. It’s so fucked up, man. They are laughing at you man, I know it. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!! NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!!
I escape with my life.

    SACRAMENTO or “It all goes to shit.”

Getting on the bus, I have my choice of the last two empty seats: either sit next to the emo guy with hair mousse or next to a girl who is the spitting image of an ex-roommate, the roommate who was a crazed quasi-dominatrix tweaker who could only aspire someday to merely “have issues.” Hmm… Well, I know I won’t murder her

My bus leaves Sacramento, but I’m not on it. See aforementioned non-guarantee of a seat. Fuk. I got bumped. Some jarhead in fatigues snagged the open seat I just passed thinking there were more open seats. Well,… he should have the seat simply because of the pain of having to wear such a silly outfit. (It’s all very coordinated, but there is no subtlety to his ensemble.) That’ll teach me to let my mellow harsh my edge.

I have three hours to kill, my buzz is gone, and I had just started to find my rhythm, my pace for the marathon ahead. I’m more than 12 hours away from destination and I’m stuck in a very cold, unamusing room with steel seats and the de-rigeur fluorescent lights and entertainment news TV. Hey!! The Sacto bus station has its own Burger King!!
My weirding out is complete.

That Sweet Ache of Epiphany

Sittin’ next to the “Downs Syndrome Kid With Metallica T-Shirt”, I remember that I have about 6 1/2 gBs of music in my messenger bag. Hallelujah. Thank Cthulhu for the mix discs I had made for my folks and my Ipod; a flea market CD-R player borrowed from the fieldMarshall and some free, not-too-smelly headphones I found lying around at the local ghetto mart (the “NoPod”?)
Come to think of it, I have never used a walkman or listened to my own music in public before. This is the first time.

Gently… firmly… then completely taken over… I’m just knocked back on my heels. How can I be so close to a tear just cause Beck’s “Lost Cause” rises in the headphones? Music just has a way of taking over, of speaking directly to the spirit. The moment is simply taken away and given back to me, transformed. It’s as though someone has reached out and taken me by the hand. It lets something else, something more come out. There is a wisdom to music and … Ooh!! Joy Division!!

In the middle of it all, I’m a little music island with a heartbeat, humming from the inside out…

    Not Oakland

Pohnpei, Micronesia
Pohnpei, Micronesia
click pic/title to link


~ by grouchosuave on December 26, 2006.

3 Responses to “Speaking of jail…”

  1. I hope that your return trip is as stimulating but maybe not as frustrating. I would like to read of your experience at an airport next holiday season.

  2. Wow, I’d totally forgotten about my one experience at the Oaktown Greyhound station. Not sure why it took 12 hours to get home from San Diego and then the problem of not being able to take Bart to Hayward till 5am. Made for one long tense night. Good story my first read and I’m hooked.

  3. Wow. So much for nostalgia about my own Dog days in the 80’s. Thank you Amtrak.

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