Baton Rouge’s Greyhound terminal was right where one would expect it to be, just north of Interstate 10 smack dab in the middle of a rundown area half a block from I-110. The bus pulled into the lot about ten minutes ahead of schedule and John nudged his pungent traveling companion. “Mike? Mike? We’re in Baton Rouge.”
“What? Oh, yeah. And it’s Matt,” the bleary, red eyed Cajun acknowledged. “Thanks,” he added, rubbing his face with his hands.
“Is there someplace where I can grab food quick?” John asked as the bus pulled into its berth. “I’ve only got about half-an-hour until my next bus leaves.”
“Food? Yeah,” Matt answered, watching him stand as the bus came to a stop. “There’s a food mart a block east of here and a gas station just across Florida Street.”
“No prob, bro,” he said, nodding himself awake. “Good luck in Chicago.”
John waved a quick goodbye and stepped into the aisle. Having selected a seat up towards the front of the bus he was one of the first people into the terminal. He dashed into the men’s room before it got crowded and then checked Greyhound’s information board for the status of his next bus. It read “On Time” and the bus already sat in the Memphis bound berth. John stepped outside and surveyed the area around the bus station. Just as Matt had promised the Chevron gas station was right across the street.
The nearly $140 bus ride had eaten up most of John’s cash reserves. Rent was due the first of the month -no exceptions! – and he’d panhandled in the French Quarter to pick up extra cash quickly. Panhandling in NOLA is an art form and good artists make a decent living as street performers. John was no kind of street performer so he’d just asked passersby for spare change, acutely aware that territoriality was another aspect in grappling for the spoils of tourists’ largesse. He would have preferred to save money by shopping in a grocery store and slapping together his own food but time constraints dictated the more expensive choice of gas station packaged food. His next stop was Jackson, Mississippi but he wasn’t sure that a thirty-minute layover there would afford him better choices. He had to change buses again in Memphis where he was supposed to have an hour to kill but that wouldn’t be until seven o’clock.
He entered the store and walked up and down the aisles looking for something satisfying and cheap. Scowling, John grabbed a large bag of Cheese Combos and a pint of chocolate milk and went to the register to pay. The clerk looked at John’s duffle with suspicion as he rang up the two items. His staccato utterance of, “Four thirty,” sounded like ‘Foe thity’ to John and he pulled a five-dollar bill out of his wallet and a quarter out of his pocket. John then reached into the Have A Penny Give A Penny Need A Penny Take A Penny cup by the register and removed five pennies to bring his payment to five-dollars and thirty cents, which he set on the counter next to his bill and coin.
The clerk turned his head down and to the side and looked up at John out of the corner of his eyes. “For real?” he asked shaking his head and placing the dollar bill and a receipt on the counter next to the Combos and milk. He snorted slightly and then turned his attention back to the CC TV screens which showed interior and exterior views of the gas station. As John walked out the door he barely heard the word, “Cracker,” delivered to his retreating form. John fought the impulse to flip the clerk off and instead looked at the WWJD wrist band that adorned his arm.
He slipped the unopened food into his bag and crossed back over Florida Street. With bladder empty and supplies on hand he climbed aboard the waiting bus that would take him to his next bus change in Memphis, eager to return to Some Luck, the Langdons and poor Rosanna whom he’d left grieving over baby Mary Elizabeth back in the Denby, Iowa of 1925.