Hitching a ride, trusting a partner, marrying the same person three times
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In middle school I was always on the outside of the cool group, wanting in. By some miracle, when the chaperones of my eighth-grade field trip divided our class onto two buses for the ride to Washington, D.C., I ended up on the bus with all the popular, cute boys I’d been obsessing about for years, while their female counterparts were on the other bus. It was like a Judy Blume novel come to life.
While the exhausted chaperones sat up front, some of us went to the dark back seats with a deck of cards to cook up a kissing game. At first just the girl and boy who drew aces kissed. Luck was with me, and I got the first three aces. I was in heaven. The other girls grew annoyed, and the rules were quickly changed so that any matching cards resulted in a kiss: king with king, queen with queen, jack with jack. When that didn’t satisfy us, the girls took separate seats, and each boy spent two minutes with each girl. You could “just talk,” or you could “do more.”
I may not have been popular at school, but on that bus ride I was. I knew kissing these boys meant I’d end up with a reputation, but I didn’t care. Years of never feeling good enough made this night worth it.
When we arrived at the hotel, it took about two seconds for the cool girls to find out “their” boys had been fooling around with me. They were furious. I got the nickname Hot Lips, after the blond nurse on the TV show M*A*S*H. A key chain with the moniker even mysteriously appeared in my locker some weeks later. Maybe I should have felt regret, but I didn’t. At least I was on the social radar.
Of course, that night didn’t make me popular. Nothing ever did. But just that once, I’d gotten the boys.
The bus that took me to school cost one dollar each way — a fortune in the early 1970s — but my parents felt the price was worth it to protect me from the dangers of the subway. My family lived in a safe, working-class neighborhood in the North Bronx, and the school for intellectually gifted girls I began attending in seventh grade was located in Manhattan.
Every morning a bunch of my classmates and I would board a bus full of white businessmen. While the other kids kept busy with homework or gossip, I sat and looked out the window. As we rode through the South Bronx and East Harlem I saw brightly colored produce stacked neatly in front of bodegas, little girls playing double Dutch, and, on cold days, men warming their hands over a fire in a barrel. I also saw tattered furniture on the sidewalks, broken windows, graffiti, people lying in doorways, and empty lots filled with garbage. I felt both lucky and guilty to be only passing through, observing it all from the comfort of my seat.
At school I learned about the Russian Revolution, why we needed the Equal Rights Amendment, and how to speak French. But no one ever taught us why there was such wealth in the city and such desperate poverty just blocks away, or why the people in those poor neighborhoods were mostly Black.
The view from that bus window helped make me who I am now: a nurse who could not imagine working anywhere other than a community health center in a poor neighborhood. I learned early on that life is unfair, and more than anything it’s a roll of the dice that determines whether you need help or are able to give it.
One afternoon in Honduras in 1989, the bus I rode to my Peace Corps site was stopped at an impromptu military checkpoint. Two armed soldiers climbed aboard, their heavy footfalls the only sound as the passengers sat motionless, all eyes staring ahead. The uniformed men ignored the mothers clasping toddlers, the elderly men and women, and the schoolgirls in plaid uniforms. Instead they tapped the shoulders of the teenage boys, motioning them outside with their assault rifles.
The boys shuffled off the bus. I peered through the open window, the sun scorching my gringa skin. Half a dozen adolescents were lined up on the side of the road, considered. They were thin and poor. One wore a faded blue YALE T-shirt, a discard from the U.S., just like the yellow bus, which had the name of an American school district printed on it. Hands at their sides, the teens cast their eyes toward the ground.
A decision was made. Four boys were ushered into the backseat of a black military vehicle. I wondered how long it would take their frantic parents to learn of their conscription, and if they would ever see their sons again. The other two boys returned to the bus, touching the seats to steady themselves as they teetered down the aisle. The driver turned the ignition. We drove on in silence.
For sixteen years I taught eighth-grade English in a small town in southeastern Tennessee. I also coached the coed junior-high track team. For the kids, even the talented ones, the focus of being on the team was not the meets but the bus rides.
Most coaches separated their athletes by gender, but I allowed the kids to sit wherever they wanted while I kept a close eye on them. Naturally they gravitated toward the back, leaving several empty rows between them and my seat behind the driver. On most trips the kids began to get rowdy once we passed the town limit. More often than not I made an example of someone. The culprit would receive the worst imaginable punishment: being relocated to the seat in front of me.
Caylon was only a seventh-grader but was the most accomplished member of the team that year, exceptional in both the mile and the half mile. The secret to his success, he told me, was his ability to push pain from his mind. On the ride to his first away meet it was clear I was going to have to discipline him. His head was going up and down like a yo-yo behind the most distant row of seats, and every time it resurfaced, there were girls on either side of it.
When I couldn’t let his behavior slide any longer, I cried out, “Caylon, get up here!” Bewildered, he obeyed. Plopping down across from me, he pushed the window down and became absorbed by what lay beyond it.
We passed the Krystal where Michael Winfield had once eaten seventeen cheeseburgers on the way home from a meet, then the McDonald’s where a gospel quartet’s singing had silenced the entire team. There was a stretch of payday-loan outlets, convenience stores, and coin laundries. As we continued into the countryside, Caylon contemplated farms with barns larger than the houses. We crossed a river, and he asked what it was called.
“The Nile,” I replied sarcastically.
When the bus pulled into the parking lot, Caylon turned to me and said, “I didn’t know there were so many things between home and Chattanooga.”
When he was a senior in high school, Caylon finished third in the state cross-country championships. Often, when I heard of his accomplishments, I wondered if he had been insulted by my response about the Nile. I realized his question had conveyed a trust in me, one I hadn’t deserved.
Years later I was told by a reliable source that school lunch was sometimes the only meal Caylon had, and that he often ran his races weak with hunger. I also learned that Caylon, who I’d thought couldn’t keep his hands off the girls, had come out of the closet. He’d gotten married and worked as a model in New York City.
While his life was coming together, mine was falling apart. I became burned out on teaching, quit my job, and descended into addiction. I never stopped loving the kids, though. Now, eight years into recovery, I still live in town and frequently cross paths with my former students, the oldest of whom are in their mid-forties. My loyalty to them is never more intense than when I’m sitting across from one in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Every day I strive for progress, not perfection, and I am grateful to Caylon for helping to teach me that lesson.
I started taking the bus my first day of sixth grade at Mark Twain Intermediate School for the Gifted and Talented. We went through twelve drivers in three years, including Frank, Joe, Ralph, Mary Lou (She flew! From Timbuktu! Mary Lou is watching you!), Boris, Paul, and Bart “the Fart.” Boris lasted only a couple of days before going back to Russia.
Joe was our favorite. He was twenty-five and would check out, and sometimes catcall, the women we passed. Once, after he yelled out to a sixty-something lady with a mustache, I asked why he’d done it, and he looked me in the eye and said, “Listen and remember this: all women need loving.” He would stop at the deli every afternoon to let us get candy and soda — and once a dirty magazine. We took a page out and stuck it to the back window for everyone on the parkway to see.
We would have “royal rumbles” that ended in bloody lips and black eyes. We yelled at people from the windows. Once, my friend mooned a woman behind us in traffic, and she laughed and mooned us back. We tossed pizza boxes onto the road, and if one of us had a banana or a buttered muffin, we would throw it on someone’s windshield.
In seventh grade we formed our own bus government. Article 4, Section 1 of our constitution read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s girlfriend.” Article 7: “Thou shalt not be an unjust ass without cause.” Section 5 described wartime, instructing us to call out the respective code when necessary: Code Green, all clear; Red, parent nearby; Purple, we’re under attack; Blue, police; and Black/Brown, stink bomb or fart — open all windows.
We would smuggle snow onto the bus in our jackets and toss snowballs at pedestrians. Eventually we started cutting open the seats and throwing chunks of stuffing. On the last day of seventh grade we had a food fight, and you couldn’t see the bus floor for all the chips and cheese puffs.
In eighth grade we brought tools on board, opened the panel holding the SCHOOL BUS sign in the back window, and doctored it so it read SEX BUS. We unscrewed a window frame from the wall. At one point there was a hole in the floor through which you could see the asphalt below.
One day in social studies the kid next to me showed me a condom he’d snatched from his sister’s purse. I traded him for it, then inflated it on the ride home and started hitting kids over the head with it. Someone’s mom called the school, and the dean suspended me from riding the bus for a month. My stepdad had to drive me instead.
Until COVID took him off his route, Richard was my bus driver. He was eighty years old. Over the years he told me about his great-grandkids, his surgeries, his wife’s illness, the sting of loneliness and estrangement, and his favorite season: winter. He could recommend the best tire shop and the best way to prepare poultry. He displayed a handwritten Bible verse by his rearview mirror: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” I saw him curse out another driver on the road only once (though the quickness of his hand gesture suggested he’d had practice). When the roads were slick with snow, he’d say, “We’ll just take it nice and easy. We’ll get there, sooner or later,” and I’d breathe deep, abandon my stack of papers to grade, and gaze out the window at the falling flakes.
Isn’t it unexpected, sometimes, whom we miss? Whom we realize we love?
In 1984 I’d gotten a summer job doing high-altitude biology research in Colorado, and the cheapest way I could find to get there was the Green Tortoise, a large gray school bus with a hunter-green stripe around its middle and a foam mattress instead of seats. Passengers were charged twenty-five dollars to cover the cost of food for the five-day trip from New York City.
My mother and brother took me to Harlem on the day of my departure. The bus driver, blasting Bob Marley, wore a baseball cap with a fake arrow through it over long dreadlocks. Mom and my brother watched me climb on board, and when I turned to wave goodbye, they both shook their heads like I’d lost my mind.
Inside, the other passengers were lounging on the mattress. I was fairly shy, and I placed my day pack on the overhead rack and slid into a corner, doing my best to melt into the crack of the wall. How am I going to get through five days and nights of this? I wondered.
During the drive the passengers cooked shared breakfasts and dinners on a charcoal grill. There was no toilet on board, so the bus stopped for bathroom breaks every two hours. We passed the time with folk and rock music, card games, and endless “massage trains.” The driver pulled over to let us see the sights along the way, and we partied at a reggae bar in Chicago. After hiking through the sandy Black Hills of South Dakota, we gawked at Mount Rushmore, a tribute to U.S. presidents and a stinging reminder of land stolen from Indigenous people.
One day we hiked through a leafy forest and stopped at a stream. A guy threw off his clothes, jumped in, and covered his face with a thick layer of mud. More people got naked and joined him, slinging mud at each other.
I watched them frolic, so comfortable in their skins. Could I expose myself like that? Looking up through the leaves at the sky, I listened to the gleeful sounds of laughter and splashing. I’m not missing this, I decided. I piled my clothes on a rock and jumped.
In 1978 my parents bought a new VW bus. The two-tone orange vehicle radiated happiness, and at sixteen I loved driving it. Most weekend nights four or five friends would pile in, and I’d drive us thirty miles to the nearest city for a movie and pizza. Even just riding in the bus on errands seemed unique and special.
One snowy Thanksgiving Day my family headed out in the VW for my grandparents’ home in South Dakota. My mother drove and I rode shotgun while my brothers and my dad sat in the back. Two hours into the trip we hit a patch of ice. The VW slid across the highway and tipped over, coming to rest on its side in a ditch. Seat belts were not mandatory at the time, and I, a typical teenager, was not wearing one. I suffered a broken pelvis, a vertebra injury, and enough trauma to my abdomen that doctors performed emergency exploratory surgery to check for internal bleeding.
My first week in the ICU passed in a blur. For the next three weeks I fixated on two things: getting home for Christmas and having pain medication every six hours. I lived for the “hypos,” as they were called, administered in my upper thigh: I craved the floaty, warm, numb feeling that came over me after each shot. My physical pain gradually subsided, but my emotional dependence on the injections did not. The shots became my refuge, the way I coped with the trauma from the accident and the loneliness of being hospitalized a four-hour drive away from family and friends.
Months later, with the VW repaired and my injuries healed, I went back to driving friends to movies and pizza, but it was never quite the same, and neither was I. Though I was eventually weaned off the hypos, the experience led to a lifelong tendency to abuse prescription pain medication.
Growing up in Montana, my five sisters and I lived on one of the longest school-bus routes in the U.S. It started in a blip of a town called Wisdom and traveled seventy miles over a rugged mountain pass, then descended a steep slope before reaching our driveway. Ice and snow frequently made the roads treacherous, but amazingly we nearly always arrived at school on time.
The credit for our safe passage goes to our driver, Carl, who seemed elderly at the time (meaning he was probably in his late fifties). Only as an adult did I come to appreciate his heroic achievement, shepherding mostly ungrateful youths to school every day despite challenging weather and road conditions. In twelve years our school never once closed for a snow day. It must have taken courage to coax that bus over Carroll Hill, a perilous stretch of highway that claimed the lives of two of my classmates in an accident a few years later. Confronted with high winds, tall snowdrifts, and the occasional blizzard, Carl had no room for error. A bus stranded in a remote area in the days before cell phones could have spelled disaster for its driver and students.
Carl lived in Wisdom, and after dropping us at school, he spent the day nearby until it was time to begin the long trek home. I have no idea how he passed the hours. For much of the year he must have left his house before dawn and returned long after sunset. Probably the most his own kids saw of him was his back as he piloted the bus two hours each way.
On the last day before Christmas break, Carl would hand out Whitman’s Samplers as he dropped students at their homes. I counted down for weeks in anticipation of that miniature yellow box of chocolates. As part of a large family crowded into a trailer, I had precious little to call my own. That candy belonged only to me.
Forty years later I looked up Carl online and found he had been gone for decades. The obituary made no mention of his many years as a bus driver.
In 1953 my German war-bride mother and GI father moved our young family from Brooklyn to rural Pennsylvania. During an ice storm that first winter, a Greyhound driver lost control and plowed into a pillar on a bridge opposite our driveway.
My sister, Beth, and I had just gone to bed when we heard the crash, followed by Dad shouting orders at Mom. Suddenly the blankets were yanked off us, and the front door slammed. We heard voices as Dad ushered the passengers into our house to stay warm. Beth and I sat quietly on the top step, watching strangers fussing about in our house. The frightened faces of the children worried me, but Mom started whipping up scrambled eggs, and they followed their noses into the kitchen. We had no telephone, so Dad took the driver to a nearby hotel to use the pay phone. The Greyhound company sent a rescue bus from Scranton, delaying our guests for several hours. Mom and Dad made pot after pot of coffee and hot cocoa while little ones and old people napped in our living room under our bed linens.
Afterward Greyhound wanted to pay Dad for taking care of their passengers. Mom thought he should take the money, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Dad said that people in this country help each other in tough times. He had learned that from his mother. During the Depression she’d had a restaurant where she invited homeless men in off the street to get warm. Although she couldn’t feed them all, she welcomed them with cups of hot water, and they helped themselves to ketchup from the tables to make “tomato soup.”
After the accident, whenever Grandma rode the Greyhound from New York to visit us, Dad didn’t have to go into town to pick her up. The driver stopped right in front of our house and walked her to the door.
At the age of twenty-three I dreamed of becoming a writer. Following Henry David Thoreau’s advice to stand up to live before I sat down to write, I bought a ticket for a five-week journey across Mexico. I told myself that I would focus on living, but, of course, my ultimate goal was to collect stories in which I would play the starring role.
I’d heard of people hitchhiking or cycling from one coast to the other, but I settled for buses, feeling that I’d be safer traveling with locals. The news reports of kidnappings and murders — not to mention the movies I’d watched about drug cartels — made me think the country could be dangerous.
One journey began at sundown with the promise of arriving in a small coastal town by first light. We traveled through the mountains on narrow, curving roads lit only by the bus’s dim headlights.
As we rounded a corner, I saw a man in a white T-shirt standing in the middle of the road, motioning for the bus to pull over. It was the middle of the night, and I hadn’t seen a town or another vehicle in ages. My heart began hammering in my chest. I was sure we were about to be robbed.
I hoped the driver would swerve around the man, but instead he stopped and opened the door. The man leaned inside and said something to the driver, who closed the door and drove slowly forward while the man walked alongside. Fifty yards down the road was a tight, blind corner. My body tensed as we rounded it. Then I saw two mangled cars, their windshields shattered and steam pouring from one of the radiators.
The man had waved the bus down to warn our driver about the wreck. If he hadn’t, we would have plowed into the cars ourselves.
All along I’d been imagining this trip as my story. But here, I realized, I was just an extra, looked after by a man in a white T-shirt who didn’t even know my name.
In the winter of 2018 a failed move abroad and the resulting tension in my marriage had worn me down to the point I was having suicidal thoughts. My husband and I tried to pretend everything was fine, even buying a house when we returned to the U.S. in a last-ditch effort at normalcy, but I knew our marriage was ending.
I was so miserable that on my bus ride to work I kept my head down so I wouldn’t have to engage in small talk with colleagues, but one guy insisted on pulling me out of my gloom with chatter about the weekend and the weather. Eventually we became “bus buddies.”
Just before the Fourth of July we ran into each other in the break room and discovered that neither of us had plans for the holiday. He had been bumped from a friend’s boat trip, and my soon-to-be-ex-husband was going to visit his family and tell them we were getting divorced. I took a wildly uncharacteristic leap of faith and asked my bus buddy to join me at a film festival.
From the moment he arrived at the theater, I felt sparks. As we watched a film about a dying marriage, I couldn’t hide my discomfort. He asked what was wrong, and I blurted out that I was getting divorced. He seemed almost excited at the news. Over drinks after the festival, we had an intimate conversation about relationships. When he walked me to my car afterward, a friendly hug goodbye turned into a passionate kiss that shocked us both.
Two Fourth of Julys later, my bus buddy proposed. My friends and family say they’ve never seen me so happy.
I started high school in 1963. The school gave students tickets for the city bus. On my first day I noticed the adults at our stop did not follow us kids on board, instead waiting for the next bus to come along. It didn’t take long for me to understand why.
For the entire ride I twisted and ducked while boys tossed paper and shot spitballs through straws. One stuck his foot in the aisle when a girl walked by, causing her to fall on the floor, books and pens flying everywhere. Girls huddled together and giggled, and the older ones strolled down the aisle wrapped in boys’ arms.
On the trip home the mischief started while we waited in line outside the school. Boys tripped anybody who wasn’t paying attention, catcalled the pretty girls, and pushed and shoved their way onto the bus. As time went by I learned to cope with the daily antics and even laugh at some of them.
Two months later I was sitting in math class when the principal’s voice came over the public-address system to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I heard gasps and whimpers all around me. I felt like crying.
That day everybody walked quietly to the buses. We stood in straight lines. Nobody was pushed or tripped. No wads of paper sailed through the air. Weeks passed before the chaos returned.
Oxon Hill, Maryland
In my teens, from 1960 to 1966, I picked strawberries with my family in Washington State. Immigration raids in the fields were a seasonal event. INS agents with holstered pistols ambushed workers from behind as they knelt or stooped between rows of plants. The first worker to spot them shouted, “La Migra!” and workers sprinted like deer, toppling flats of berries. Mothers gripped the hands of screaming little ones, urging them, “Ándale, corre.” Hurry, run.
My parents had told my siblings and me not to panic during raids because we had green cards.
After finishing high school, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Decades later, in 1992, returning from a visit to northern Mexico, I boarded a Greyhound bus at Eagle Pass, Texas, bound for San Antonio. The chatter on the bus was all in Spanish. I felt at ease, heading home in my adopted country, surrounded by my compatriots.
Partway through the trip the driver pulled onto the shoulder behind two white sedans marked Customs and Border Patrol. Two uniformed agents guarded the bus’s doors while another climbed aboard. He didn’t speak to the driver or show him a warrant. The agent walked down the aisle, holding out his hand for passengers’ green cards, visas, or U.S. birth certificates.
When he reached the back, he removed a young woman about the age of my daughter. She walked toward the front of the bus with the agent gripping her elbow. I yearned to take the girl’s hand and whisper, Ándale, corre! but I knew better. I watched as two agents escorted her to their car.
In February 2020 the Greyhound company released a statement that it does not consent to warrantless searches on its buses and in terminal areas that are not open to the general public: “Our primary concern is the safety of our customers.” Amen to that, I thought.
Teresa M. Elguézabal
Our small bus came to a stop on a remote road in the Andes. It was 2006, and I was visiting Peru with several other Americans. We’d departed the city of Cusco in high spirits many hours earlier, not expecting our trip would be interrupted by a strike. Ahead of us angry farmworkers from a nearby village had blocked the road with burning tires, abandoned cars, and tree limbs. Behind us trucks and cars clogged both lanes. There was no way out.
“This is unusual,” our guide, Alberto, said after we’d been stuck for several hours. He told us the strikers were upset about a proposed trade agreement between the Peruvian government and the U.S. that would threaten the farmworkers’ livelihoods and take away their access to affordable medicines.
A man in the seat behind me growled, “It doesn’t matter what the strike is about! Does the U.S. embassy know we’re being held here against our will?” Remembering how a Peruvian family had welcomed us into their home for dinner the night before, I wondered how they and the other locals we’d met would be impacted by the agreement should it pass.
As the sun was setting, Alberto walked ahead to reconnoiter, returning a few minutes later with a bruise reddening his cheek. Then men approached carrying sticks and bottles. Alberto told us to close our curtains so they might not guess we were Americans. I heard glass breaking and rocks crashing against the bus.
“Get down, please, now!” Alberto yelled. I dove for the floor. Soon we were surrounded by a mob chanting, “No a Los Estados Unidos!”
Our bus began to lurch from side to side. A woman screamed, and her husband shouted, “They’re going to push us over!” My heart was pounding, but somehow I didn’t think we would be harmed. It was what we symbolized that was under attack.
Hours passed while the uproar outside continued. The temperature plummeted, and I longed for my jacket, locked away in the luggage compartment. Our driver periodically turned on the engine to operate the heater, until diesel fumes filled the air.
When morning finally arrived, the protestors had vanished, but our bus remained stuck. Alberto found three armed policemen to escort us, and we hauled our belongings several miles on foot to a different bus. From then on, I was sightseeing with new eyes.
The trade agreement passed.
In fifth grade I became the target of a classmate named David, a blocky boy with thick fingers and a crew cut who harassed me every bus ride. He would hang over the top of my seat and taunt me mercilessly. His favorite insult was “carpenter’s dream,” which, I came to learn, meant I was flat chested.
Eventually my anger reached a boiling point. On the ride home from school I slid low in my seat with my legs drawn to my chest. I had intentionally worn boots with thick rubber soles that day. When David peered over my seat to deliver the afternoon’s abuse, I slammed my foot into his face. He never saw it coming. For days afterward he slumped around school with a bruise on his forehead containing the faint but legible name of my boot brand, Dexter.
Shortly after this incident David’s family moved, and I put him out of my mind.
A few years later I received a handwritten letter from David. He apologized for the way he had treated me and admitted that it was a poor tactic for seeking my attention. One line still stays with me: “What a horrible way to treat a beautiful girl with a lovely smile.”
Several years ago my husband and I were in a band that traveled a lot. Since finding places to stay was hard, he began to look for a tour bus. He found one in Berkeley, California, and we flew out to drive it home to South Carolina.
A forty-foot 1987 Prevost named Julia, the bus had belonged to an environmental activist who had outfitted it with repurposed wood from an old barn, hemp curtains, and solar panels on the roof. There were six bunks, a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower.
When I first laid eyes on Julia, my heart filled with fear. She was parked on a narrow street and looked enormous. My husband, though, was giddy with excitement.
The owner gave us a few tips, most notably to avoid long, steep mountain roads like the stretch called the Grapevine near Bakersfield. After a harrowing driving lesson during rush hour, we headed toward home.
Julia started to show her true colors almost immediately. As night fell, we realized the headlights didn’t work consistently, so we could travel only during the day. Because of a leak in the air compressor, the door sometimes stuck, trapping us inside. There was a button on the outside that would release the door latch, and more than once we found ourselves frantically knocking on the window to get the attention of passersby, then performing a pantomime to communicate our dilemma.
When we reached Bakersfield, it started to pour. We waited out the storm in a parking lot. After it cleared, we checked the local news and discovered that the rain had washed out the road we had been planning to take. We decided to stay in an RV park until the road reopened.
Being stuck wasn’t so bad. We relaxed, picked fresh lemons off a tree, found a wonderful taco stand, and enjoyed our unexpected vacation. Every day we checked the news, but the road remained closed. Finally we couldn’t wait any longer. We had to get back to South Carolina for a show. The only way was via the dreaded Grapevine.
When we got there, Julia chugged up the steep grades at a steady fifteen miles an hour, the engine pushed to its limit. Going down the mountain was equally treacherous. I was afraid the brakes would overheat and fail, but we made it.
The rest of the trip was beautifully uneventful. We got home just in time for the concert.
We had many more adventures with Julia, touring and camping until the band broke up. Then we sold her to the next group of dreamers.
Two months into a semester in Spain, I was taking a bus to meet a group of other Americans for a night out, and I found myself thinking about how I’d imagined life abroad. I’d grown up with my mother’s stories of backpacking through Europe in the 1960s, where it seemed she’d forged friendships with nearly every local she’d met: a French woman who’d lent her her flat; a Norwegian woman who’d flown with her to Oslo to show her her homeland; an Italian medical student who’d brought her home for dinner with his parents. Despite several attempts at connecting with Spaniards, I’d had none of my mother’s success.
When I emerged from my reverie, I discovered that I’d missed my destination by quite a few stops. I was in the rural outskirts of Seville, far from the tourist area. I got off at the next stop. As I headed toward a transit map, I heard a familiar laugh. At the end of the block two women were speaking Spanish. I immediately recognized Hilary, a cross-country running mate who’d graduated from my college two years before.
Instead of going to the expatriate bar that night, I ended up sipping vino tinto with Hilary at a cafe. She told me she’d been in Seville since graduation, working for a nonprofit.
Hilary wasn’t exactly a local, but I sensed she might be as close as I was going to get. Impulsively I invited her on a trip to Morocco that I was taking with several people from my exchange program. To my surprise she accepted.
The trip had been my idea, inspired by my mother’s time with a family who’d befriended her in Marrakesh. But that had been twenty-five years ago, and whenever I told Spaniards about my plans, they cautioned me that Morocco could be a dangerous place, especially for female travelers.
The warnings proved to be true, and each day of our trip some of us opted to return to Spain. Two women left after a carpet-store scam involving tea they suspected was drugged. The following day the rest of us were arrested for fraternizing with local boys in the seaside town of Asilah. After an apology dinner at the police chief’s house, during which he proposed to one of us, two more women departed. By day five of our nine-day holiday, only Hilary and I were left.
We tried to stick it out, but after waiting an entire day for a bus that never appeared, we made plans to take the ferry back to Spain.
On the bus to the ferry a Moroccan woman our age struck up a conversation with us in English. When we told her about our time in Asilah, she responded with shock and embarrassment. “You must not go back to Spain with a bad impression of my country,” she said. “Come stay with my family for a few days. We’ll show you another side of Morocco.”
Returning to Spain felt like defeat, but we’d had such bad experiences so far, I worried it would be foolhardy to test our luck again.
I turned to Hilary, who had a hopeful glint in her eyes.
“This could be our trip’s redemption,” she said.
We spent our final four days with Leila and her family in their comfortable apartment in Tangier. Her father, a journalist, showed us around his newspaper offices. Her younger sister introduced us to her friends. Her mother made us delicious meals, and on our last day the family took us into the hills surrounding Tangier for a farewell picnic.
I am so glad we accepted the invitation of a stranger on the bus.
If my friend Robin and I wanted to go roller-skating on the weekends, we had to ride the bus to the rink ten miles from our sleepy town. Our parents took turns picking us up afterward. It was 1979, and we were junior-high girls, giddy and flirtatious. We just wanted to skate and date.
Robin and I spent way too much time picking out our outfits, which always ended up being bell-bottoms and a “cute top.” We wrestled with our hair — mine too curly, hers too thick — but we left the house happy with whatever approximation of the Farrah Fawcett flip we had achieved.
One Saturday night we met a boy on the bus. Looking back, I think he probably was a lot older than we were, but he was cute and responded to our batted eyelashes and giggles. As the sun set outside the windows, Robin and I became deeply engaged in talking to him. Eventually the guy got off at his stop, and we longingly called goodbye. Whispering our impressions to each other, we took a look around and recognized nothing. In our ardor we had lost track of time and had passed our stop by miles.
The driver chuckled at our predicament but told us we were at the end of the line and there was nothing he could do.
We had only enough cash for entry to the roller rink. Heads hung in embarrassment, we called home and begged for a ride.
I don’t remember which parent picked us up. I don’t remember if they were mad. I don’t remember if they delivered us to the rink or brought us straight home. I just remember the innocence of youth and the warm glow of the setting sun.
Molly Maslin Arbogast