Traveling is time consuming, full of anger and discomfort. -Intellectual Shaman
I was going to a private school way out in the woods. I caught the bus in the bus yard, where my mom worked at the elementary. It was the school I had attended for seven years before going to middle school. If you spend enough time in a place, it becomes a part of you. It was an old military base, with razor wire, barracks, and missile test site out back. I was the first one on the bus, and the last one off, so the windows were always iced over. The air was difficult to breathe. Rats were pooping in the heaters, so when the driver turned them on, they really stank. It was a trade-off—feel warm and taste the turds in your mouth, or freeze. The district was losing money due to their religious status and the poor economy, so the only bus they were able to buy was 30 years old. It belonged to a prison. There was a cage separating the driver and the students, which came in handy—middle schoolers are an unruly bunch. Bars went the full-length of the bus where the prisoners were handcuffed. Some say school is a prison—mine actually was.
I had to catch the bus at 5 AM, and I always had a stomach ache from the bacon and eggs and greasy potatoes my dad fed to me for breakfast. I drank milk in the mornings because I thought it was healthy; this was before I learned that I was lactose intolerant. My stomach felt like an explosion, and I had to ride the bus for 90 minutes. On more than one occasion, I ran for the emergency exit near a McDonalds. Once, I didn’t make it. The buzzer would buzz, and then the driver would say, “There goes Andy again.” I discovered that I should stop drinking or eating anything before I got to school, but then I was dehydrated and hungry on a hot bus. I begged my friend for his soda, which he gladly gave me. He laughed, “I drink alcohol now.” He showed me his film canister full of hard liquor. “My parents don’t know,” he said. Damn right they didn’t know; they would have beaten him within an inch of his life. It was a strict religious community, where supposedly, nobody drank.
Sometimes, I went to sleep on my seat and woke up in a puddle of my own drool. There had to be a better way to get to school, but I was just a kid. I couldn’t drive, and I never questioned my parents.
On these long bus rides, I liked to watch the scenery. Rusty train tracks ran parallel to the road, and eventually passed my middle school.
One day, on a foggy October morning, I got to the bus stop early. It was 4 AM, completely dark, and spooky. I was carrying four bags— a gym bag, a trumpet case, a backpack, and an attaché case. In middle school, I was trying everything. I was obsessed with success. That’s probably why I started playing my trumpet in the dark. My lips almost froze to the mouthpiece.
Suddenly, from out of the woods, I heard a far-off whistle. It was a train, but no ordinary train. Trees had grown up around the tracks, so nothing could get through. I kept playing and the apparition broke the fence and stopped in front of me.
“All aboard,” an engineer said. He wore blue coveralls, and his face looked like it was weathered by a thousand years.
“Where does it go?” I asked.
“Wherever you want.”
I believed him and I stepped onto the train. There was a dining car and a sleeper section. The most pristine delights were pushed on a trolly—desserts, espresso, and mushroom omelets. The most interesting people were in the passenger car. Some were dressed in military uniforms from the cold war. Others wore clothes from the 1800s. There were coal miners and cowboys, Indians and presidents.
“This way sir,” the steward said. I followed him and was seated next to a tall man, with an equally tall top hat.
“I can’t get my speech right,” he complained.
“I might be able to help you,” I said.
“How does it start?”
“Four Score and seven years ago…”
“Oh, I know this one… You want to say… Our forefathers set foot on this continent…”
“Brilliant.” He began writing. I helped him to fill in the blanks.
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“A man who can write speeches like you deserves a place in my cabinet. I’m starting a new party.”
“I like parties,” I said. “I’d be happy to join up.”
Later, I was impeached and I wasn’t a very good president, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the ghost train. I took it to middle school and to high school. It has always been the best source of transportation. I carry my trumpet with me, always. People think I’m a street musician, but I play for the ghost train, and it shows up, taking me wherever I need to go.