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Sunday, January 18, 2004
  Work in progress

I am sure there is lots of interesting stuff going on around me in the cultural ferment, but I haven't spotted it, so to fill up space, here's something I have been writing during my lunch and tea breaks.

Mike hands me back my pad. He's drawn a big sun, blazing with triangles, and sporting quite a nasty looking grin, like he knows he's about to supernova and is enjoying the thought of consuming the solar-system. Mike is commemorating our meeting, giving me a small token so I'll remember the twelve hours we spent together on the bus from San Francisco to Seattle. He doesn't know I'd rather be sitting next to Kimberly in the seat behind. If he was a smart guy he might realise this, but Mike is not a smart guy. Mike is probably what some people call an 'acid-casualty', and he has just finished meticulously writing the words 'The Grateful Dead' between the little wedges of sunshine that fringe the main sunny disc. He explained earlier that he had spent the five years before Jerry Garcia died following 'the guys' around on tour; selling t-shirts. Mike isn't a career-minded person, and is leaving San Francisco because he has run out of money and heard that rent is cheap in Portland. Mike's poverty meant I'd have the last four hours of the journey to myself.

I took an instant dislike to Mike, that had nothing to do with Kimberly, who I hadn't even met at that time. My instant loathing of Mike grew like mould on the rancid smelling burger he was eating when he slumped into an empty seat next to me at the Transbay Terminal bus station. He wasn't paying much attention to his food, and he was oblivious to the little weeping torrent of mustard that was oozing from between the pink meat patties. A particularly large dollop of sauce landed near enough to my foot that I had to keep reminding myself that it was there, and this pissed me off so I scowled at him, and naturally he smiled back. I probably didn't deserve that kind of treatment.

There was still a pretty long wait before our bus boarded. I'd learned to my cost in a Chicago bus depot filled with single mothers and home-bound ex-felons, that observing the official schedules was a mistake. Everyone has a ticket, and everyone thinks they deserve to get on. The only way to be sure is to get their first, beat the other guy to the hydraulic door.

Mike wasn't insane yet. We hadn't spoken, so at that moment he was just an annoying man with greasy American hair and a pungently nasty burger. Transbay had another more obvious crazy. Mike was the kind of person my dad would have described as being 'shot away' in a curious appropriation of slang that didn't suit him, but was totally in character. A guy in dreadlocks and a dirty brown shirt was spooking the waiting travellers by muttering and smelling. I didn't have a convenient phrase to contain his psychosis, he was just scary.

If you'd been looking down into the main waiting room, you'd have seen its occupants performing a slow orbital dance as we eagerly avoided contact with the filthy madman. On most scales objects act in roughly the same way: if you bunch them together and then fire a rogue particle at them, they explode apart and scatter. This is true if you are looking at Boron atoms, or scared travellers hoping that they don't catch the eye of the angry looking bum stalking their waiting room.

Every so often he'd bowl himself at a few more of us, sending some flying off to the toilets, and a few others off to linger by the burly blue-shirted ticket man at the Greyhound kiosk. Naturally, this being the pioneering west, there were a few who refused to give quarter. A veteran wearing his gold-stitched navy baseball cap sat resolutely on his canvas backpack; not exactly glowering, but certainly broadcasting to the room that he had decided to stand his ground. All enemies are alike to those who have seen active service.

Mike turned to me and said, "He's crazy you know. It's sad that he's out. Probably get arrested soon." I nodded along as this was the first time Mike had spoken, and I wasn't to know that it heralded an almost endless flood of conversation that would last across State lines and midnight queues for bacon and swiss sandwiches at a cafe in the middle of nowhere run by the bus driver's younger and fatter sister. We both looked over to where the guy was systematically jabbing the coin return button of the sturdy yellow and blue payphones. So far no change had come out, and this was when he started banging at the blue dot-matrix screens with the square end of the reciever. I looked around to spy on the room's reaction, and like me, I guess they were all a bit more tense now that the nervous quick movements had coalesced into some proper violence and rage. Through the swing doors at the far end of the room I noticed the kiosk clerk looking on and frowning. He picked up a walkie-talkie, its little curled leash straining up from the desk as he pulled it to his mouth.
 
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