If it’s in the middle of nowhere and at a gas station, which it is in White River Junction, Vermont, you get your bag from beneath the bus and go inside to check things out.
You watch the guy who got on in New Hampshire buy two beers and head outside.
You find the indoor seating, two wooden benches below a TV playing the History Channel at passionate-about-history volume, and you stand there a moment, feeling your way into whether this is the place you want to spend the next few minutes of your own history.
While you decide, you’re greeted by a 72-year-old man headed to Montreal. He’s going to collect his pension, which he could have begun drawing at 65, but since he waited seven years, he’ll be getting $473 a month. His name is Gene, and he lives part of the year in Canada, part in the states, and part in Europe. It gets extra cold in Montreal, he says, because of the river. He’s heard of Asheville. A friend of his is moving there, and there’s a great music scene, right? He asks how much snow you get, and you make something up: “Last winter we got twenty inches.”
You tell Gene it feels a little warm in here and you think you’ll head out for some air. He says you’re right and goes with you.
You drop your luggage against an outside wall and take multiple walks fifty feet away and back. You try to be nonchalant about watching your luggage during the walks away.
You notice the mid-afternoon sky, blue to the south and dark, caramelized gray to the north. You feel the wind picking up, and you imagine it’ll be cold when you get to your daughter’s.
The bus to Montreal begins boarding, and you say goodbye to Gene and wish him luck.
You take your luggage and go back inside to get warm. In the bathroom there are puddles across the floor, and you find the driest spot you can to set your luggage.
You ask the store attendant if he would turn down the volume on the TV, which he does.
You fill your water bottle from a faucet and, even though you know the condition of the sink has nothing whatsoever to do with the condition of the water, you think twice about it.
You read your novel for a while and then your son calls. He asks about your time in Boston, and you ask how he is. Yesterday he decided on a language school in Ecuador he’s going to in January, today he worked 5 am to 1:30 pm serving coffee and sandwiches, and tonight he plans to research where he might go to college next fall because, even though he likes his job, he doesn’t want to work the rest of his life for $10 an hour. You ask how it’s going looking at schools, a subject you don’t seem to ask about very well, but you do it anyway because you want good for him and you think a little extra effort now might make a big difference later, and you wonder how much to nudge today, and you listen for his politely delivered tone of irritation that lets you know you’ve reached the edge, and you hear it, so you stop.
You go outside again and scope the other people waiting. Two men at the end of the building share a cigarette. A woman in a Duke hoodie slumps on a bench with two large plastic bags. You wonder what their stories are, and how many are getting on the bus to Rutland with you, and, honestly, how they smell and where they’ll sit.
The two-beers guy comes to stand with you, and you learn he’s going to Rutland, and from there he’ll catch a shuttle to Manchester, where he’s an executive chef, and that he missed a shuttle this morning and had to walk eight miles to the station in New Hampshire. He’s carrying a black backpack and wearing a greasy green baseball cap, turned backwards, and with his beard he looks like a younger version of the actor Mark Ruffalo. He’s drinking coffee now, and smoking, and he tells you Vermont’s a good place to live but a tough place to make a living. He lived ten years in Colorado and made more money there but his family is on the east coast so it sucked him back.
You check your watch. The bus is due any minute, and you wonder if it’ll be on time. You feel a tightness in your stomach, weaker than moderate but stronger than mild, and it’s a bit as if the bus is hours overdue and you’ve been left on your own in a place that is not your place, among people who are not your people, and you’re going to have to find your way from here to there on your own. You know that’s not the case but you feel it anyway, and you felt it this morning on the subway in Boston, standing and swaying and avoiding the eyes of strangers, headed to a bus station you’d never seen, knowing there was plenty of time but feeling edgy and uneasy nonetheless until you got there.
You breathe and feel your feet against the earth, and you remind yourself it’s the same air and the same earth here as it is at home, and the guy to your left in the greasy hat feels a draw to family like you do, and the woman in the Duke hoodie has been watching her bags the same as you have, and Gene on the bus to Montreal wants human contact just like you do. You think of your daughter who’ll be waiting for you.
Then you see a bus arrive, and the guy to your left says, “That’s ours.”