June is the traditional month of weddings.
But not for me … I was married on a Monday night in December. It was a crisp winter solstice evening in 1981. I was holding on to the love of my life as we made our way up the slippery steps of the old church, snow squeaking beneath our shoes. Our wedding story is one thing, but now sit back and listen to one of our many love stories.
It was 1982. We had been married just three weeks when Karl’s band left for a four week engagement in Reno, Nevada. I had just moved from Minnesota to Indiana where I had no job, no church, and only a handful of friends. I had no money but lots of time, so when my brand new husband had been gone just a couple of days, I came up with the brilliant idea of hopping a Greyhound Bus to see him. Fifty-four hours and four time zones later, I was back in his arms.
We had had our first date in July and our wedding in December. Now it was January and he took off for a month. It was too much to bear. My heart was aching to hold him again. I had known Karl for less than half a year and it was a long distance courtship at that. But now the thought of one month apart – OMG!
So I packed two suitcases full of glitzy club clothes, spikey high heels, and dangly earrings. I threw on my favorite jeans, a sweatshirt, and my western boots and headed downtown Indianapolis to the Greyhound Bus Depot. They said it would take about two days to get to Reno. I missed my new husband so much; it was only a couple of days… how bad could it be?
First stop: Chicago. The three hour drive took about five hours. That should have been my first clue. Turns out riding public transportation isn’t all about me. The bus stops every two or three hours to pick up riders and drop some off, do potty stops and meal breaks, and trade out drivers. In other words I was not to get more than two hours of sleep at a time for the next 54 hours.
The Chicago Greyhound Bus Depot was even seedier than the one in Indy. I kept to myself, watched the boards, and couldn’t wait until we pulled out. Finally they called our number and I settled into my seat. The bus filled up with passengers and for a moment I thought I would begin the trip with an empty seat next to me. Guess again. An old disheveled woman and her two grown daughters boarded at the last minute. The “more than big-boned” daughters were crabby with their elderly mom, bossing her around in unkind tones. They placed her in the seat next to me and we took off toward Des Moines. The afternoon rush hour rendered the expressway a virtual parking lot and we inched our way out of the city.
Diesel fumes permeated my senses. It wasn’t until six years later in 1988 that the first smoking bans began to gain momentum across the US. The front rows of the bus were designated as no smoking, so you know what that means for the back of the bus. It occurs to me that having a no smoking section on the bus is sort of like having a no peeing section in the pool. Smoke and diesel fuel mixed in mid-air to assault my nasal passages and tear ducts. It was January in Chicago … windows remained shut tight.
The sun soon set and the old woman dozed off. I remember that her frame was so tiny in that big seat. She tried to sit upright, but when sound sleep overtook her, she found a pillow on my shoulder. I noticed her hair hadn’t been washed in a while. By morning the unthinkable had happened; she had wet herself. This added to the myriad of odors hanging in the air. When she awoke, it became clear that she suffered from some sort of dementia and her daughters were impatient with her nonsense and her needs. She was talking too much. She was hungry too much. She was thirsty too much. Her daughters withheld water from her in hopes she wouldn’t have another accident. This made her irritable and a little panicky. I was her only ally, which in time made me an adversary of her daughters. I secretly shared what I had with her and we were both scolded for it. I don’t remember where they disembarked, but it was a long ways into my journey.
Chicago. Des Moines. Omaha. Salt Lake City. And – every – little – town – and – burg – along – the – way. Every two hours. The sound of those air brakes jolting me awake. My eyes felt like sandpaper. My brain was so tired. My joints were so stiff. My skin needed a bath. My hair was a mess. I looked like someone had dragged me through the bushes backwards.
My next seatmate was a guy about my age reeking of Jack Daniels, beer, pot, sweat, and jail. And he was really chatty. He had lots of stories about his adventures, both real and imagined. I’m sure he thought he was really impressing this vulnerable little blonde. I couldn’t wait for him to get off the bus.
Bus depots are, almost without exception, located in the roughest section of cities. Salt Lake City was that exception. The structure was clean and new and shiny. I changed buses there and headed out on the last leg of my journey to Nevada. It felt good to be somewhere clean and light, but by this time I had been two days without a bath and I carried the aromas of fast food, diesel fuel, smoke, and the underbelly of humanity.
Finally after 54 hours, we pulled into the Greyhound Bus Depot in Reno, Nevada.
Now I was 28 years old and you’d think I might have had a plan. But as I stepped off the bus into the bright desert sunshine, it occurred to me that I didn’t have the phone number or the name of the hotel where the band was staying. No cell phones. No credit card. About $5 left in my pocket but no quarters for the pay phone. All I knew was the name of the casino where the band was playing; John Ascuaga’s Nugget. I had no idea how to contact Karl. They didn’t know to look for me. Remember, it was a surprise.
The words, “How could I be so stupid?” rolled around in my head as I waited for my luggage. “How could I have overlooked this one teensy little detail? Now what am I going to do?”
It was hot. I longed for the clean clothes in my bags. The luggage belt went round and round. “No, it can’t be.” One by one each suitcase was picked up. And then nothing. My heart sank. I dragged over to the office where they confirmed that my luggage was indeed on it’s way to Phoenix.
What to do? What to do? I started to sweat.
For some mysterious reason I decided to step outside to get some fresh air. And there … low and behold … right across the street up the block was a big casino with a sign from above. A giant marquee in tracer lights, “John Ascuaga’s Nugget”.
I could not believe my bloodshot eyes! My steps and my heartbeat quickened as I hastened up the street.
I was thinking, “They’re probably not at the club now at 10 a.m. since their last show was in the middle of the night. But I’ve endured the last 54 hours on a Greyhound Bus. Surely I can wait around til the band’s first show tonight. It’s only 12 hours from now. I can wait. I can keep checking back at the bus depot for my luggage. I can grab some free hors d’oeuvres and a coke. I can watch daytime gamblers. And I can wait.”
The automatic doors swung open and I stepped into the air-conditioned lobby.
And then … you won’t believe this! There they were. A wall of men walking toward me. As they came into focus, I saw it was Bernie and Al, the band’s drummer and sound man. They saw me at the same moment I saw them and their jaws dropped! They stepped to the sides — like the parting of a curtain — and there was Karl. Again … I couldn’t believe my now tear-filled eyes!
We fell into each other’s arms and didn’t let go. Never mind that I smelled like diesel fuel and all manner of human experience. Never mind that I was suffering from a severe case of bus hair. Never mind that I needed a shower — badly. Never mind that my clothes weren’t glitzy and my shoes weren’t spikes. We just held on to each other and didn’t let go for the longest time.
Almost 40 years later we are still holding on to each other. When our dreams of fame and fortune faded, we held on to each other. When we laid eyes on our baby sons for the first time, we held each other. When we bought our house and wondered how we would ever make those payments, we held on. When we lost loved ones to age and disease, we held on to one another. When our kids make poor choices breaking our hearts, we hold on to each other. When the world bumps us around a bit, we just keep holding on to each other.
Thinking back now on that January day in the middle of the desert, at that miracle of timing; me walking in the front door at the precise moment the love of my life was approaching; down to my last dollar and out of ideas, I think it may have been a sign from God that if we trust him and hold on tight to one another, we’re probably going make it just fine, come what may!