by Steve Clem on January 26, 2010

So this one time, I was on a greyhound bus.

How I got on the greyhound is kind of a long story involving a sick son back home in Minnesota, a wedding of our close friends in Des Moines, and a whole lot of factors that put the “ex” into my ex-wife.

But I digress.

So I’m on the greyhound from Des Moines to Minneapolis. If I had been in my car, which was taken back to Minnesota by my now ex-wife, the trip would have been between three to four hours.

On a greyhound? A lifetime.

As I boarded the bus, I began to feel like I was in a scene out of Mad Max. The other passengers were dressed strangely, had crazy haircuts, and I was quite sure that for the first time in my life I was the most sane person in a 30-yard radius.

One man, sitting in the aisle across from me, caught me looking at him and gave me the stink eye back in return. He was covered with tattoos and piercings, and looked as if he probably had killed men twice my size who were twice as fast and twice as smart as me.

Do you know how many stops a greyhound makes between Des Moines and Minneapolis? I do. And if I described them all, the interwebz would explode from too much data.

But on the “mid-way stop” in Mason City, we were given a reprieve to leave behind the dark, stenchy bus quarters for a 20 minute breath of fresh airport, um, air.

As I made my way toward a designated smoking area to light up a Marlboro light, I was drawn to another passenger who looked as if, like me, he was trapped in an alternate universe.

“Hey there. Fun trip, huh?” I asked him in my genuine Iowa boy friendly banter voice. “Yeah, this is definitely different,” he replied. He was wearing nice dress slacks, loafers, and a Hawaiian shirt. His head of short red hair was hidden partially by a golf visor. He essentially looked like any other business man you might see at the last day of a trade show in Pensacola (“Hey Stew, it’s the last day of the show, let’s not wear the company polo shirt, and instead let’s be crazy and wear our Hawaiian shirts!”).

As he pulled out a second cigarette during our short break, he asked me if I had a light as he just used his last match.

Thinking to myself that maybe I just found someone who could sit next to me the rest of the way and make the trip less painful, I gladly reached into my jeans pocket for my lighter, reaching out toward his hand with it.

As my hand got within a few inches of his outreached palm, he suddenly and swiftly swiped his palm away, and in ninja-like fashion slapped my hand hard enough to make the lighter fall out of my hand and onto the ground between us.

“NO YELLOW LIGHTERS!” he yelled.

“Huh?” I asked, still stunned.


I turned around to the person standing to my right. And there I saw tattoo and piercing guy, looking at me as he made the universal sign for “he’s crazy” while pointing toward my new yellow-lighter fearing BFF.


I thought for a minute about explaining that I did indeed buy the yellow lighter in a store, and not in some back alley in Clive. Then I realized there was really only one lesson to be learned from all of this.

Never take the bus. Never.

* * * *

Steve Clem originally published this piece on the blog A Prisoner in the Tundra.

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