By the late 90s, I had already begun to establish the art of slow travel. Gone were the days of sleep-deprived memories of the JFK airport, of road trips that careened across the entire US in under 3 days (mostly), and of considering a month’s stay to be an experience and an eternity.
Because I had slowed down so much, I chose to live vicariously through the lives of others on occasion. Thus began the annual pilgrimage to my house that one hippy-filled converted school bus in particular would take. The original owner of the bus was someone I had known from when he went to university in the town I grew up in. We had always shared somewhat anarchistic views and could chatter on for hours on any topic from the serious to the mundane. By the end of university he had become a full-blown political activist, and thus he and his bus had been to protests and rallies all across the continent.
In autumn, the current occupants of the bus would stop at my house, do laundry, make meals, play instruments for the entire neighborhood to enjoy; and bring along their stories of resistance, struggle, and getting tear-gassed. It was a few days out of each year that kept me up to speed on what was going on in the world without my having to get tear-gassed for it myself.
I was moving house roughly annually at that point, and no matter where I was located – even if it was thousands of miles away, they always seemed to show up at my door at that same time of year. I didn’t mind until my friend abandoned the bus, the entire “cast and crew” changed, and they STILL managed to show up at my house every year despite my moving frequently. In the final year of their visits, what hopped off that bus was what could only be politely (and in the lingo of the time) referred to as gutter punks. They brought their very own kind of chaos with them and with no reprieve.
They went to camp out about 20 miles away after their annual visit, only to come back banging on the front door at 2 in the morning. They had all gotten wasted on whiskey and decided to have a brawl amongst friends. One of them needed a head full of staples at the emergency room. Another would be in a cast for several months. I think half of a finger went missing – I vaguely remember trying to block the thought from my mind at the time. They seemed oddly cheerful about the whole thing. They had simply knocked on our door because they didn’t have enough fuel in the bus to get to the hospital and were asking for a ride the rest of the way there.
For some reason, they came back later that winter. Maybe they forgot the whole annual aspect of the trip to my house. They lasted one night after discovering that camping outside of my home meant nearly being eaten alive by fire ants. Hey – I was living in the south that year. However, they didn’t leave before drinking my Listerine. I walked into the bathroom to discover a small circle of them passing around the bottle of mouthwash as if it were a delightful beverage. That chemical concoction is scary enough to rinse with. I have no idea how they survived drinking it.
I moved to the West Coast next and intentionally left no forwarding address. I wanted to start a new page of my life. When people came through town and recognized me, I would kindly ask them not to tell anyone else. I was in so much of a “no pictures” phase of my life that one could swear I was accustomed to being followed around by paparazzi.
Free from the entanglements of the past, I took a walk along a nearby beach one day. Someone there recognized me from my professional work with the local homeless, and he sat down beside me as I gazed out at the Pacific. We got to exchanging tales, and he told me one he had heard of a woman that had kicked an entire bus of people out of her house in the Deep South one time – and all over a bottle of Listerine. Thousands of miles away and a couple of years after the incident, the past still found its way along the path to come back to me. At the time, I think I broke out in laughter.