Monday, May 9, 2016

The Megabus

Megabus between Atlanta and Chattanooga advertises itself as the low cost alternative to services like Groome so when I found myself needing to retrieve a car in Chattanooga recently, I booked a one way $10 ticket on a Wednesday, got a ride to the MARTA station downtown from a colleague, and off I went.

All told, my fare was $17: ten buck base fee, and I figured, what the hell, I’ll go for the five dollar upgrade for a front seat on the upper deck to enjoy the elevated, expansive view of a road I’ve grown so familiar with that it’s like an old frenemy. Add two bucks for “processing fee” and there we go.

Recently Chattanooga nixed the Megabus service, citing unpleasant experiences with its patrons at places like Bones Sports Bar where, it’s claimed, Megabus riders would come and just stand under awnings and not buy drinks or wings and generally just exist without economic purchase. Evidently, the benefits of low cost transportation for the city’s poorest are outweighed by commercial sloth. Nobody can seem to find a suitable place to drop off passengers that won’t create a public nuisance.

I was one of three white people on my Megabus trip. I was also reading, for the first time, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a novel that, as an English teacher, I’ve certainly been familiar with for years, but one that I’ve never had the courage to read or teach. I’ve read other of her works (Jazz stands out as a particularly satisfying and accessible novel), but everything I’d heard about Beloved made me anxious: Faulknerian in its nonlinear plot complexity; brutal in its depictions of the slave experience; ponderous in its stylistic density. In the midst of teaching it to a group of talented seniors, I was only pages ahead of most of them on the syllabus.

Sitting on the front row, top level, of the Megabus, reading Beloved, and realizing that in all probability, most of my fellow riders had never heard of Toni Morrison and that I was further away from the experiences I was reading about than almost every other person on that bus--well, that confluence of circumstances messed with me and has kept me writing-paralyzed for weeks. I remember a scene in what I think was a Spike Lee joint in which two African American men riding a city bus were speculating that the reason that the windows on it were so large was intentional, to humiliate the passengers in front of other (white) people in their cars.

This piece I’m writing is a total wreck, an exercise in first drafting that will never birth itself as a fully formed child. But I’m shamed seeing the same post sitting on the BOTG page every time I log on, hoping or fearing that someone has posted something, anything, as a cure for the reproach staring me in the face for my inaction. Liberal white guilt, a Bernie Sanders awareness of this country’s economic injustice, lamentation for what’s happening in America’s mid sized cities, all have created a writer’s blockade of the first degree. Consider this my attempt to unclog the drain.