Grizzly Bear reared up and, towering above me, gave his most menacing look - claws at the ready, teeth showing, grimace and growl threatening. I cowered down, covered my face, and the growling stopped. Slowly, I uncovered it and peaked around the corner - "GGrr!" He erupted into giggles and fell to the floor as only a young child can. Then he climbed back into his seat and the game resumed - "GGGRRR!". It would be a long ride home...
When a freakish snow and ice storm wreaked havoc on the greater Puget Sound area of Washington, we were stranded in Seattle. Unable to fly out, we were forced to take a small, local Airporter bus back home. Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, a ride that normally takes two or less hours dragged on for eight. Although I was going through my own private Hell during this time (See my previous post: Bittersweet Ice), I found the others, crammed together with us on this journey, each had their own story.
In one of the front seats sat Mellow Man, whom we first met back at the airport. In the course of that two-hour wait we did a lot of visiting, as people tend to do when sitting next to each other for an extended period of time. He was a retired truck driver returning home after a visit to relatives back in Michigan. He'd had heart surgery a couple of years ago which he nearly didn't survive. He said that experience changed his life and he now took nothing for granted. "I'm far more patient now, you know? I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere cuz' time don't mean nothin'. I just value what I have, right here, right now." One thing he had was his lovely lady at home, whether a spouse or girlfriend we never learned; he called her often on his cell phone to apprise her of our progress and before the call ended he told her he loved her - every single time. The bus was not large and we could hear much of what others said; my final memory of Mellow Man is of his last call just before we arrived at his destination. "Almost there, honey; I'll see you soon - I love you."
Nervous Nick sat near the front, also. A young naval recruit, probably in his early twenties, he was bound for Naval Base Bremerton. We'd noticed him chain smoking outside the airport terminal, but then we boarded the bus for the two hour ride (we thought!) to the Kitsap Peninsula. As we neared Tacoma, traffic slowed and then stopped due to a horrendous accident. Nervous Nick couldn't wait and the driver allowed him to jump out for a few quick puffs. We moved on at a snail's pace, only to stop again due to the bridge closure. Nick jumped out again. Pulling off the freeway to spend a couple of hours at a McDonalds surely led to a sigh of relief for him, but then we had the loong drive back to Seattle. By the time we got to the Fauntleroy ferry dock, Nick was more than nervous - he was desperate. He got a bit of a reprieve, though, as it was Friday night and we'd missed the ferry, so had another hour to wait. As Nick practically leaped out the door, my husband, who only managed to kick the habit five years ago, sighed and shook his head. Hindsight can be painful...
Immediately behind the driver sat Mom-to-Be. Seven months' pregnant, this young navy wife was traveling alone and very anxious to get home. With her husband at sea, she'd been to visit her family in another state, probably for the last time before the baby came and her life changed forever. She spoke of moving across the country to this seemingly isolated base, adjusting to life alone when her husband shipped out, and her anticipation for this baby. With her sweet voice, she seemed like a kid herself, silver tongue stud glinting occasionally as she spoke. Kind, gentle, and self-assured, her eyes sparkled as she spoke of becoming a mother. "I can't wait! I know we won't be in the Navy forever, but at least when the baby comes, I won't be alone so much."
Guam-Mom and her daughter sat across the aisle from us, one seat up. Having been to Guam to visit family, and returning via Hawaii, they'd been traveling for forty eight hours. One of those small, serious, Asian women, whose true age was hard to tell, she spoke little, yet garnered tremendous respect. Her daughter saw to her every need and was very protective of her without being overbearing. Once on the bus, Guam-Mom mostly slept, while her daughter read from her Kindle and quietly made and received calls on her cell phone. They must have had a rather large extended family, for as we finally neared their destination, the rate of her calls picked up. Someone would definitely be there to pick them up and surely everyone in the family knew they were home. Obviously, Guam-Mom was highly-treasured and well-loved.
Student Nurse sat across the aisle from us and was deep in conversation with the equally-young navy man who sat next to her. She had flown in from Colorado, where she was in school, to attend the funeral of a beloved aunt. Although she did not elaborate, she shared that she'd mostly been on her own and pretty much supported herself since she was sixteen. She may have had a rocky adolescence, but her vision was clear and her goal was set - she was studying to be a geriatric nurse. She'd already had experience in this field with some of the various jobs she's held over the years. She was so young, so motivated and enthusiastic, but also wise beyond her years. And why, my husband asked, had she chosen that career? How did she know that was what she wanted to do with her life? "Simple!" She said. "There is such a need and I love old people. And I want to make a difference in the world." Simple, indeed.
Navy Crew sat behind us in the long bench seat across the back of the bus. Just out of basic training, this group of four young men and one woman was headed to their first assignment at the submarine base. During the many hours we spent together, their conversation spanned many topics, with occasional silences when they catnapped. Dressed in their crisp black uniforms, they were obviously on their best behavior and proud of what they represented. As we finally drew close to their destination, they became more animated and strained to see out of the fogged-up windows. Their conversation became a series of questions: "Where are we?" "All I can see is trees and fog; looks like a real no-man's land." "How far will we be from town?" "How big is Bremerton, anyway? That small, huh?" "Dang, what's there to do around here?" "I'm really hungry; do you think there's any take-out places on base?" From the front of the bus, Mom-to-Be's voice rang out - "There's a McDonald's..." I can only imagine how exciting that sounded.
Grizzly Bear must have been all of four years old and was with his mother. It had been a long day for him also, and, unlike many of the children who travel today, he clutched only one small super-hero toy in his hand. The warm animal hat on his head was something he was not willing to remove for any reason. When they took the seat immediately in front of us and he popped up to peer over the top of his seat, I attempted to talk to him. Asking his name, I got no reply - only an impish grin. Several other questions got the same response. "Nice hat you have. Is it a squirrel?" No reply. "I know, it must be a puppy dog." Nothing. "Oh, I see - it's a raccoon." Giggles - "Must be a grizzly Bear!" So began the game of GRRRR! that day - all the way to Nowhere...
Do not dwell in the past,
do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment.