Fire on the Mountain
This article was originally published in the Observer May 27, 2010
The Night Bus to the Border
By Steven Worden
Next time you feel too stale, too dragged by the same ol’, same ol’, head on up to Fayetteville and out on Wedington where for a couple of hundred, you can buy a roundtrip Jefferson Lines’ ticket to Brownsville, Texas. Hop on the southbound around noon and you will be in Shreveport, gazing at the lurid red lights of the Boomtown high-rise casino by 7:30 that evening. A scant five or so hours later at 1:00 a.m. you will be admiring the death-like downtown of Houston. By 6:30 in the morning, the sparkling lights of Corpus Christi refineries will be appearing off to your left. By 10:00 a.m., you will be stepping out into the morning heat and humidity of Brownsville, a homeless man curled up by a palm tree off to your right. Just up the street: the International Bridge to Matamoros, Mexico.
Although a mere twenty-one hours in duration, a night run to Brownsville opens up a whole new reality to the middle-class guy wearied of a white, skinny, affluent, non-tattooed, non-mentally-disordered, non-addicted world. If you yearn for the sound of a young man screaming m-fing words into a cell phone and in your ear right behind you, the sight of three young white guys trading pills across the aisle in front of you, (“I had to leave Rogers, you know, too many cops and not enough people! Not enough people to keep the cops busy, so they were always after me!”) giggling that eerie high druggy nervous snigger– then, my friend, you need a night bus ride!
Mostly though, just people hunkered down, talking in the dark, coming from someplace in a hurry to get cheaply to another place, (“I’m going to Lufkin. My ex-wife is dying from cancer and I’m going to take care of her and then take my daughters back to Mississippi.”) You saw one heavy-set, grey-haired pony-tailed guy in unbelievably stained loose sweat pants sitting on a curb in Texarkana and now he lurches down the aisle, trailing stale urine odor and falls into a seat right across the aisle from you.
An overweight young man and woman both sporting crudely scrawled jail tattoos asked the manager of the snack bar in Texarkana the cost of a cup of coffee. When they were told that it is a buck and a half, they walk away only to return to ask the cost of a cup of hot water: fifty-five cents. They again retreat. A young woman watching this yelled after them, “Hey, I got fifty-five cents that you can have.” She ran after them to hand it to them.
Slowly as it begins to grow light in Refugio, Texas, it begins to dawn on you, too: no Goldman Sachs hedge fund managers, here, no Stephan Schwartzmans (’09: $702 million take home), no Alex Rodriguezes, no “Black Mamba” Kobe Bryants, with their hundred million contracts, here. Only the poor, the humble, the suffering, the sorrowing, the hungry, the merciful, and the peacemakers: hey, this must be the Beatitudes bus!
The “shock within the imagination,” as Stanley Haurwas described the effect of the Beatitudes, hits home. You look around anew as the single mothers, the broke, the sorrowing, and the strung-out stumble out into the bright Brownsville morning. You sense what Robert Barron meant that transformation of the soul is not in the behaving or the believing, but is in the transformation of the seeing, and there’s nothing like a night run to the border to help you see the world a little more clearly.
Steven Worden,PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas. He has been a regular contributor to the West Fork Zephyr and Washington County Observer since 2009.