I was staring at the gray cotton seat in front of me wondering how it was that I could be surrounded by 45 strangers with all of their luggage and little kids crowding the space around me and yet at the same time be surrounded by nothing. Of course not all of them were strangers. My friend Chloe was sitting to the left of me in the nice cozy window seat where she did not have to come in contact with the rushing mom trying to grab her child away from a snoring man, or the unconcerned teenager who is blasting his music so loud through his headphones that he is does not notice the pain that he caused when his duffel bag pushed your arm back into the aisle behind you. Beyond the chaos of the different lives intersecting within the Greyhound bus, is one small bus station with a parking lot across the street in Kissimmee, Florida.
Wait. Let’s back up a moment.
Earlier this very same day my dad was driving me to the Greyhound bus station in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, about fifteen minutes from my own home. My loving parents had decided that it would be better for me to ride the bus up to the University of Florida in Gainesville, instead of driving me. So that’s what happened. I was headed up there to attend a Summer Journalism Convention for high school students. Boarding the bus at five in the morning was not the easiest endeavor; not only was I tired, but I was also pretty scared to get on. The paranoid ranting of my friend did not help.
On the way up to Gainesville, the bus stops in several different cities to pick-up and drop-off people. At the Kissimmee stop there ended up being less seats than people. One scrawny mid-twenty year old man, wearing white tube socks that extended up to his mid-calf, had to stand in the aisle until we arrived in Orlando. Of course the man had to be standing right next to me. An older father with his two kids insisted on yelling across the bus to the standing man. His ravings about how unfair his treatment was continued the whole way to Orlando.
Once we reached Orlando everybody was required to get off the bus and wait inside the station for an hour and a half while they refueled and cleaned the coach. Walking into this little one story building that smelled like smoke we realized that there would not be the kind of food that was served at a gourmet restaurant here. While we waited we had the chose of various vending machines or a concession stand. We chose the concession stand and got bus station pizza. It tasted just like how it sounds…like cardboard.
Along the way I saw parts of Florida I had never seen before: farm land that grows the citrus trees where I get my orange juice from, the Kissimmee River that is being restored so it once again can supply the Everglades with water, the “gator towns” that are economically dependent on the University of Florida. All of these places brought me closer to understanding the paradox that is Florida. It can be so different, yet have so much in common all at the same time. Just like the people on that bus, we were all different, but were traveling on a common road, sharing in the journey.
Once I reached Gainesville and attended the conference on Journalism I learned that I did not want to become a journalist. Sometimes the journey teaches you more than the place you end up.
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