I boarded a Greyhound bound for Portland, Oregon, sitting toward the back of the bus on the left. Just before we pulled out of Union Station, a girl my age (we called them girls then, not women) climbed on and took a seat a couple of rows from the front on the right. She's alone, too, I thought as the bus hissed and began backing out. I wonder where she's going.
Burbank. Bakersfield. Fresno. Modesto.The girl was short, like me. She had curly brown hair and a sweet face.
I wonder what her name is, I thought. I'd like to get to know her.
Every hour we stopped but couldn't get off, every two hours we stopped and could get off to stretch and buy snacks out of a machine. Every four hours we stopped and were forced to get off, to mill sluggishly around a featureless bus station until our bus had been serviced.
At the next stop I'm going to try to catch her eye and smile. I did. She smiled back. Then we both looked away, embarrassed.
Hour after hour we rode. Like me, she read, she looked out the window, she dozed. We crossed the border. She was still there.
Maybe the girl was going to be starting Multnomah School of the Bible, too! I was disappointed when, only about an hour from Portland, she got off the bus and didn't get on again. We'd ridden almost 27 hours "together" and never said a word to each other. I didn't even know her name.
In Portland I found a phone booth and telephoned the Bible school. "I'm here," I said. I expected them to send a car for me. Instead they suggested several city bus routes.
Suitcases and all, I found my way to 8435 N.E. Glisan Street and into two-story, white-columned Sutcliffe Hall, the administrative building fronting the street. There I registered and was assigned to my dorm room upstairs, one of the dozen or so providing overflow space for the new women's dorm.
I went into the room, unpacked and met my roommate. Then it was time for dinner. I emerged from my room just as the occupant of the one next to me emerged from hers. We glanced at each other.
We were both too shy to stare or let ourselves look startled. We blushed and said hi and that was it. Nothing about, "Wow, what a coincidence!" or "Oh my gosh, you were on the bus from LA!" I think that single "Hi" may have been all we said to each other for the entire year we were classmates. Then she got off the bus and disappeared again. Rumor had it she was leaving to marry a Brit.
At least I knew her name now. Judy.
Years passed. I graduated, moved to LA, married, had two children. It was time for my 25th college reunion. I wrote the alumni office asking if they knew of anyone who wanted to carpool from Southern California. They said someone from Arizona did.
This time we drove. This time it was just the two of us. This time we talked. We reminisced about Bible college, compared notes about what people we had known there were doing now--about what we were doing now. Judy had become a nurse. She and her Brit lived on the border between Arizona and Utah. Judy worked with WIC, providing nutritional care for women and children, many of them families of polygamous Mormons.
She said the wives were undernourished from so much child-bearing but they didn't seem to mind all having the same husband or the fact that he was principal of the one elementary school and father of all the children in it. They liked being able to split up the chores of cooking and childcare according to their own skills and interests.
When the state of Arizona tried to make them obey the laws of Arizona, they claimed residency in Utah. When the state of Utah tried to get tough with them, they claimed residency in Arizona.
I would liked to have helped Judy write a book about her life among the Mormons. She loved these women.
I kept thinking about it and wanting to but it wasn't until the trip was half over (we must have stopped and spent the night in a motel, I don't remember) that I found the courage to bring it up.
"Can you believe we rode 27 hours on the same bus to end up at the same school, right next door to each other?"
"I know," she said.
"And we didn't even mention it the whole year we were at Multnomah together? We didn't even talk to each other?"
"We were both so shy!"