Road-weary and hungry, we stop at a chain restaurant just off the interstate, a madhouse on any Sunday after church, but we pull in right behind a tour bus full of fossils from another age. All of them wear nametags, hats, and polyester/no-iron outfits fit for long hours on the bus. It’s clear they’ve worked out a restaurant plan of operation: some line up to order, others scout out the best tables, while our stomachs rumble behind the slowest of the slow who can’t make up their minds or must ask the girl at the cash register questions about the menu: whether the foccacia is too crusty, the artichokes on the sandwich soft, the mayo low in saturated fat.
When we finally sit down, they’re all around us: one little lady with blue-black hair, wearing her trendy FENDI sunglasses; a man with a hearing aid who shouts his complaints at his companions; another large man who, blocking the hall to the restrooms, responds loudly to my “excuse me, sir” with “Well, I was trying to get there myself, but you go right ahead.” Nothing gallant about him, no trace of the dashing young man who might have made a young woman’s heart flutter.
My back hurts from driving, my knees ache, and I think these are signs of what’s to come, the time when getting on and off the bus will be enough for one day, when my friends and I—the ones who are left then—will crowd onto the coach the brochure described as luxurious and head for some far-off, interesting place: Rock City, maybe, an exhibition at the Fernbank in Atlanta, a play in New Orleans, the coast casinos.
I wonder how they pass the time on the bus. Do they relive the old days? Do they compare their aches and pains? Can they still see well enough to read or knit? Do they plug in their Walkmans—or maybe even their iPods—and daydream to the music? Or do they sleep away the hours they have left until the next destination, or until, all too soon, the bus pulls in to the parking lot at home, wherever they’ve come from, and they all go their separate ways until the next time, when the destination will be someplace truly exotic, a place they’ve always wanted to see before it’s too late.