Then I considered Melissa. We shared lunch together and had a great conversation. That must have been worth something. And the police officers. I can add them to the very short list of police with which I've had positive encounters (despite their initial suspicion of me). Still, I was a long way from Pittsburgh and I had the feeling that God had more in store for this journey, even if I did have to pay my way. I prayed for divine appointments - would it be the ticket clerk? the bus driver?
As I meandered into the bus station, a white-haired man with a crazed look in his eyes walked briskly toward me. His face and body contradicted each other - the former, wrinkled and tired, gave him the appearance of being in his 60s; while the latter, draped in raggedy clothes and bouncing like a teenager, gave him a sort of timeless youth. He made a beeline for me so I stopped. I've dealt with many a homeless person in my day, I was hardly startled. Rather, I was amused. And expectant. This man was clearly insane and might be good for conversation the next few hours, however long I'd have to wait for the next Pittsburgh-bound Greyhound bus. Plus, he might be the answer to my prayers!
"I'm so happy you're still alive!
I can't believe you survived!
Are you crazy?!
You coulda died out there!
I was so worried about you."
This man must be raving mad! He's never met me, knows nothing about me... but insists that I could have died "out there."
"What, do you think this is the 60s?
You can't do that shit anymore.
You're not Woody Guthrie"
The hell I'm not! Anyway, how did he know that I had been hitch hiking? He's at the bus terminal, for crying out loud... he could not have seen me hitch hiking unless he drove to the station himself; and if it's the case that he was both driving and worried about me, why didn't he just pick me up?
"Where are you trying to get to, anyway?
You must not have any money, how are you going to get there?
Because you're sure as hell not leaving here by hitch hiking!"
He introduced himself as Freddie. He had been riding in a truck, on his way to the bus station with some coworkers. He had asked the driver what "PGH" meant, the driver responded: "Pittsburgh, but don't even think about it, I'm not picking the kid up."
Freddie assumed that I didn't have any cash and said he had a pastor friend who could help me get home. Now, I don't usually take people's charity. But it's not like it was solicited. He was offering to help me out, how could I put him down? My only concern was that the last bus of the day was soon to leave and if I waited for his pastor friend, I was sure to miss it. I chose to take the gamble, I was sure Freddie was the divine appointment I had prayed for.
Freddie and I waited outside the bus station for what seemed to be an inordinately long while. I played some of my music for him, by which he was impressed. He compared me to Guthrie, Dylan, and many others with which I was not familiar. Finally his friend arrived.
The pastor of South Street Ministries, Duane Crabbs is a tall, well-built man with graying hair, a broad smile, and an expression that suggests he loves you, even if toughly.
"Freddie here seems to have taken a liking to you. He wants me to help you. But my ministry really doesn't have much money. if I'm going to help you, what can you do for me? How are you going to make this worth my while?"
I offered to give him a private concert for him and his family at his home. He preferred that I give a concert at the Greyhound station instead - for him and everyone else present. He wanted them all to hear and enjoy my music. He asked permission as he purchased my bus tickets and I was playing my heart out to the Greyhound station within moments.
Pastor Duane could not stay for the whole concert, so he handed me my tickets for the bus departing the next morning, making sure that Freddie would take good care of me for the night. I played for another hour or two until Freddie's bus was scheduled to leave toward Barterton, a small town near Akron.
There are three things in which Freddie prides himself: his faith, work ethic, and guitar. But his apartment aptly reflected the rest of his personality, betraying him as an addict, slob, and loner. Clearly he had not had guests in a long time. We stayed up for a few more hours discussing politics, music and religion, playing guitar, and smoking a blunt or two. Unlike most casual smokers, he needs this. Like the character in my song Why Lie (I Want A Beer) he needs alcohol, cigarettes, and pot - to keep warm, sooth the pain, escape from reality, and fight the demons on his shoulders. At least on this night, he did not have to do it all alone. He turned in sooner than I did as I stayed up still later on the phone with Jorge. I ended up sleeping on a pile of sleeping bags on the floor.
Freddie roused me from deep sleep at twilight. He couldn't sleep and couldn't stand being inside his apartment. There was still some time before the bus would be headed to the transit center, so he gave me a tour of Barterton, not much more than a couple blocks down one small town road and the circle around majestic lake Anna, complete with swans a la Lake Eola.
We went down to Freddie's church for breakfast. I again saw Pastor Duane briefly, he prayed with us and rushed out to serve brothers at the local prison. Freddie and I still had some time to kill, so I napped on a couch on the second floor. We then walked from there to the bus station with plenty of time for me to catch my bus to Pittsburgh. If all went according to planned, I'd be there by noon. I didn't have to spend a dime (in fact, I actually made some money while playing at the Greyhound station!), and God had clearly answered my prayer.