Bus ride number 5: The Desert

By Andy Mitchell

I was on the Greyhound from Phoenix to Vegas – never mind why – and this guy got on and sat down next to me. He began talking a mile a minute, looking over his shoulder. He was maybe nineteen or twenty, just a few years younger than I was at the time. He was one of those types you only encounter on a bus headed for Vegas, a real desert eccentric, a character you might find in a David Lynch film. But for all his disconcerting quirks, he was somehow endearing, a street-smart wild child with an undercurrent of naiveté.

“Hi, my name’s Dannie, Dannie with an ’ie’. What’s yours?” “Andy, Andy with a ‘y’.” I’m usually not that fast on my feet, but I was that time, and it wasn’t lost on Dannie. He laughed out loud. “Good one, mister.” Mister? I couldn’t have been more than twenty-five at the time. So it struck me as odd for him to address me in a manner suggesting a greater age difference between us than there was. He was going to enroll in dealer school. I hadn’t realized there were such institutions of “higher” education. Only in Vegas, right? Anyway, I figured that this was probably his latest in a long list of schemes.

Next thing I knew Dannie was getting off the bus. We had stopped at some godforsaken spot along the road. Imagine tumbleweed and dusty winds, the kind that make you squint. And miles and miles of nothingness. It was eerie as hell. He must have gone for a smoke or a pee. Either way, he was back in no time, but not to stay. Now get this. He whispered that he had to get off the bus for good, there in the middle of nowhere. His eyes were darting as he spoke. “Nice meetin’ ya, Andy. I just wanted to let ya know I wasn’t gettin’ back on. Have a nice time in Vegas.” And then he was gone. I wanted to say, “Hey, what about dealer school?”, but he was off before I had the chance, before the bus was snaking back through the wind-swept Mojave.

Ever since that strange ride out West, I’ve wondered why Dannie had to make his premature departure. Was he on the run from the law? He definitely seemed to be on the run from someone or something. But I will always be touched that he took the time to re-board the bus just to say goodbye to me, that this wild-eyed fugitive who had plans for the future, had shown such  consideration for a mere acquaintance. Occasionally I wonder what became of Dannie, if that was even his real name. The word, “haunted,” is one of many overused words in the American lexicon. But that bus ride on that particular afternoon, I’m haunted by it still. That kid that materialized and then vanished like a ghost. I can’t help but conjure up the extreme scenarios. He’s in prison. He’s dead. He went missing in the desert (perhaps that very day). But what I’d like to think is that he’s shuffling a deck of cards right now, dealing for “the house” at one of the grandest gambling palaces on the strip. They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Well, in this case, what happened on the way to Vegas remains a mystery.           

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