In the large bus station waiting room, people stand around their luggage like small tribes huddled over polyester campfires.

The people who surround you in the ticket line don't look rich, but most of the tickets they're buying cost over a hundred dollars. That doesn't seem too cheap to you. You thought people rode buses because it's cheap. You guess it's cheaper than having a car or taking a plane.

The money in your pocket can get you as far as Hollywood, California. Why does Hollywood feel like the place to go? It just does.

On television, Southern California seems like the coolest place in the country. It seems like a happy place. And Hollywood, at least on TV, looks like a place where people with nothing become rich and famous overnight ? just for being themselves. People in Hollywood succeed on personality.
And if I've got nothing else, you think, I've got personality.

With your ticket in hand and your bag slung over your shoulder, you walk through the crowd of people and feel like an adult. This is working out okay.

The bus smells funky inside, like a gym locker room. The air tastes stale, like breathing inside a cardboard box. People sleep in their seats with their heads at the strangest angles. You take one of two empty seats on the right. A thin old woman sits next to you. She smells funny, too.

"I hope my luggage will be okay in that compartment under the bus," the old lady says.

"It'll be fine," you assure her.

"America: Nation of Cows." That's what they should put on billboards in Europe and South America and Asia so tourists won't be so surprised when they come here. Tell them the truth: there are some interesting cities spread out around the edge of our country and here and there in the middle, but once you hit the interstate, it's all cows. Oh, the dirt changes colors every so often. You'll pass dark brown dirt, light brown dirt, orange dirt and red dirt; but to be honest it's all dirt and cows. The cows come in two forms wherever you go ? in a field or on a bun ? both are equally warm and both seem to stay pretty quiet most of the time.

After 17 hours of watching America slide by, you find yourself deep in a headache-induced fantasy that the bus is a rolling prison, that everyone on the bus is being transported from one prison to another because at the first prison you all moped around so much you depressed the guards, and they requested you be sent somewhere else.

You really wish you'd brought a book or a magazine with you.

Why didn't you bring something to eat? Everybody else knew to bring something to eat. You want to strangle the old lady next to you and take the rest of her chicken sandwich. You look at her with sad puppy dog eyes.

&"You don't look well, child" she says. She gobbles the last bite of her sandwich and downs a small bottle of juice.

You must have fallen asleep. It's dark outside. The bus is stopped, and people are leaving. "Where are we?" you ask the old lady.

"Los Angeles," she says.

"Whoa! I gotta get out!" She sighs because she's got to get up to let you out, like she's done at every single rest stop where you've gotten out to stretch your legs and check out the candy machine.

Shuffling down the aisle between the seats, you peer through the bus windows. You see a long white room full of chairs and a crowd of people craning their necks to see who's getting off the bus. Nobody here is searching for your face. They're all looking past you. For the first time you feel completely alone. Well, that's okay, because your bag is where you left it in the cargo space under the bus, and right now the candy machine at the end of the room is the most important thing in the world to you.

But you don't have any money.

The last of your cash went on a little foil bag of potato chips at the last station hours ago. At the time, you thought it was cool. The drama of spending your last dime. The drama of knowing you were going to arrive in Hollywood with zero cash in your pocket. Years later on a late night talk show you can say, "You know, Steve, when I arrived in Hollywood, all I had were the clothes on my back and a toothbrush."

Well, you've got ten years to work on the line, but you'll say something like that.

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