An Encounter with a Drunk Indian

When I was a student at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University, both located in Billings, I often traveled the 150-mile trip home to Sheridan by bus. Years later, I heard a radio interview with a writer who published a collection of poems based on her experiences traveling across the country on a bus. After hearing her read some of her poems about people she encountered on her journeys, I remembered a particular experience I had and was inspired to write the following poem which appears in this year’s issue of Serendipity Poets Journal.

Intoxicated Crow on a Trailways Bus

December, 1984, in the early afternoon,

I board a bus in Billings, Montana,

for the three-hour trip to Sheridan, Wyoming.

A college student going home for Christmas,

I sit behind and to the right of the driver.

Storm clouds gather, as the bus leaves town.

 

An hour later, he gets on at Crow Agency,

sits next to me, tells me he’s Crow.

I tell him I’m one small part Cherokee,

the truth, but he doesn’t respond.

I ask where he’s going.

He says nothing—we ride in silence.

It starts to snow.

 

In the darkness about twenty miles outside of Sheridan,

the bus is surrounded by white.

The driver, a robust black man, slows down.

Wipers slap their own rhythm against the windshield.

 

The Crow tells me he’s scared.

I ask why—he doesn’t reply.

He stands, stumbles to the back,

returns, places his long legs over my short ones.

 

The busybody behind me asks if I’m comfortable.

I tell her I’m fine—I’m almost home, anyway.

She marches to the driver,

tells him about the drunk Indian on my lap.

After glancing in our direction,

the driver pulls the bus to the side of the road,

approaches the Crow, gives his shoulders a rough shake,

carries him off the bus.

Driver and Crow disappear in the swirling white.

 

I see no buildings, no trees,

nothing to shelter one ejected from a bus.

The driver returns, mumbles,

puts the bus in gear.

Wondering, I disembark in Sheridan

to begin my Christmas vacation.

Have you ever traveled anywhere on a Trailways or Greyhound bus? Did you meet any interesting people?

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

 

 

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8 thoughts on “An Encounter with a Drunk Indian

  1. Interesting post Abbie! This is based on actual events I take it. I vaguely remember hearing about that. I like hearing your memories put to verse.

    • Yes, Andy, I’m not sure of the exact year, but it happened when I was traveling home for Christmas. I was upset because I didn’t know where the bus driver deposited the drunk Indian. Dad said he may have pulled over at the Ranchester exit and taken the man to a nearby business. I can only hope.

  2. I “rode the dog” a few times cross-country. Met all sorts of interesting people. Had a great time with a guy from Poland one night. He knew about 10 words of English, and I knew even less Polish, so we spent the evening pointing at words in his Polish-English dictionary to hold a conversation. I tried to ask him about his family and wound up asking him if he was married. No, no, he shook his head, smiling and pointing to his ring finger. I was young and single at the time, and he wasn’t bad looking, so I was both embarrassed and flattered.

  3. I’ve been to Mexico a few times and I feel totally lost. I don’t really like not being able to read or speak the language. I’ve only been on a public bus, one time. All I remember is that it was very crowded and not very comfortable. Cher’ley

  4. I used to give my students an assignment in which they (mostly white, university students at that time) had to imagine they had a foster brother who was Native American and unable to get a ride on a cold night. They had SO much trouble wrapping their heads around. We are all one. You beautifully capture the pain here.

    • It’s funny you should mention writing about having a foster sibling from a different culture. When I was a teen-ager, we took in an exchange student from Japan for a summer. He was in his twenties, and I was tempted to tell my friends he was my adopted brother. Thank you for your comment.

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