‘Greyhound People’ by Alice Adams

Greyhound People by Alice Adams, 1981

The magic trick:

A painfully naïve adult narrator

Cynically, I can’t help but find this story incredibly embarrassing for Adams. Essentially, it’s a white-girl-on-safari story, observing all the strange, entertaining African-American characters on the Greyhound bus. And I’m not even saying that cynical me is wrong. Regardless, I prefer to look at the story from a more positive, forgiving point of view. I like Adams way too much as a writer not to give her the benefit of the doubt, and besides, even if it is a cringe-worthy narrative take, it still can be an interesting portrait as such.

I can’t recall a more naïve narrator. We know she’s an adult. She has a career. She’s coming out of a divorce. She is not a child. But in this story, she is reporting on the things she sees as if she is seeing the great, big world for the first time in 20 years. It’s almost like a fish-out-of-water Crocodile Dundee scenario. She can’t believe the things these people say on this bus!! What culture is this???

It creates an interesting effect. The narrator leaving her marriage, getting through this divorce, is awakening to a whole new world outside. A whole new California. Everything seems possible.

And that’s quite a trick on Adams’s part.

The selection:

A lot of new people began to get on the bus, and again they were mostly black; I guessed that they were going to Oakland. With so many people it seemed inconsiderate to take up two seats, even if I could have got away with it, so I put my briefcase on the floor, at my feet.

And I looked up to find the biggest woman I had ever seen, heading right for me. Enormous – she must have weighed three times what I did – and black and very young.

She needed two seats to herself, she really did, and of course she knew that; she looked around, but almost all the seats were taken, and so she chose me, because I am relatively thin, I guess. With a sweet apologetic smile, she squeezed in beside me – or, rather, she squeezed me in.

“Ooooh, I am so big,” she said, in a surprisingly soft small voice. “I must be crushing you almost to death.”

“Oh no, I’m fine,” I assured her, and we both smiled at each other.

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