After we cross the border, the bus stops at three sleepy upstate towns before we get to Albany. Plattsburgh is a stop and go. At Glens Falls we pick up three new passengers. My traveling companions are paired in the seats ahead of me, leaving me with an empty aisle seat.
Before I look up to assess whether I am likely to get a seatmate, I take note that the men across the aisle have already loaded up their empty seats with belongings and I consider moving my bag to claim my space as well. The young man coming down the aisle is wearing a baggy beige sort of two piece jumpsuit. He has short dark curly hair and a tan probably Latino face. He takes the seat next to me with his leg sprawling out into the aisle, the knee bobbing up and down. He doesn’t seem to have any bags, but is clutching an envelope with papers in one hand.
As we pull into the long off highway route for the Saratoga Springs bus station, he says something about how he can’t wait to get to New York. We start chatting. I tell him how I am getting off in Albany, half way to NYC on this route. He has to change buses in Albany because his ticket goes to Babylon, NY. He doesn’t want to go to Long Island! He wants to go to 42nd Street! He’s talking about Grand Central Station and other landmark addresses.
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite
Incident on 57th Street, Bruce Springsteen
It seems odd to me that he has a ticket to somewhere he doesn’t want to go. When I reveal that I am traveling from Canada, and like any good Montrealer I suggest he would like visiting, he chuckles and pats down the beige jumpsuit, like I am supposed to know what that means. “I can’t go to Canada!” and it comes out that he was in Glens Falls not of his own volition, the ticket was issued by the institution that had just released him, and everyone in upstate NY probably knows that this style of beige suit is your get-out-of-jail outfit.
But you’re reminded every night
That you been judged and handed life
Down in Jackson Cage
Jackson Cage, Bruce Springsteen
He was good natured and pleasant, but he was eager and anxious as well. As we were pulling into Albany, he was shaking his head in marvel at how long it had been since he had seen the city. People started to gather their things, and another young man (black, cheerful, regular jacket, jeans, ballcap attire) that had boarded the bus in Glens Falls came up to the guy I have now dubbed Spanish Johnny, and pressed at least a twenty into his hand plus some assorted smaller bills and coins. “Take it easy! Good Luck!” He clapped him on the back in that man to man way. Spanish Johnny told me he never met the guy before.
Whoah, will you walk with me out on the wire
‘Cause baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider but I gotta know how it feels
I wanna know if love is wild, baby, I wanna know if love is real
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Since I have come back I see there is a Maximum Security Correctional Facility near Glens Falls. We didn’t make it into the “pit” this time in the wristband lottery, but every Springsteen show is worth the trip and effort and expense regardless. He sings about losers, and felons, and people driven by desperation. He sings about love, and hope, and characters like Spanish Johnny.
It seems my friends in the seats ahead had also been listening to my conversation, and it wasn’t lost on any of us that this guy was right out of a Springsteen song. How long was he in? What for? He had a sparkle in his eye, some newfound freedom.
For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside,
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these… Badlands
Badlands, Bruce Springsteen