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  • Every year I take myself on a couple of solo vacations. These are cheap excursions to places within a day's bus ride (Ann Arbor, Ohio, Minneapolis, Chicago or Kansas City) where I know people well enough to cook in their kitchens, borrow their bicycles and sleep on their extra cushions.

    This journey's destination: Kansas City! With me I have a suitcase. I have a backpack stuffed with cookware, sponges, detergent and food because the folks in the house I am visiting are SLOBS. The dog eats her dinner off the floor and the compost rots all across the countertops. I have also my rainbow striped sun hat. Kansas City is the hottest place I visit. The hills are so big there. Third biggest in the nation. In July you can die of heatstroke just trying to pedal uphill. So this garish colored hat is my cover. I'll be doing everything on foot.

    I like to do everything pretty slow anyways. This bus ride is thirteen hours because we also stop in St. Louis on the way instead of cutting across Iowa. Slow allows you to see the subtle changes of the landscape. The way the trees get bigger and healthier the further south you go. The way the anti abortion and adult superstore billboards pop up once you pierce into the Missouri bible belt.

    Slow allows you to get 480 miles away for fifteen bucks.

    And by some miracle I end up with the last front seat in the upper level of the bus. FULL VIEW. I only have to sit next to a sleeping woman and two guys chatting to each other with loud voices.

    These guys are world travelers. "You simply MUST visit my favorite cafe in Czechoslovakia next time, you missed out on some serious booze man." "Maybe, but the chicks in Barcelona were way hotter, and we threw tomatoes at each other."

    All of these commentaries of places far away were delivered with incredible high nasal pretension. The nasal dropped off once they moved on to the crowd getting on the Cincinnati bound bus. There was the man in the suit reading a paper he dug out of the trash. There was the woman in short-shorts being panhandled by a street man. "You can just tell she doesn't like that. That man's like hey, help I'm homeless," the guys next to me observed from their double decker thrones.

    But I'm good at this game of guessing what people are saying too. I break in and say. "Hey lady, I've been hitching all the way from Pittsburgh. I want a sandwich and I like your legs."

    The guys next to me laugh. And that is the last thing we say to each other for the next thirteen hours.

    The story should stop here but it doesn't.

    It continues. And over the next thirteen hours I can't read or draw or sleep because the guys next to me keep talking to each other. Loudly. And I learn everything about them.

    One guy with the slightly deeper voice is the alpha dog in this duo. Whatever he says the other one laughs at and goes "Oh my God, I can't believe you'd say that." The alpha dog served in the army and gives all the advice. "If they ever catch you smoking pot in the service don't deny it and they'll only send you to rehab." Or "I have a girlfriend with an ugly nose. She's self-conscious about it too. Other than that though she's a pretty girl. A regular pretty girl. Those are the best girls to date. Regular pretty girls."

    When I hear him say that I just look down at my hairy legs and grin. I am horrified though. Listening to them I am horrified. I would move to a different seat but DAMN IT I deserve to sit in the front with the good view just as much as they do. I maintain my belief even after they pull the shade all the way down without asking me first.

    An Ani DiFranco song I haven't heard or thought about since high school gets stuck on loop in my head. I still know all the lyrics. These lyrics pull me through the last couple hours of the ride.

    "I am not a pretty girl. That is not what I do. I am no damsel in distress. And I don't need to be rescued."

    And it gets worse.

    It gets worse when the skyline to Kansas City is before us and the shade is still down. I snap that shade right up to see MY CITY WHERE I CAME OF AGE IN ITS FULL SUNSET GLORY. I do this without asking. I mean no one's sleeping here and we will be off the bus in five minutes.

    And for some reason these guys start calling each other 'sweetheart.' "Oh sweetheart I wish you'd remember to have brought our sunglasses along." "Yes, sugar I'm sorry this is some bright light."

    These guys start kissing each other at the same volume of their voices. One says to the other "I'd do anything for you. I'd even go to Africa and buy you a bracelet."

    Then it all makes sense. My rainbow hat, my ad-lib about that girl's legs, my own hairy legs... my Zulu style bracelet. These guys think I'm gay. I don't think of myself particularly as gay but suddenly I'm the definition of gay. I become what I haven't been since childhood, THE ARTSY FEMINIST GIRL, GOOD MARTYR FOR ALL NON CONFORMISTS EVERYWHERE.

    The pressure! What do I do? Do I do anything? These guys are ignorant and stuck to their ways. I do nothing.

    But the pressure! The pressure!

    Off the bus and getting my luggage I pass them by one last time. And as I do I mutter "Insecure homophobes."

    And of COURSE they start jumping like apes and braying like donkeys.

    And when they pass me one last time in a revving car they shout "Don't worry I wouldn't rape you unless you were a man!" And something else too, but I don't know what because my ears blocked it out to protect me.

    Next time I won't say anything. If I remember.

    But no one will stop me from singing in my head.
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