CIW: The Bus to Lakeland (Part 2 of 6)

I motivate myself to strap on my sleeping bag and walk out of my father’s house, en route to NYC. I join Evangelina, Dave, and Benjamin for a long trip down to Florida. Despite being on the fence for a while, I climb onto the Chinatown Bus.

The bus stops quite a few times, but often only to drop off riders. We attempt to disembark but are shooed back into our cramped seats. At one point our crew of four considers staging a protest, rallying the passengers to demand we be allowed breakfast. Hoorah! After all, Evangelina, Dave and I all met at Occupy Wall Street. Instead, we sit stewing like potatoes meant to be French fries.

I am STRARVING when we arrive in Orlando. My belly grumbles and rolls. It twists around looking for that special ingredient to untie its tangled knots. Luckily, or maybe purposefully, we land in a Chinatown strip mall containing an Oriental Food Market. Yippee! Our ride hasn’t arrived, so we grab our bags and head straight for the electronic door, breathing us in like a loving hug.

As I meander through the aisles, I am unable to find much that can be eaten immediately. I find myself distracted by the strong smell of fish and pre-packaged 100-year old eggs. The crunchy feeling in my stomach eventually pulls me away to continue the search. “Aha, a deli section!” My mind proclaims, guiding my obedient feet in its direction. Full-bodied ducks and other slabs of meat hang on huge metal hooks. The beasts are a dark brown color, cooked and glazed, ready to go home with the next willing customer – face, feet and body. Now this looks yummy, so I scoot into line.

Benjamin and I had met for the first time on the bus. He lives in DC but bussed up to NY because the ride to FL was considerably cheaper. Originally from Guatemala, he has been living in DC for 8 years with his sister (much of which I learned later). We hadn’t talked much during the bus ride, given that both of us were sitting in window seats. Although, we had made some faces at each other, myself sucking in my nostrils and him flipping his eyelids inside out; these skills tend to freak me out. I am nervous because I speak close to zero Spanish and I know he speaks some English but am unclear to what extent (I realize later that he speaks quite a bit). Either way, both of us seem too awkward to attempt a full conversation, myself almost definitely more nervous.

So there we are, in line together. He goes to peak at our options. He looks back at me, his finger pressing firmly against the tip of his nose, pulling it upward and smooshing it. He simultaneously bares his teeth and widens his eyes – it’s a pig! I immediately associate this with our earlier facial distortions and quickly return to the job at hand, which is the most delectable lunch platter on menu? A few minutes later, I step forward to look more closely at our selection. I find a cooked, sparkling, pig’s head. It lies there as if waiting to be carved out for lunch! I look back at Benjamin, astonished and smiling, realizing his earlier attempt at communication.

Finally we reach the front of the line and ask for two lunch platters of duck and rice. The butcher promptly grabs a hanging duck, and CHOP! He slices into the body with a massive cleaver. CHOP! CHOP! We walk directly to the register, pay, grab our bags from the entrance, sit, and chow down in the sun. Enraptured by the duck’s fatty goodness, we use our fingers to shovel the tasty ingredient into our mouth. No metal utensil to separate us from our prey. Subsequently they are covered with shiny grease, impossible to remove. In a moment, Erica and Natalia pull up, and Dave and Evangelina plop down for their own meal. We are all satisfied and head off to Lakeland.