The next morning Wolf and I set out on our search for Dover”s bus station. Following the directions of the Trailways employee, we made our way to the Blue Hen Mall and then looked across the street. No bus station.
“Maybe it’s behind the mall.” Wolf offered.
“Naw, she said it was across the street from the mall.”
Wolf pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall that lie directly across from the Blue Hen. “There’s nothing here except these stores and that Hertz place over there.”
I had to admit he was right. There was no evidence that a bus station existed, or had ever existed, in this area. Wolf arched his eyebrows, “Perhaps she meant the Dover Mall instead of the Blue Chicken.”
Hell, anything was possible at this point. We continued our drive up the road towards the Dover Mall, all the while keeping an eye out for our missing bus station.
This was my second or third trip up Route 13 into Dover proper and like the salsa at Chi-Chi’s, it had so far failed to impress me. It was a state capital, and having seen quite a few capitals in my time, I’d come to expect a certain look and feel: Big corporate buildings, hordes of people in a rush to get somewhere, congested traffic, honking horns, pollution -the whole spicy nine yards. Dover was nothing more than a highway with restaurants and hotels on either side with a Wal-Mart and a mall thrown in for flavor. My god, there was a small cornfield in between the Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken! The town barely rated a “Mild” on the Green Pepper Meter, but if the French could convince Americans to buy water in a bottle, then damned if Dover wasn’t going to try and make lightning strike twice. They dumped a lot of crap into the bowl, hoping the sheer bulk of national superstore chains and the odd racetrack would distract the casual viewer enough so he wouldn’t be aware of the thin, bland soup within which all these stale chunks floated. Dover was doing its best to convince you that it was genuine Pace Picante, but why did I always feel like someone passed the Old El Paso?
As we drove past the Agricultural Museum, Wolf decided to share this Pearl of Wisdom: “As long as I”ve been here, I don”t ever remember seeing a bus station.”
Well thanks for telling me now, Captain Tardy. “But that woman wouldn’t lie to me. She has to know where the hell she works. She made it sound like the easiest thing in the world to find.”
Wolf shook his head, “Look: there’s the mall, the race track, the college… I don’t see any bus station.”
This was just my kind of luck. It fucking figured. This lady tells me it’s across the street from the Blue Chicken, plain as day, but there’s no damned bus station. Now Wolf’s telling me he’s never ever seen one. Since Wolf had been here at Dover for a while, I automatically assumed he had seen all there was to see of the place. This was Dover we were talking about after all, not the bazaars of Cairo. If I had known that Wolf, while having an intimate knowledge of the Wesleyan College Dormitories and the surrounding environs, hadn’t really explored every nook and cranny of Dover, I would’ve taken his words with a grain of salt. This being 1992, I accepted his judgment in this area without question and began thinking about other means of transport.
As we were coming back down 13, Wolf asked if I was hungry. Yeah, sure. I’m always hungry. “Cool. I’ve gotta stop by the Pink Elephant to pick up some stuff first. I saw a Chinese take-out place at that strip mall that looked good. Wanna get some of that?”
I replied in the affirmative as we pulled into the Pink Elephant’s parking lot. The Pink Elephant was a liquor store, so-called because of the chain of pink pachyderms painted on the drive-thru side of the building. Yep, you heard right: drive-thru liquor, one of the greatest ideas since the invention of the electric lightbulb. Growing up in Virginia, I was only familiar with the ABC, or Alcoholic Beverage Commission. These stores were the only places in the Commonwealth that could sell hard liquor. They were drab, boring buildings with dark windows and a plain sign that read “ABC” up on the roof. I’d always thought these architectural blights had been the handiwork of some pious Southern Baptist, but logically we know that couldn’t be the case. It’d have huge flames surrounding the entrance with a huge sign above the doorway reading, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” along with an animatronic Billy Sunday standing outside barking biblical prohibitions against the Drink (all from the King James Version, of course). No, it couldn’t have been the SBC’s that were responsible for the designs. It must’ve been an Episcopalian who drafted the plans for the buildings. Simple and unassuming on the outside, yet one hell of a party on the inside.
The Pink Elephant, unlike the fabled ABC stores of my youth, was festooned with what I have come to know as standard liquor store decor. Every square inch of the building save the drive-thru side was covered with Budweiser banners, Miller promotional posters and large white signs declaring, in handwritten black and red marker, “Wild Turkey 5.99 a Bottle!” India may have the Taj Mahal and New York the Statue of Liberty, but at that moment, nothing seemed so beautiful to me as the Pink Elephant Drive-Thru Liquor Store. Wolf had brought me to Mecca, and like any dry Pilgrim, I was overwhelmed by the power and majesty of the simple, gaudy building offering a Six Pack of MGD for only $2.35.
As we entered the establishment, I noticed that the inside looked a lot like the outside, only with half-nekkid chicks in swimsuits adorning the walls. I’d already seen most of these posters hanging in everyone’s rooms in the dorm. Come to think of it, my dorm was a miniature Louvre with classic works of promotional beer posters taped to the walls. Our Mona Lisa was the Killian’s Red poster featuring Kathy Ireland. And lo! Here she was, just above the Bartles & James display. Even better, there’s a box full of Kathy Ireland posters. So this is where everybody got theirs! They were free (always my favorite price), so I pulled one out for myself, unrolled it and just stared at it. Yes, you will occupy a place of honor in my personal gallery. Now if I could only find the “Cindy Crawford Crawling on the Beach Wearing a Thong”, my collection would be complete; anchored by the two titans of skimpy swimwear.
As I was gazing at my new piece of art, I muttered aloud, “Man, if they could bottle that, every man would go to bed happy.”
“They already have.”
I turned to see Wolf holding up a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. “A couple swigs of this and every chick looks like her.”
“Yeah, but what about the morning after?”
“Got it covered.” He drew a bottle of Yukon Jack whiskey from the brown paper bag. He pointed at the poster in my hand, “Can you get a couple of those for me?”
As I was getting into Wolf’s car, I did a double-take. There was a Trailways bus parked in front of the Hertz Rent-a-Car kiosk! A couple of people were boarding, which struck me as odd. I was in a pensive, yet confused state until a clue the size of softball came hurtling down upon my thick skull. Ouch! What the hell, man? THUD Across the Street THUD From the Blue Hen Mall THUD There’s a Bus THUD With Passengers THUD Check it Out, Numbnuts!
Revelation can often be a painful experience.
“Wolf, you mind driving over to the Hertz place for a minute?”
We drove to the spot the bus had occupied mere moments before, and staring us right in the face was the red and white Trailways sign. In front of the windows sat a line of cracked plastic molded seats with faded powder blue paint mounted to a rusting tubular bar. This –THIS– was the state capital’s “bus station”: An afterthought slapped onto the front of a Hertz Rent-a-Car kiosk sitting in the middle of a strip mall’s parking lot. Screw Old El Paso. This burg was a half empty Taco Bell sauce packet. I think Wolf summed it up best:
“This is fucking lame.”
At any rate, I still needed a bus ticket, so I went inside and bought one for the coming Friday. Right after class, I’d take the J.G. Taxi out to the bus stop and hop the express on down to Norfolk. Everything was starting to come together.Powered by Sidelines