It was somewhere between Los Angeles and Palm Springs when I found myself helping a woman re-apply bloody gauze to an open wound that had split open due to complications from liposuction in Tijuana.
Moments later, another woman – with a razor blade tattoo on the side of her neck – smacked her 7-year-old son for spilling his Mountain Dew on her iPhone and screamed something at him in Spanish.
Sometime after that, a man with an infant child walked out of the bathroom in the back and promptly dumped a full diaper in the trash bag hanging in the middle of the aisle.
We still had seven and a half hours until we hit Tucson…
Welcome to the Flixbus.
For the past few months, my mom and a bunch of other friends have been raving about a new public transportation service known as “The Flixbus.” For a low price, you can travel on this large “comfortable bus” anywhere you like and select from a great list of pre-chosen movies – and use free WiFi the entire time. I looked it up and it seemed legit. And definitely affordable. A ticket to San Diego from Los Angeles cost $4.99. A ticket to Palm Springs? $6.99… To get to my hometown of Tucson, I was looking at $22.00. Since Southwest Air wanted nearly $400 for two one way plane tickets, I booked my 9-year-old daughter and I on a 12:30 Flixbus to Tucson leaving from downtown LA.
Wanting to beat the crowd, my daughter and I took a Lyft down to the parking lot across from Union Station, right by LA’s famed “Twin Towers Correctional Facilities.” It’s an intimidating spot – heavily populated by at least five bail bond storefronts and street meat hot dog vendors. It’s hard not to take note of family members leaving the bail bond stores, openly weeping about their loved ones having spent the night in jail.
“Are they crying because they have to take the Flixbus too, daddy?” My daughter asked.
“Uhh, no. Whole different situation.”
I promptly took notice of the waiting area and its potential to escalate into a violent “prison yard” type of situation. A woman was walking around selling homemade “street tamales” out of a plastic bag, three 12-year-olds were selling bottles of water and packs of cigarettes and two men with children were openly sharing a blunt in front of their kids. (As would happen, I ended up buying two street tamales and a bottled water, as I had not thought to pack any food for the journey.)
I hadn’t even boarded the bus yet and I was $19 dollars in the hole.
The line to board the bus was non-existent. as Everybody sort of milled about near an area until the ticket conductor shouted out, “Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson line up HERE.”
The awaiting pack scrambled immediately. As people got tossed aside and trampled like they were rushing the stage of a Travis Scott show… Elbows were thrown. Space was cleared. Somehow, I managed to grab all of my luggage and scoop up my daughter before she was flattened to death. Sadly, even though we were the third people in the waiting area, we had been easily bullied to the back of the line by the violent mob, which was led by a 6’7” ex-linebacker wearing a baseball cap reading: K.U.S.H. Keeps Us Super High.
My advice? Pay the extra $20 online and get a reserved seat.
Once my daughter and I got on the bus, we noticed that any available seats together had been claimed. Eventually I was forced to convince a man who looked like he had recently been let out of a Texas prison to switch seats with me so that my daughter and I could sit together… He scoffed, kicked the side of the seat and mumbled something under his breath.
“Thank you so much, sir,” I said.
“I run this bus, cocksucker.”
Eventually he moved and we accepted the fact that we were stuck in the last seat in the back of the bus… basically right next to the toilet. And then, minutes before we left, a rather large woman came back and destroyed the bathroom… I nearly vomited. My daughter asked to switch seats. The bus pulled out into traffic.
Nine hours to Tucson.
The first thing people tell you about the Flixbus is that you can watch unlimited movies and surf the web, email, text, whatever you like. As it turns out this is simply not true. After trying for nearly an hour to watch Euphoria on HBO GO, I was alerted repeatedly with notes that I was in a “non-connection zone” and that I was possibly traveling “out of the continental United States.” I switched over to Netflix and was met with much of the same. Incredibly long loading times, spotty streaming and the inability to watch anything. After looking up the Flixbus website, I came across some small type in the “Services” section that read, “Please do not stream Netflix, YouTube or HBO Go on the Flixbus as it slows down everybody’s WiFi speeds and will not load correctly.”
Wow. That would have been nice to know. Oh, also? They DO NOT ALLOW MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS on the bus that are bigger than 12 inches… So unless you’re strictly a harmonica player, forget bringing your acoustic guitar anywhere. (Since I was going to play a gig in Tucson, I now had to rent a guitar from the local music shop).
Anyway, reading deeper, they recommended that passengers watch their curated film selections on the Flixbus app, which were “expertly chosen” and free. I checked it out. The selections were the same as what you’d expect on an airplane: Wonder Park, A Madea Family Funeral and about 9 shitty Melissa McCarthy movies.
Seven hours and 45 minutes to Tucson.
As we rattled over the freeways on the outskirts of Los Angeles, weaving in and out of the carpool lane, I was convinced I was going to die on the Flixbus. My daughter was getting carsick from the bumps and sudden stops and I could not believe that I had chosen this as my best means of transportation to Tucson…
The bus continued to shake from side to side, causing a middle-aged lady across the aisle from me to begin moaning. Like, painfully moaning. And grabbing her sides. Thinking that she may be in labor with a child, I looked over and noticed that she had a freshly dressed wound on the side of her mid-section. At one point, she screamed “Fucking FUCK, can you drive a little slower?”
“Are you OK ma’am?” I asked her, hoping she hadn’t been shot in a bank robbery gone wrong and was using the Flixbus as an escape tool.
“Uggh, yeah – I’m just recovering from plastic surgery,” she said.
“On the Flixbus?” I responded.
“Well, I live in Palm Springs,” she proceeded to tell me. “I went to Mexico for liposuction because it’s like, 75 percent cheaper down there.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “Didn’t you go through some sort of like, recovery first?”
“I’ll be fine once I get to Palm Springs.”
We hit a bump and she made a noise that I have only heard once before in my life back when I witnessed a goat slaughter in a tiny village in Mexico in 2003.
“Oh fuck,” she screamed. “One of my sutures popped – can you just hold your finger here for a second?.”
Shielding my daughter from the horror of this situation, I regrettably leaned over and put pressure on an area of bloodied gauze that had come undone. Eventually, the woman fastened it back together with a clip and thanked me profusely. I excused myself to the bathroom and threw ice cold water on my face.
30 minutes later the ride was smoothing out. Looking out the window I saw the desert approach.
“Folks we are stopping in North Palm Springs in eight minutes,” the driver announced. “We will have time to get refreshments and some air.”
“Thank fucking God,” the bleeding woman said.
We pulled into an AM/PM parking lot in Palm Springs and the lady limped off the bus and met her ride. She waved good-bye to me and sped off into the Palm Springs afternoon. For all I know she bled out on the way home and is dead.
The good news was that 12 passengers got off the bus in Palm Springs. This freed up some seats and we moved a few aisles away from the bathroom. The miles began to roll away and I started to fantasize that I was Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy taking the bus to a new dream, over expansive desert land and into the heart of opportunity. Of course, Jon Voight was heading to New York City in 1968 and I was going to Tucson to visit my mom, but the view sure was pretty.
20 minutes later, I opened up one of my tamales-in-a-bag and gave it a shot. It smelled like some sort of fucking rotting animal. A few passengers looked over at me and covered their faces with blankets and scarves. Acting casual, I took a small bite and chewed for a few seconds before beginning to feel violently ill. I managed to spit the food into a bag and quickly wrapped it up, avoiding the grossed out looks of my fellow Flixbus friends. Luckily, that was exactly the moment when the newborn’s father emerged from the bathroom with the full diaper. He tossed it in the center trash bag and the entire bus groaned and began cursing him out.
“What am I supposed to do?” The dad asked the gallery of hecklers.
“Flush that shit,” the guy in the K.U.S.H. hat suggested.
The driver came on the intercom and reminded everyone that nothing but toilet paper could go down the toilet. The passengers collectively groaned and went back to their devices. At this point, between the tamale and the diaper, the bus was turning toxic. If you lit a match in the thing, there was a strong chance the bus would explode.
Six hours to Tucson.
Our next stop was in Blythe, California, on the Arizona border. Here, we were given a 30 minute lunch period and the only restaurant around for miles was a McDonalds 25 feet away. Assuming this would be my last chance to eat before 9:30 that night, I broke down and ate six Chicken McNuggets and an Oreo McFlurry.
I also called my mom to alert her of our progress.
“How’s the Flixbus?” My mom asked. “Watching any good movies?”
“Well, nothing really works,” I said. “Half the seats don’t have outlets, the WiFi in the desert sucks and they don’t allow streaming… and I refuse to watch Life of the Party. (That’s a terrible Melissa McCarthy movie BTW…)
“What kind of food do they have?” She inquired.
“They don’t have food,” I said.
“What?” She said. “On their website it says you can purchase snacks and stuff from the driver?”
What? Here I was nearly puking street tamales and eating Chicken McNuggets when the driver had food on him the entire time? Why were we not informed of this? I tracked down the driver as he smoked a cigarette and asked him if I could see a menu of the food they offered on board.
“Their aint no menu, mane… We just have some Ruffles and shit.”
Ruffles and shit?
“Come on my man, you don’t have like a Tapas box? My daughter needs some Wiki Stix!”
“This aint Alaska Airlines, mane,” he responded.
Eventually, 100 miles from Phoenix, a college kid broke down and went into the bathroom to vape. He was far from discreet and as a man who once routinely snuck weed to smoke into airplane bathrooms, I viewed his efforts as amateurish. The key to smoking on a bus or airplane is to basically flush the toilet as you exhale with your face nearly in the bowl. Yeah, this is a disgusting activity, but for some reason back in the mid 90’s I had no problem shoving my head inside an airplane toilet. Now I can’t even USE bathrooms on moving vehicles. Anyway, the kid opened the door and a cloud of Watermelon E-Juice enveloped the back area. The kid walked out as if he had done nothing wrong.
The smoke was impossible to miss and even though it dissipated quickly, it really upset the bus driver, who pulled over to the side of I-10 and DEMANDED to know who had smoked on the bus.
My daughter raised her hand to volunteer the information.
“Put your hand down,” I said, knowing that being labeled a “narc” at age 9 doesn’t do anybody any good.
“Who was smoking back here?” The bus driver said. “I demand an answer!”
I expected somebody to speak up… but nobody did. We all held together in a Flixbus code of silence. Shit, we felt like we were in La Cosa Nostra. For the first time on the ride I sensed a camaraderie with my fellow passengers. We all sort of looked at it the same way… If this was a bus in 1957, people would be smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey from flasks. We all had the same thought… Let the kid vape.
Four and a half hours to Tucson.
The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly. I was amazed at how well behaved my daughter was and as the stops piled up, the passengers started getting off. A few people got on in Phoenix and we got to Tucson in roughly nine hours and 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, If you drive directly from LA in a car, you’re guaranteed to spend eight hours on the road and you have to buy gas. If you fly to Tucson from LAX, door to door takes about five hours and 30 minutes. So, I basically lost four hours of my life, had to endure some awful smells and I got to be an impromptu nurse to the woman recovering from plastic surgery.
When we got to my mom’s house, she had food and wine waiting for me and I told her all the fun stories from my 400 mile road trip in a public bus. We laughed, drank and I slept in until 8:30 the next morning when I awoke to my mom freaking out about a dead animal in the walls.
“Zach, some animal died in the wall I called the exterminator already,” she shrieked.
I woke up and smelled what she was talking about. I opened my backpack and found the OTHER street tamale I had forgotten to throw out buried beneath my laptop.
“Found it, mom,” I said.
She made me throw it out in the neighbor’s trash can…
WATCH Zach’s music video for his song “Watch the Horses”…
Singer-Songwriter Zachariah Selwyn will release his 5th official LP next week, a country-hip hop concept album entitled “Firing Squad.” The record is based on an unreleased scripted western project that Selwyn has been developing for more than a year.
“I guess I wanted to get the music out before the project was done,” Selwyn says. “I know that projects like this sometimes get sidetracked.”
The “Firing Squad” soundtrack features female vocalist Gia Ciambotti (Bruce Springsteen/Joe Walsh) in a starring role, marking the first time the band has used utilized a second lead singer on record.
“Gia is an absolute mesmerizing presence on a microphone,” Selwyn explains. “I keep hoping she joins our band permanently, but the road isn’t that appealing for most of us anymore so for now we’ll keep it in the studio.”
“Firing Squad” also features longstanding band members Dan Wistrom, Bobby Joyner and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jesse Siebenberg. (Lukas Nelson).
In February of this past year, I traveled to New York City and somehow spent $647.97 in just under 12 hours.
And I have absolutely nothing to show for it.
New York has always been one of my favorite magical cities. From the first time my mother took my siblings and I there as kids to look at the Macy’s holiday window displays – to the nights spent out eating at fabulous restaurants like Trattoria Del’Arte – to the time when I urinated in a Yankee Stadium phone booth after a tough loss to the Blue Jays, I have always loved New York. The city has enchanted me for all these years and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Still, for all of New York’s charms, romance and restaurants, the place has continuously sabotaged my wallet time and time again. And no matter how hard I try to keep my expenditures under a budget, I forever find myself failing miserably.
Last February, I was flown out to New York to read a short story at a start-up literary festival called the “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital.” I anticipated a catered and boozy event that would be full of accomplished writers, sexy New York celebrities like Uma Thurman and dozens of opportunities presenting themselves at every rooftop sip of champagne. It was the literary Mecca of the world and I was there to take it by storm… Or, at least, try and get my stories printed in some kind of respectable magazine. After all, my last published work was in the underground marijuana culture magazine THC EXPOSE. (Sadly, it folded after the second issue).
I arrived on my Jet Blue flight eight hours before the story recital was to begin and I called my wife back home as I bull-rode the never-ending taxi line heading into Manhattan.
“Hey!” I squealed, alive with anticipation of the glimmering city light. “This is going to be a great time!”
“Do NOT spend a bunch of money,” My wife countered.
“I won’t,” I said. “Besides, it’s all paid for… They’re putting me up, there’s food and an open bar and everything. Besides, I can get through a week on like, 30 bucks. I wont spend more than like, 200 dollars.”
“Don’t go out and buy wine,” she explained. “That town overcharges for everything… if you need to get drunk, go buy a bottle at a grocery store and drink it in your hotel room.”
“Right,” I said. “No problem.”
The thought of spending an evening in New York City straddling the filthy sheets of a SoHo Radisson with a plastic cup full of Chilean Merlot while watching SportsCenter seemed dreadful and horrendous. After all, I was in New York City! The Big Apple! The City That Never Sleeps! This wasn’t the “City Where the Guy Away From His Family For One Night Sits Alone Drinking Wine in his Hotel Room…”
By the end of the evening, I was wishing I had followed my wife’s advice.
I dropped my first $100 getting into Manhattan. I had made a classic New York mistake of getting into a gypsy cab with a driver named “Doopsha” who took me to SoHo and charged me extra because he said the tolls had skyrocketed. Not knowing what to believe, I paid him and walked into my hotel, preparing to decompress for an hour or two before going out to find some food.
The hotel had no record of my reservation. Apparently the hosts of the festival had not booked me like they were supposed to, and I now was being told that I needed to pay $379 for the room – which was the standard “walk-in price.”
Excuse me? Walk-in price? What if I jogged in, would it be any cheaper?
Failing to find my humor amusing, the woman ran my credit card as I frantically texted the festival hosts and told them what was happening. I did not hear back. Still, I figured they would cover the expense and reimburse me.
After a long shower, I performed the typical disgusting routine every man does in a hotel room when they first arrive. It starts with naked push-ups in front of the window, followed by a full body shave that leaves hair all over the bathroom floor. It always finishes with a nude half-hour of television spent with my wong pressed up against a cold pillow.
After a quick nap, I decided to ride the subway over to the East Village and find the rooftop where the event was scheduled to take place and get comfortable beforehand. I opened my laptop and logged in online – only to quickly be hit with a $14.99 WiFi charge. Unaware that they had free computers in the lobby – and knowing that $14.99 would save me a late night trip to the Adult Bookstore called “Babeland” that I had passed on the way in – I shrugged it off.
By the way, when I looked up “Babeland’s” website, they were offering the following in store promotion…
Receive 25% off any lube when you purchase a vibrator at any of our stores. Valid until February 14, 2013. Happy Valentine’s Day!
The next thing I discovered, was that the afternoon before I had arrived, a psychotic, racist woman had pushed a Middle-Eastern man to his death on the subway tracks at the very station near my hotel. This was noted in the New York Post I bought in the hotel lobby. (Along with some toothpaste and a $9.00 bottle of Renu Multi-Purpose eye solution). Immediately cowering in fear for a similar copycat incident to befall upon me once I stepped onto the subway platform, I decided to stay above ground, and summon a taxi to the event.
Following the $15.00 ride over to the East Village, I decided to step into an Italian restaurant-bar to catch the score of the New York Knicks game with a bunch of real sports fans that were cursing at the TV. I decided I would buy one glass of wine, knowing that it would probably be my last before going to the event – where the open bar would keep me well lubricated for the rest of the night. I ordered the house Chianti.
After downing it in three sips and admiring Carmelo Anthony’s offensive output, I cursed myself for ordering the drink and made my way over the rooftop building. It was then that I first began to realize that I was dealing with a faction of complete amateurs. Outside the doorway, on a makeshift sign that looked as if it had been patterned by some NYU freshmen who were flunking graphic design, read the following:
New Poets and Writers Rooftop Rectal.
YES. They had misspelled “Recital” as “Rectal.”
I called attention to it at the door before giving my name to the bouncer – who was way too large and intimidating to be working the guest list at an event for writers and poets – and he completely ignored me. He slipped me my Artist Pass and a small schedule before telling me that GREG and BLAISE, the two hosts of the event, were waiting for me in the “green room upstairs.”
Nice, I thought. Finally, a green room. I was looking forward to some Manhattan catering, some ravenous red wine and to be rubbing elbows with the elite of the New York literary world. I climbed those steps aloft with dreams of exchanging email addresses with Jonathan Safran Foer as Woody Allen and I discussed the flaws in Soren Kierkegaard’s criticisms of idealist intellectuals.
Instead, as I walked into the green room, which was actually the bus-boy stand of the restaurant in the adjoining room, I was greeted with a frozen vegetable platter, bottles of $1.99 Charles Shaw red wine and a red-haired doofus in a sweater named Riley who handed me a tiny water and told me I “sort of looked like Jason Bateman.”
So much for Kierkegaard.
Meanwhile, Greg and Blaise were very young. Like, early 20’s.
When I told them I needed to be reimbursed for my hotel room, Blaise said, “We already paid the 129 dollars last month.”
I told them there was no reservation when I had arrived. They flipped out and informed me that they would not be able to cover my room charges beyond getting me a check for $129.00
There went another $250. I was already way over my $200 limit.
Greg apologized and tried to cheer me up by offering up information about the after party.
“After the event, there’s a huge after party on my dad’s boat,” he announced. “Trust me bro, it’s killer… we’re gonna throw down.”
I cracked the Charles Shaw. There was only one way I was getting through this.
I read my story to an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 25 people. I followed a young writer who received a lot more attention and got more laughs than anybody with his banal, arcane and totally lame story about how he thought he saw a mermaid in the East River.
When I asked him if he had ever seen the film Splash, he responded with a gruff, “No.”
“Netflix it,” I told him.
Following the readings, they actually brought out some edamame and hummus to snack on. Starving, I put away nearly three full dishes before folding up my story and preparing to attend the after party on the boat. First, however, Greg and Blaise needed to clean up the event.
“We’re gonna be about an hour or two, man,” they said.
I looked at my watch. It was 10:30. I almost forgot… New York City nights don’t even start until around midnight. Luckily, I was on west coast time. I wasn’t tired and the buzz from my reading had me thrilled to be assaulting the Manhattan bar scene for the next few hours… especially if we would end up partying on some guy’s father’s yacht.
I headed downstairs with some other writers – including a guy who claimed he was about to publish his third novel. We straddled against an old wooden bar in a place called 2A located on Avenue A. We spent a few minutes talking about the pathetic festival we had all just been a part of, and the novelist sipped a whiskey before saying, “I’m so sorry you flew out for this, man.”
I told him I didn’t care. He bought me a glass of wine and we drank to creativity.
It was then that I put my credit card down, which is undoubtedly my most consistent mistake. Once I pass a certain threshold of intoxication, I get extremely generous with the liquor. If you are standing near me at a bar when I am in my cups, I will undoubtedly end up buying you a drink. Or two. Or in this case… four. The novelist and I shared stories of east coast adventures and I showed him pictures of my kids. We talked writing and sports and for the first time in awhile, I felt like a man again.
As the drinks flowed, I barely noticed Greg and Blaise come in the door and announce that it was time to head to the after party on the boat. They had a few cute girls with them and the novelist’s eyes perked up. I swiveled on my chair and texted my wife the following lie:
Got a cab home, don’t worry… going to sleep. Event was fun – call you in the morning.
I’m pretty sure I did that so I wouldn’t face any unnecessary distractions the rest of the evening. After all, a calm wife is a happy wife – and she didn’t need to know that I was soon about to be popping champagne corks off the bow of a yacht into the Hudson River.
When it came to splitting a 15 dollar taxi ride with the novelist, I suddenly became aware that my credit card was still planted at that bar back on Avenue A. I forgot to close it out. Luckily, the novelist covered me – and we eventually arrived at a nice brownstone tucked away somewhere back near SoHo. Expecting to end up at the Chelsea Piers or in some Upper West Side marina somewhere, my evening was quickly derailed when I noticed Greg pressing the combination to an electronic lock on a garage door. When it finally lifted, I was somewhat thunderstruck.
What Greg neglected to mention, was that his father’s boat was above ground and parked in a garage.
“Get on, boys!” He yelled. There should be margarita mix inside!”
I climbed a ladder from the cement floor and did my best to try and stay festive with the party-goers, but this, for me, was the final straw. I was still hungry and not exactly willing to spend the next four hours listening to Jay-Z on the deck of a boat that was in a dark garage. Concerned about my credit card, I pulled what we like to call an “Irish Good-bye” and quietly slipped out the door with three bottles of water under my arm.
Following a three block walk to a major street, I was able to flag a cab and weave my way back to the bar on Avenue A, convincing the driver I would have money for him at the bar. He cursed at me in Pakistani, and I wrote down what he said, hoping to look it up on my laptop when I made it to the hotel.
“Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.”
When we arrived, I closed my tab at the bar. Nine drinks and a bag of barbecue Lay’s chips cost me $111.98. At this point, I was so tired I didn’t even care. I slayed two $4.25 slices of pizza from the all-night place next door while the meter ran and eventually, the taxi took me back to SoHo where the foul-mouthed driver charged me $49.00 for my cross-town detour. I tipped him three dollars and stumbled into the lobby where I was greeted by a new hotel clerk asking me if I was going to require a late check out.
“Hell yes,” I exclaimed.
I also pre-ordered my breakfast, knowing very well that I would not be in the mood to go out searching for egg whites and coffee the next morning. The charge for eggs, coffee, fruit and room service? $65.00.
That night, after I crawled into bed, I went through my receipts.
In exactly 11 hours and 32 minutes in New York, I managed to spend the following:
Car into Manhattan: $100.00
Hotel Room (after $129 refund) $250.00
Hotel WiFi: $14.99
New York Post/Toiletries in Lobby: $17.50
Cab to East Village: $15.00
Glass of wine at Italian Restaurant: $16.00
Drinks at 2A Bar on Avenue A: $111.98
Two slices of pizza: $8.50
Cab from Soho to East Village to SoHo: $49.00
In Room Breakfast: $65.00
The grand total? $647.97. Yeah. I could have stayed home and bought myself an iPad Mini.
Before shutting off the TV and sinking into the starched bed sheets, I remembered to look up exactly what the Pakistani taxi driver had said to me in his native tongue. I entered it into a Google search bar and watched as the following popped up:
Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.
Translation? Sisterfucker… Eat shut.
I wasn’t quite sure what “shut” was, but I had a pretty good idea.
Upon arriving home the next afternoon, I tried to explain to my wife that all of the circumstances were out of my control and that I was miserable the entire time. Unfortunately, this kind of pleading only goes so far and I still ended up looking like a spendthrift loser who squandered a lot of money on absolutely nothing. That night, I promised her it would never happen again.
The following morning, I got an email from Greg and Blaise thanking me for coming and reading at their festival. They said that since it was their first year, they would be making improvements and throwing a kick-ass event the next time. At the end of their email, they invited me back to New York to read any story I liked at the 2014 “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital,” promising me an incredible opportunity to meet and greet Manhattan’s literary community.