On your way to protest, be sure to stop at Walmart.
At 3:32 AM, I’M JOLTED AWAKE BY A LARGE CRUNCH.
“Did we just hit a semi? Did we just side-swipe a freaking semi?” I think. “Libby, what the hell just happened?”
“That was the side-view mirror…we just hit the toll booth.”
Unsurprising. If Josh Gad and Zach Galifianakis had a lovechild who got routinely stoned while playing Battlefield, that would be our bus driver to the women’s march in D.C. He pulls over — just kidding — he plants the bus in the middle of the toll plaza, throws on his hazards, and makes a phone call. What semis there are at this time in the morning honk around us, and Cameron (the lovechild) reports to his boss that his “side-view mirror fell off.”
When I’m feeling skeptical, this all becomes a Trump-esque ploy to keep us from marching. Cameron definitely seems the type — his phone background is Mila Kunis naked and draped in an American flag. He’s visibly uncomfortable driving this bus full of mostly middle-aged, mostly white women, pink pussy hats proudly in tow. He knows that this little stunt will add at least three hours to our time, and right now we’re still in Indiana. At least, this is the truth in my mind. Alternative facts? Probably, but either way: Getting to the march by 10 AM isn’t happening.
We get 350 more miles sans sideview mirror before we meet up with our next driver, Tim. Tim possesses zero qualities reminiscent of either Josh Gad or Zach Galifianakis, and in terms of people you want to drive you around in a twenty-ton vehicle, that’s good news. He looks at Cameron with the air of a cool kid, and starts forming a plan. He’ll drive the bus from here on out, but Cameron has to sit on a bucket on the other side, fulfilling his potential of being a helpful reflective surface. Things could be worse for him, really.
And worse they get. As luck would have it, this post requires skill, and Cameron lacks the training to be an effective human mirror. Instead, he occasionally says “Look!” to the first few rows of the bus, myself included, and we shout “LOOK!” to everyone behind us. It’s a very democratic system, which makes sense, considering.
After about seven or so LOOKs, we pull up to Walmart.
“…Tim, what’s up? This doesn’t look like a peaceful protest for human rights, increased environmental policy, and political transparency. In fact, it looks like the opposite.”
“We’ve gotta Macgyver a side view mirror,” Tim replies nonchalantly, as if there’s protocol for this in the rulebook. “I’m thinkin’ we’ll attach a squeegee pole to a convex mirror with some duct tape, and that’ll do ‘till Virginia.”
Sounds about right. We’ll end up spending the next hour here, losing even more time than we had already thanks to fog, a partner bus having issues, and, you know, driving 55 in the right lane for six hours. At one point, Cameron, in a moment of what I assume is pure defeat, gives up any effort of taking command and throws himself on WalMart’s stoop. It’s during this time he watches me take out the bus trash, and upon my return, looks up at me dejectedly and says, “But other than this, I was a good driver, right?”
Right, Cameron. It’s 9:30 AM and we’re still four hours outside D.C. In the words of the lone male on our bus, “If you make me miss Scarlett Johansson, so help you God…” It’s looking as if this almost-24-hour trip is simply going to be for the after party. Great. But we all put on our happy, liberal, let’s-all-get-along faces, and Cameron soon bolts to get a drink. Probably. I mean, that’s what I would do.
Tim takes the wheel, finally, after successful Macguyvering, and starts us on our last leg — I’d comment on his yellow alligator shoes, but I’m wearing pants endorsed by Kate Hudson, so I’m not really one to talk. The next few hours are anxiously uneventful, though at one point the bus enters into a rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” and I can only assume they’re referring to the odds of the second duct-taped mirror lasting another 300 miles. Or blood clots. Or the lack of wi-fi. Or all three.
But just like how shit is required to hit the fan before humans feel compelled to do anything, shit has indeed hit said fan before any of us step up. Several tweets to Skedaddle later (a company likely not equipped to manage anything near the scale of the women’s march, though which would be?), we’re devising an alternative plan.
“Tim, don’t you dare try to take us into the city. Drop us off at Silver Spring and we’ll tuck and roll. Pedal to the metal, big guy!”
And so the hours pass. 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, one. We listen to the rally via the bus mic held up to an iPhone, ears peeled to Michael Moore, the lone male in the back sighing at the sound of Scarlett Johansson, eyebrows askance at the rapping styles of Ashley Judd. By some miracle in the fabric of spacetime, we make it to Silver Spring, duct tape still intact.
By now, the Metro is dead. It’s nearly 2 PM, and it appears as if some protesters are already leaving — did we just suffer 22 hours of bus bathrooms, gas station food, squeegee poles, and alligator shoes for nothing? Did we just throw away our shot at being a part of history by not spending a couple hundred bucks more on a plane ticket? It takes most of my energy not to get consumed by this strange combination of regret and Cameron-induced anger.
But then we get to Metro Center.
And it’s heaven. Brigadoon, more appropriately. The end of a rainbow that’ll too-soon disappear. It’s not hard to follow the bellows of the crowd, the dull roar amorphously floating above the streets of downtown D.C. I join in, shooting my arms up into the air, toting the Iowa flag and its motto high: Our liberties we prize; our rights we will maintain. It’s a motto becoming increasingly ironic and untrue, hence my decision to carry it — both proudly and to make a point. I follow the river north down Constitution Ave, to the right, to the left, and slowly parse out the truth: There are marches going on in any and every direction you look. When mine seemed to end, I hopped twice and found another.
But if marching felt good, observing was soul fuel. It was going against the grain that made this 45+ hour round-trip squished between bodies, dealing with high Josh Gad, my ankles swollen like tree trunks worth it. I wrapped my flag around a cold friend, got to pointing and shooting, but eventually just watched and took it all in.
It was beautiful. It was humanity at its finest. Democracy, too. It was half a million people believing in something, and believing in something so fiercely they’re finally willing to show up.
It was humanity at its most creative — at its funniest. At its wittiest, at its most clever, at its truest. It was a living, breathing, moving art gallery. It pulsed with humor — my God, the puns. It pulsed with humor, rage, honesty, and love all at once.
It was humanity at their most unified. It was women taking charge of their futures; it was men supporting them. It was parents showing their children history. It was humanity agreeing to fight publicly and together.
It was also humanity at its most peaceful. The police were consistently thanked and even at times cheered and applauded. A few security agents even coyly admitted to me, “We didn’t vote for him either.” This group of half a million strong simply walked, chanted, soaked it in, and walked some more.
And now, as I write this, I’m back on the bus. My ankles are almost the same size as my calves, and I’m full of too much gas station coffee and too much vanilla creamer. Hook is playing on the video screens. My Facebook feed is full of women realizing their voices — friends I didn’t even know cared, both male and female, young and old, are taking up the cause. Mark, our new driver, has the Millennium Falcon as his GPS icon, and I think I’m going to like him just fine.
Originally published at www.thestrangeandnew.com.