It's a busy, though lonely, place around the holidays. But many of those passing through San Diego's Greyhound Bus Terminal are no strangers to loneliness.
They lead different lives than those travelers clad in bright sweaters and designer jeans who jam the airport, lugging their skis and tennis rackets with them.
Instead, many here scramble for bus fares and struggle for survival. Many are alone. They're seeking short trips. Or, in some cases, no trips at all but just a place to hang out.
Even the terminal's security guard, checking tickets through the turnstile, has to work today. Most of his family is back East.
"I'm alone here," Nathaniel Hatcher said. "And I get a little depressed."
Wednesday morning was "jam-packed," Hatcher said, even though the day-before-Thanksgiving hustle and bustle is less than it was last year.
Triple the Traffic
But today will bring almost triple the usual traffic flow, bus terminal officials say. It is their busiest time of year next to Christmas.
Bus terminal manager Dale Jensen said extra buses and drivers are scheduled to accommodate the influx. He, too, is working Thanksgiving Day.
"We get a huge influx of people going through," Hatcher said. "A lot of people visiting relatives."
John Thompson, a traveler with ticket in hand, said he looks forward to his "chance to take a small vacation" from his job as a telemarketer for the Paralyzed Veterans Assn. Thompson is visiting his family in Palms Springs for their annual reunion.
But people come through the terminal for different reasons.
Security guard Hatcher waved and yelled good-by to two people about to depart on the bus. He remembered them from a year ago as two illegal aliens from El Salvador who managed to become U.S. citizens. One is now a nurse, the other a student.
Hatcher turned away a man who tried to enter the turnstile without a ticket. He then helped a woman drag her overstuffed baggage through the turnstile.
He spots the problem cases right away. "He just got out of jail," Hatcher said after turning away a ticketless, tattooed man with a brown paper bag stuffed with garments.
Others who loiter--some mentally ill, or prostitutes, ("ladies of the evening," he calls them) or the homeless, or con artists--are all shooed away from the terminal. "But," said Hatcher, "they just keep coming back."
Outside the depot, a taxi driver talks with a distraught woman with a small boy clinging to one hand and a suitcase to the other. She looks as though she doesn't have a place to go.
Another woman stands still on the street corner. She does not walk when the light turns green. She just stands there. Alone.
A pear-shaped woman dressed in red with pearls draped on her head approaches and pleads her case with the reporter.
"Will you listen to me?" she said frantically. "There was a woman in there who was shaking her baby so hard. And they have soft spots when they're that young. When I told her what I thought, she said to me: 'It's my child and I'll do what I want with it.'
"Ignorance!" she shouted indignantly. "I can't stand to see babies maltreated.
"And they kicked me out of there," she said of the terminal guards. "I just wanted some water."
Ron Rakisits, a self-proclaimed Evangelist missionary, is waiting for the 4 p.m. bus to Lake Elsinore, where he'll return to his tent to "refuel and strengthen myself."
"I don't have a family," he said. "They disowned me."
He said that he has been in San Diego for four months on a mission to "convert cocaine addicts to the way of the Lord," that he has lived out of trash cans in La Jolla, and that his wife in Pacific Beach is divorcing him.
"I'm a tired and weary man," said the man with white-blonde hair, dressed in bright turquoise, yellow and red, wearing sunglasses and an camouflaged baseball hat.
He said he got his bus fare from a grateful cocaine addict he healed.
"I'm in despair, distraught, discouraged. So I lose everything? The world can't take my faith away."
Evidently his faith is at work. He said that, one day while he was sitting in a Laundromat, "the Lord" told him to go to a nearby 7-Eleven parking lot, where he found $102 in cash.
"God speaks through anything," he said as he took out a wallet-size card he found in the trash, titled "Don't Quit: . . . Stick to the fight when you're hardest hit. It's when things seem worse, that you must not quit."
He took out two spent cartridges that he also found in the garbage. "This is God's way of saying to me, 'Stick to your guns.' "