Off The Bus

January 1st, 2001 | Produced by Carmen Delzell

“Sometimes the difference between being a traveler and a homeless person is hard to define.

About once a year I pack all the antiques and collectibles I’ve found in Mexico and take the Americanos bus up to Austin Texas where I can sell them on Congress Avenue. The last time I did this I brought a fifty-year-old hand painted Olinala trunk from Guerro full of things like silver earrings from Oaxaca, hand embroidered piano shawls from Spain and carved bakelite bracelets from the fleamarkets of Mexico City. Valuable stuff. Snob stuff.

Unfortunately the bus from Saltillo doesn’t let you off at the Greyhound station.

It lets you off anywhere you want on I-35 between San Antonio and Dallas. In Austin you have the choice of a gas station, International House of Pancakes or the parking lot of a twenty-four hour grocery store.

It was four a.m. when the bus dropped me off. I had less than five dollars in my purse and no one I could call.”

-Carmen Delzell

Carmen and Her New Car

Carmen and Her New Car

Carmen Delzell has a life of stories. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, they make it to audio tape. This one came to us in the mail on a bedraggled cassette, months after it was recorded. No production, no ProTools… just Carmen with a tape recorder and a microphone. We at did a little editing and equalization, and that’s it.

Carmen’s son Colin and his girlfriend Seana Carroll sent us the photo. Seana said in email, “Carmen is standing in front of a car she would like to buy in San Miguel just after Christmas Day 2000.” They also sent a short video clip.

“I asked my son’s girlfriend to take lots of digital photos of me. She says she’ll send them to me and to you after I pick one. I really look old these days. Maybe it’s the Mexican sun at four thousand feet. Maybe it’s that I really am getting older. Face lifts are cheaper down here but I’ve seen lots of bad ones. Nicolas was here for the holidays but I am almost ready to call it quits. He won’t let my dog Milagro sleep with us.”

-Carmen Delzell

Bonus Track:

Hey, we found a little more of Carmen at the end of her cassette. It seemed like it was over, but it wasn’t! First rule of production: Listen to the whole cassette.

ListenListen to Carmen Delzell talk about the risks of road food when you’re traveling with no money.

Hearing Voices
This piece was created with help from HearingVoices.

Contributor Bio

Carmen Delzell lives somewhere between Mexico City and Austin, Texas. She has lived in Saltillo, Coahuilla and San Miguel de Allende since 1993 when she won a National Endowment Grant and hit the road running.

She has two grown children and makes her living selling antiques, travel stories and sometimes her “nichos” which fetch as much as 35 u.s. dollars each.

Many years ago she graduated from Goddard College and lived in Washington, D.C.where she had a vintage clothing store called Blue Moon.

She is kind of writing a book about her hand to mouth existence which she calls The Bag Ladies Guide to What’s Left of the Planet. She weighs 130 pounds and has bleached blond hair.

31 Comments on “Off The Bus”

  • REPOST says:
    Off The Bus

    Author : scarrier
    Date : 01-28-2001 on 22:10

    Dear Carmen,
    What did you do with the 300 eggs?

    This is a great beginning for a story. I’d cut the NEA grant because you start by not explaining anything, which I liked a lot. Other than that I was completely taken by it. The part where you rub your feet on bricks was really good. And the ending worked. So what’s next? Will you tell us what happened in Mexico? Were you talking into your tape recorder the whole time. You’re really good at that.

    Scott Carrier

  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : larry
    Date : 01-31-2001 on 12:40

    Can’t tell whether this piece stands on it’s own or not; it does for me because I’ve heard a lot of Carmen’s work.

    Anyway, I liked it, especially that the sound quality really
    really blows big-time. All studio engineers sitting around tweaking their Protools should be made to listen to this piece till their ears bleed- and confess that it’s good work. God, I wish
    All Things Considered sounded that bad.


  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : Mark Neumann
    Date : 02-01-2001 on 11:09

    Since this is the first piece I’ve heard from Carmen, I can’t say that it stands on its own. But it does make me want to hear more. I agree with Larry that the sound quality is right. And, as Scott says, Carmen is really good at describing her situation. But I don’t feel like the technical qualities of the story are really what matters here. For me, this story is a great example of why radio works: One person talking to one or two other people over some great distance. It’s really an intimate relationship–here is this stranger on the side of the road telling me where she is, what happened, and then she moves on. So, I’d like to hear what happens next…and I hope that will be possible.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : Brent
    Date : 02-01-2001 on 16:45

    Listening to this piece makes me feel like a stray plastic bag, blowing along the side of Carmen’s shopping cart for a few minutes.
    Great radio.

    Scott, it reminds me of what you did on Lafayette Park, making the narration come from inside the piece rather than above it.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : jay allison
    Date : 02-01-2001 on 20:31

    Scott’s "Lafayette Park," incidentally, can be heard on the Inspiration page.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : scarrier
    Date : 02-03-2001 on 10:04

    I think the only question about Carmen’s story is what’s coming next. Even if this piece stands on its own, she still needs to do others. I want to hear them.
    On the "discuss" board for Brent’s piece I’ve posted a question concerning "what’s left out." Carmen’s story, for me, is an example of a good combination of what’s left out and what’s put it. It quickly achieves a tension, that’s rather tight, and, you know, I like it tight, so I am captivated.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:the parking lot

    Author : jay
    Date : 02-03-2001 on 15:11

    In Carmen’s life story (and I hope she’s finding a way to read this from Mexico somehow), the question is always “what will happen next?”
    I favored this one because it was so pure, simple, just a scene and then gone. You decide what would happen next… if it were you.

    That fragment told me a lot about a way of life, about choice and circumstance. The flash of the impression, the empty sound of the solitary bird, the rattle of the shopping cart made a picture that sticks in memory. For me, more than a video would, more than words alone.

    Choice and circumstance are a common theme with Carmen, but usually she develops it as a writer. She’s done commentaries for “All Things Considered” over the years and Mexican “postcards” for Savvy Traveler (There’s probably a nifty way to embed the URL, but you can hear them on their website at and search on her name), but most of those are poetic reflections, whereas this is the moment itself. This was straight from Carmen on the ground.

    I also like what it proves: Anyone with a marginally decent tape recorder can chronicle a moment in their lives this way. I hope we’ll start to hear some here.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:Off The Bus

    Author : viki
    Date : 02-05-2001 on 22:46

    Carmen’s work always astonishes me because she speaks so plainly about the way she lives – outside the edge. I have heard most of her pieces and listened to plenty of her raw tape and the fascinating thing is that she doesn’t seem to care what happens next – it is the closest thing I have ever been to a real "being here now". She has given up definitions and filters that most of us live with and it scares me and makes me want to keep following her. She makes me go places I wouldn’t, living here in my safe cottage with food and firewood. I am immediately her. wandering crusty footed with a vague plan and then ironically beautifully putting on my lipstick. She moves between worlds like slipping through a cat-door.
    To me, it doesn’t matter what she leaves out because at that moment it is of no importance to her.
    This piece is lke a long distance phonecall – the "rough" sound quality makes it intimate and immediate. Call back Carmen.

  • REPOST says:
    The NEA Grant

    Author : carol
    Date : 02-06-2001 on 15:09

    Carmen’s piece, ostensibly about riding buses and trying to get the worst of the dirt off her feet, is really about what it takes to be an artist. An important document about the costs of doing serious creative work with seriousness of purpose. We listen to her describe the effort which daily life requires of her. THEN we find out about the NEA grant. We understand, from this, that she has kept to her vision, kept working, kept making art. Regardless of the hardships which are a routine part of the artist’s vocation.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:Off The Bus

    Author : jay
    Date : 02-06-2001 on 20:21

    Carmen will probably send us something else when she’s moved to. We’ll have to figure out the balance between finding new voices and re-visiting with regulars, but we’ll manage. Did you see the video her son sent us? It’s on her "Show" page.
    I’m still hoping she’ll find a way to check in here. Last month she sent me this:

    "I’m writing to you from the Biblioteca Americana (The American Library) in San Miguel Allende. Outside the little computer room Bougenvillia trees are still in bloom and my little dog Milagro is sunning himself on the warm stones of the terrace. The library building is about four hundred years old and is connected to an even older church which is filled with saints and angels and flickering candles. I can hardly imagine a better place to write. The catch is that an hours use of the computer is about the same as a days wages for the average Mexican. The minimum wage here is 35pesos a day an hour of computer time is 36 pesos."

  • REPOST says:
    Re:Off The Bus

    Author : jay
    Date : 03-09-2001 on 09:00

    I’ve been emailing with Carmen in Mexico and we just sent her a tape recorder and mic. Her old ones were broken/stolen.
    She’s going to keep recording.

    She mentioned that there was more at the end of that tape she sent. It seemed like it stopped, and I didn’t listen past the silence. BAD producer. Anyway, there’s a nice section about road food. I’ll cut it and put it on the site soon. It’ll make it seem like Carmen’s hanging around.

  • REPOST says:
    Re:Off The Bus

    Author : jay
    Date : 03-21-2001 on 20:04

    Okay, we put up that Lost Tape of Carmen in the parking lot. Check it out under "bonus track" on her Show Page
    Incidentally, Savvy Traveler has picked up that piece and Ben Adair will be producing it.

    He needs to get Carmen to track a little more for it. Carmen has gone to Thailand. She took our tape recorder.

  • Carol Wasserman says:
    Carmen’s Bonus Track

    I’ve been waiting for someone to react to Carmen’s startlingly flat and matter-of-fact discussion of every woman’s preoccupying nightmare: fat.

    Did you know, before she told us, that body image matters so much when one is depending on strangers for transportation? That the fear and loathing follow even the bravest of women, wherever they go.

    Did you ever think about bologna sandwiches that way?

    This little tossed-off riff on the importance of a pretty dress and a flat stomach conveys so much information about reality. And politics.

  • Jay Allison says:
    at last…

    I’m so glad you bothered to note this, Carol.

    This is a meaningful fragment of tape, made deeper by the reaction of the women in the office when Carmen finally mentions (offhandedly?) her dress size.

  • Andy Knight says:
    dress size

    Didn’t she say size 8? It’s been a long time since I’ve worn a dress or have had a chick in stock (with phrasing like that, is there any wonder?); someone else may have to point out the relevance for me

  • Jay Allison says:

    Size 8 is small. Small, in this social context we’re discussing, is good. Women in our office listening to this piece made a kind of disgruntled noise, clearly full of meaning, when the dress size was revealed.

  • Viki Merrick says:

    "Small, in this social context we’re discussing, is good"

    yeah….so good I’ve been thinking about giving it all up and hitting the road.

  • Cynthia Taylor says:

    So if I want to hear more, how do I? And what did she do for the NEA, I assume that’s public domain (I don’t know how that works).


  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    The Edge

    So I am hooked. I find myself wondering whether Carmen is wearing a pink dress on the way to Thailand. I wonder what her feet look like on the plane. I wonder what they will look like after Thailand.

    I like her and I wanna be like her (I’d settle for a bigger dress and a much smaller resume and maybe just some blond highlights)

    And as a beginner I appreciate the example of simplest production (!) as an antidote to the intimidating talk about please god anything but that boring npr stuff

    But on the edge? In a size 8 and with an NEA grant? Well, yeah, but

    Every production on this site is about someone on the edge.

    Everyone I know is living on the edge in some sense. Even the most mainstream people are on the edge, because they fear they are cast as not being on an acceptable edge. Everyone’s up against the challenge of their lives.

    So in a piece where edge is the topic, I’d like to see more of it. Like what are her fears or dangers, beyond looking like a bag lady? Or how many balogna sandwiches away from the abyss is she? And how could she fall?

  • Jay Allison says:

    You can find a few pieces from Carmen — different from the one on Transom — at the Savvy Traveler site. Do a search on "Delzell." Editors and agents often try to persuade her to write a book, but she eludes them. She used to do commentaries for All Things Considered, but communication broke down.

    RIght now, Ben at Savvy Traveler is going to shepherd her work for a while and we at Transom will help. We sent her a recorder that she took to India and Thailand.

    I know she’s been reading this discussion when she logs on to the Internet at libraries, but she wasn’t able to hear audio or figure out how to post. Carmen, if you’re reading this, you can write a response to me in email and I can post for you, if that helps.

  • Ken Pearce says:
    so you delete everything after April 30th

    So you delete all messages after April very Amerikan of you.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    Ken, I think they had some software changes, and had to work like crazy to reconstruct, that’s all. I think the main thing is they’re working like mad and have invited everyone in, regardless of nationality. Unless I’m missing a joke here.

  • Ben A. says:
    Off the bus and on to the radio

    Hi everybody.

    Carmen’s piece — modified from what ran here on transom — will air on the Savvy Traveler this weekend. You can check where near you by going to our webpage:

    Click on the "stations" pull down menu on the left side of the page.

    I did rework it a bit, so let me know if you think it works better or worse. Post here in this subject if you like.

    Okay, thanks everybody, Ben

  • Cinaed Stone says:
    Echo ho ho ho ho

    Seems I’ve seen this same Delzell piece over and over and over. Doesn’t she do anything new? Is her past laural her only laural?

  • Cinaed Stone says:
    what you see is what you are

    Note to Delzell

    Does it not seem a little awkward, if not insulting, to imply that your subjective perspective is in fact THE objective perspective for everyone else? If YOU look at a street and see the sex and corruption in the foreground and the church in the background… it is probably yourself you are seeing. To many people, even a shabby church outshines even the brightest glitter of corruption.

  • Jay Allison says:

    moving on then….

    Ben and I went back and forth in email, thinking about how the piece could/should be framed.

    The piece came off well, Ben. The music worked nicely coming out. The set-up might have been more economical. Diana sounds rather formal and stiff, but she’s getting her sea legs, I’m sure. Someone wrote Transom today saying that they thought it was the best piece on Savvy Traveler this week.

  • cinaed Stone says:
    Moving on Jay?

    Moving along then…

  • alfredo says:

    Why did you post one message 4 times?

    I too have seen this piece before and when I consider that Ben and Jay (apparently producer and editor) are the primary people congratulating the piece, they seem to be in essence congratulating themselves.

    One does wonder what the author is doing with a microphone and recorder in India and Thailand that she has to repeat an edited piece that seems less her than Transom?

  • alfredo says:
    OH, OH, OH, OH

    Oh…I get it there are 4 echos in the first comment so, like Delzell’s repetition, the comment mimics itself, echoing its substance.

  • ken pearce says:
    A note to carmen from her first husband

    I went back to Va. in January, by Amtrak. I visited Barry Shann in Richmond, then drove down to Norfolk, to step back into the past. It had snowed lightly the night before, so there was a sprinkling of white on the trees, bushes, and lawns. As I turned onto Mowbray Arch, Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone came on the radio…as if on cue.

    The apt. building on Graydon seems very small now, and Al Lamoreaux’s
    place is gone…a day-care school sits in its stead. The whole Ghent area is now a historical district, and all the Victorians along the Hague are well maintained. Holland’sConfectionary, has disappeared, but the museum looks the same from the front, even though it’s been greatly expanded;when I told the people collecting the $4 fee that I was traveling back through time, they let me pass inside for free. The bridge across the Hague is still the same, and Stockley Gardens seem untouched by the past thirty years.

    I’ve been reading Tom Robbins latest book; to remark "you can’t go home again", he quotes a Haiku by Basho:

    Here I am in Kyo again
    yet I am lonley for Kyo-
    O bird of time!

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