In these days of higher gasoline prices, more and more people are opting to take the bus. And with airline costs steadily climbing, that big silver Greyhound has suddenly gotten a little more appealing. During my first couple of years as a college student, I became quite adept at "ridin' the 'hound" between Detroit and Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Bus travel in those days was common for us students without cars. The trips themselves were usually lengthy exercises in boredom with a few notable exceptions.
The first trip that comes to mind, of course, is a journey that will always be known as the infamous "Night of Repulsion." It was a double date on which my MSU roommate, "Swine," and I had promised our respective dates that we would treat them to a trip to Detroit, a dinner out and then a show.
What they ended up with was a surprise ride on the dog into Detroit, all the Coney Island chili hot dogs they could eat, an evening of Big Time professional wrestling at Cobo Hall and then finally the late bus back to East Lansing. Unbelievably, it turned out to be a fun evening and I'm glad our dates maintained their senses of humor.
My first trip on a Greyhound though, was among the most memorable. I'd just finished high school in Michigan and I'd returned to California to spend a few weeks with all of my chums from Los Angeles. But before I went back to Michigan and the start of college, I wanted to make a trip up to Monterey to visit with one of my old surfin' buddies and also to visit a girlfriend whom I'd been writing to for a couple of years.
The only way I could afford to make the trip was ridin' the 'hound. I phoned Greyhound and learned that I would need to catch the local bus on the corner at 5:15 in the morning. That would take me into the town of Whittier, where I would catch the local Greyhound at 6 a.m. that would take me into the Los Angeles terminal, where I would transfer to the Salinas-bound bus at 7:15.
Early the next morning found me standing on a corner of Whittier Boulevard out in the suburbs, gripping a small bag that held a change of jeans, my bathing suit, underwear and two more T-shirts, some spare socks and my toothbrush and razor. I was ready to do some travelin'.
The transfer of buses at the downtown Los Angeles bus station shed light on many of the reasons I needed to stay in school. The Los Angeles bus terminal of 45 years ago seemed to be the holding area for the dregs of humanity waiting to cross the River Styx. I quickly found my bus.
The ride up Highway 101 was interesting because back then almost the entire route was just a two-lane highway and it passed through a number of little, sleepy, historic towns as it meandered its way north into Steinbeck country.
There was a half-hour stop at San Luis Obispo, and I got off the bus and bought a sandwich in the small snack shop that was attached to the bus station. The building looked like it could have been used as a location for the movie, "Bus Stop," and all of the people who were sitting around could have come directly out of central casting. I kept waiting for Marilyn Monroe to stroll though, but she never did, and I got back on the bus.
"Señor," asked a soft voice, "is this seat taken?" I looked up to see an elderly, mahogany-skinned gentleman dressed in a faded denim shirt with blue jeans that matched. I noticed his hands were gnarled and rough from use.
"Ah, no -- no," I stammered. "Here, let me move this jacket; I'm sorry that I've taken up all this space." The old fellow sat down, and a short time later the big blue and silver bus continued its trip northward.
The conversations that I had during the next few hours with my new seatmate as the 'hound sped north up the highway were indeed fascinating. He was on his way up to Salinas to join his son and daughter who were working the lettuce fields; he had virtually grown up in central California.
He would identify the crop in each field we passed and every little town had a story attached to it. "There used to be a mean sheriff here in Paso Robles...I was in a labor strike here in King City...those are frijoles in that field."
The bus finally pulled into Salinas and I could see my two friends standing outside the bus stop waiting for it. "Adios," my newfound friend bid me, "you have a good time."
"Adios," I nodded back.
I did have a good time, but it was the bus ride and the old gentleman that I most remember all these years later.
Two wandering souls, ridin' the dog.[[In-content Ad]]