1970 -1974

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Truckin’ got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin’, like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.
You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel;
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’,
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.
Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurres to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on.
Hey now get back truckin’ home.
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Lester Rall – Our Founder
Shepherd Ogden

I don’t see where to post directly on the blog (would like to) but I rode the Rabbit in 1970, westbound. That trip is described in my novel Tattoo Charlie. The partner bus at that time was called the Purple Haze.

Excerpt (pretty much true…all writing requires a little touch-up):

The Gray Rabbit was an alternative transcontinental express bus that ran from New York to San Francisco. There was a sister bus, called the Purple Haze, which ran on an opposite schedule. The fare was sixty-nine dollars either way — cash only, nonrefundable, pay on boarding, no questions asked and no reservations taken. Strictly first come, first served.

I hitched down from Burlington to New York City, then took the subway to Washington Square from Fifty-Seventh Street, where my last ride had dropped me. It was one of those rare, clear blue Manhattan days right after a cold January rain, a blustery northwest wind kicking up little trash devils that whirled, story high, then collapsed, cigarette cellophane fluttering back to the pavement in pirouettes of despair.

As soon as I entered the square I saw a group of freaks with backpacks on the west side, gathered around a boxy single decker bus painted dull, gun-metal gray. The baggage area was open, and in the front compartment was a full range of spare parts for the bus, practically a complete engine; people were loading their bags in the rear compartment.

I took my book bag out of my backpack, re-cinched it, and shoved it underneath. The inside of the bus had been converted from seats to one large open space that was sprinkled with pillows. The last eight feet in front of the bathroom was lined with double decker bunks scabbed together out of two-by-fours and plywood, with bare mattresses on top. I went back to the luggage compartment for my sleeping bag and pad.

Half a dozen people had already staked out spots along the side of the bus and were seated cross legged on cushions. I got a great spot: all the way at the back of the open space on the driver’s side, where I could lean against the front of the bed structure and keep an eye on things.

There were just under thirty people on the bus when we left, depending on whether you counted the two drivers (it was hard to tell them apart from the passengers). As soon as we crossed the George Washington Bridge, headed west on I-80, someone pulled out a shoebox full of grass and started rolling joints, and the stench of the Meadowlands was soon hidden by the sweet fragrance of Oaxacan.

The trip was scheduled to take two and a half to three days, depending on traffic, weather and breakdowns; if all worked out we would arrive in San Francisco sometime Tuesday. The first day was all woods and snow, a straight shot through the Pennsylvania mountains known all too well to truckers and hitchhikers. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at, and besides, there were a lot of people to meet and stashes to compare. One public spirited soul — we called him Spacer, though I found out later that his given name was Stanley — spent most of the first afternoon standing at the front of the bus, rolling joints for the driver from a baggie set on the dashboard, and asking him about life on the road.

Around dusk, the other driver, a guy named Neal who had been asleep in the back, came up to take his turn.

“Jack,” he asked the guy at the wheel, “how you holding out?”

“Great. Dude’s been rolling joints.” Jack passed the joint to Neal, who was now leaning against the chrome bar separating the driver’s seat from the passenger area.

“I can take over if you want,” said Neal, taking a long pull. “Give you a little break.” Just NOT like the pilots on a long-haul 747.

He passed the joint to Spacer, who picked his stash off the dash and stepped down next to the door to make room.

“Cool,” said Jack. He stood up from the driver’s seat and stepped down into the foot well with Spacer, the bus still cruising along a solid fifty-five miles per hour down the right lane of I-80. Neal sat down behind the wheel, adjusted the seat, and set about his chosen trade.

At that time the freeways of the usa were just that: little strips of territory which really didn’t belong to the places they passed through. It was true that every state had its cops, some better, some worse, more or less tolerant of people just passing through; but as long as you never went into town, and you didn’t go over the speed limit, and didn’t attract attention, then you could go coast to coast, living your own life, and never be disturbed by The Man.

There was one guy on the bus who seemed to be counting on that. He was wearing a letter sweater (“M”), jeans, and a fatigue jacket. His hair was only slightly longer than crew cut, his boots black, steel toe lace-ups; he didn’t smoke and he didn’t drink; on this bus he was an oddball.

Everyone referred to him as Duffel Bag, because he spent the entire trip sitting on a large olive drab duffel bag he’d leaned against the side wall of the bus. The general assumption was that he was carrying twenty keys of smoke or something, and that if anything happened to it he was in deep shit.

The Rabbit took a southern route, down across the Midwest and the Plains. Late morning on the second day, we got off of I-44 in Joplin, Missouri and Neal pulled into a small, nearly empty shopping center where there was a Grand Union. Somebody took up a collection for beer, wine and food, and a delegation was sent inside to shop. We were sick of being on the bus and glad to be out of the frigid northeast winter, so we all got off, except for Duffel Bag, who sat on his bag reading Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man.

I went and stood under the portico of the store, a simple tar and gravel, flat roof affair atop four inch pipe posts bolted to a concrete pad shading the west-facing facade from the midday sun. I wanted to be a discreet distance from the bus as we had a number of proud and aggressive shop lifters on board, liberators bound and determined to free up precious material resources still in the hands of chain stores and petty capitalists — and in those days the owners and managers of businesses in rural America tended to notice when a bus full of stoned hippies pulled in and the snack racks emptied, yet sales only added up to ten or fifteen dollars. And then they got on the horn to the local Sheriff.

When the Sheriff arrived, he would have found a tribal circle of hippies sitting on the warm tarmac not ten feet from the bus, smoking joints and drinking wine. There was no way I could have, or would have, or should have taken my backpack out of the bus — that would have been too extreme a reaction — but I did take my book bag with me so in a worst case situation I would have my books and my money, and could melt into the puckerbrush as the cops surrounded the bus, then hitchhike the rest of the way out to California. Not pleasant, but better than jail.

I was ready for the worst, but once the shopping was done, the circle broke up and everyone loaded back on to the bus without incident. I waited until the last possible moment just in case, and as soon as I got on, Neal closed the door, popped off the parking brake and turned the key to preheat the diesel.

Unfortunately, that was the wrong sequence, and with the brake released, the bus began to roll slowly down the slight grade toward the front of the supermarket. In a panic, Neal pumped on the air brakes, but without the engine they had no pressure and the bus coasted inexorably forward, directly into one the metal pipes supporting the portico, breaking it off its base on the concrete curb and slightly denting the chrome work on the front of the bus. The engine caught just as the bus crossed the walk, headed for the front of the building, powered the brakes, and the bus came to rest only an inch or two from the main entrance, front wheel on the door mat. The portico post would have smashed the “IN” door, but the wheel had tripped the switch and the door snapped opened.

Neal jammed the gearshift into reverse, but the balding, mustachioed manager of the supermarket was already out the “OUT” door by the time Neal had backed off the curb.

“What the Hell is going on here?” He screamed, his bloated body shaking so violently that his clip-on tie came undone and dangled upside down from the verge of his belly, held only by the tie-tac just above.

Neal reset the brake, opened the door and jumped out, hand already on the shirt pocket where he kept the cash fares.

“Don’t worry, man, we’ll pay for it,” he pulled out the roll of bills and began peeling off twenties. “Everything’s cool. It’s cool. We’ll pay for everything.”

Eventually they came to an agreement. The manager pocketed a wad of twenties, clipped his tie back on and went back in the “OUT” door. Neal grabbed the canted up base of the post, and heaving his hundred and fifty pounds against it, bent the pole back into position, though it floated uncertainly half an inch off the concrete.

Then we were in Oklahoma. The landscape subsided once we crossed the Mississippi: first rolling hills with pockets of oak, hickory and walnut in the hollows, the Ozarks dimly visible on the horizon off to the south; then the trees petered out; soon, the hills settled, like ripples on a pond, and the land became plain flat. Somewhere just before Chandler, Oklahoma, we passed the Purple Haze, coming the other way on the eastbound side of the Turnpike.

I felt lucky not to be on that bus — a true antique — but not because of its age. It was the same kind of bus that was in the movie Bus Stop, where it stops way out in the desert, and Marilyn Monroe gets off…but this one was painted bright, Moby Grape purple from the tip of the big roof scoop on the rear to its streamlined, anthropomorphic nose with bulging, acid eye headlights.

We were supposed to be headed west, to San Francisco, me to my dream of a life with Kelly, or at least a life of freedom in the woods, and the others to who knows where, but Neal seemed to have other plans, because at the next crossover he wheeled the Gray Rabbit across the median and headed back east, accelerating far past his standard fifty-five miles per hour. It took about five minutes to catch the Purple Haze.

As soon as the two buses had stopped, everybody but Duffel Bag was out the door. We were all desperate for another chance to stretch and escape the stench of the toilet on the Rabbit, which was close to overflowing. While Neal and Jack and the drivers of the Purple Haze consulted on the weather they’d face in the second half of their respective journeys, the travelers from both buses congregated on the shoulder of the road, and with that incredible combination of ignorance and bliss that came, I guess, from spending your Sixties in North Beach or the Village, sat right down on the scrub land by the well-tolled, access-controlled, highway-patrolled Oklahoma Turnpike and started visiting the best way they knew how: comparing stashes to see who had the most asskicking pot, the widest array of psychedelics, the most outrageous folding, water-mediated bong, chong, chillum or toke pipe. I stood a little off toward the drivers and grabbed a toke when the first joint came along, but it just made me more paranoid, so I got back on the bus.

It was bad enough, I thought standing there on the shoulder, to drop out of college and run off to California without telling my parents, with no clear plan, no clear future beyond the induction notice that would surely come in a few months, no excuse for what both my family and Susanna, if not Kelly, would in the end surely see as a lack of courage, a lack of commitment, a lack of resolve; bad enough to be on this traveling bust of a bus, spewing sweet smoke out the windows across the heart of the continent, spitting in the face of society, and of sobriety, only one bad break, a simple traffic stop away from drug charges in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, from rotting in some county lockup in middle America waiting for trial, unable to raise bail without my parents finding out the whole sorry mess, without bringing shame on the family the way my uncle and my grandfather always knew I would.

Yes, that was bad enough, dumb enough, dangerous enough. But it was even worse on the bus with Duffel Bag. The others might have pegged him as a drug courier, but I knew damn well druggies didn’t sit around reading Marcuse.

“So, man,” I said to him, thinking that with the party animals gone, he might actually speak, “What’s your name?”

He looked up from his book. Nothing.

“My name’s Chuck.” Still nothing.

Finally, “Teko.”

“What?”

“I said ‘Teko’.” He was already looking back at his book, though I wasn’t sure he was really reading.

“Oh.” I asked, just trying to start conversation. “What school you go to?”

After a pause — maybe he wanted to get to the end of a sentence, and it was tough going — he looked up again.

“School?”

“Yeah. Your sweater…” I motioned.

“Oh…” I sensed he felt it was a mistake to have said anything. “Montana.” He said deliberately, like it was the answer to a game show quiz.

“Really?” That’s bullshit, I thought, he doesn’t act like a country boy.

“Yeah.” I guess he heard the tone of disbelief in my voice. “Tell you what,” he added coldly. “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.”

With that he dragged his bag to the back of the bus, outside the bathroom.

“Jeez,” I said. “Just trying to be friendly.”

He went into the bathroom and closed the door all but a crack, I guess to keep an eye on the bag. Soon I heard him grunt. “Shit. Goddamn it!” which about said it for that bathroom.

I was certain that “Teko” wasn’t holding drugs. He was a Weatherman. I could actually see him buying that letter sweater at the Salvation Army store in Ann Arbor, Michigan in my mind’s eye — that’s where he was really from — and then taking a Greyhound to New York, loading up on stolen guns and homemade bombs, and heading west to pay a visit on the Bank of America with some of his friends that were on other buses or trains or planes and planning to meet him at some People’s Park or something.

And if “Teko” was sitting on a bag full of guns and ammo, then we were talng revolution, not just sex and drugs and rock and roll; we were talking serious jail time in Allentown, Cicero, Leavenworth, not just some little holding tank for peaceniks and petty larcenists, but maximum security for many years — many, many years. Nixon and Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover did not like hippies on funky buses with large caches of drugs and guns.

But nothing bad happened. We dumped the toilet at some rest area in eastern New Mexico, and suffered through an hour of heat in Arizona while Neal and Jack fixed some minor mechanical problem, but overall, the freeway held.

We arrived in San Francisco on schedule and I immediately thumbed south down Highway 101 to Palo Alto.

“Everything is connected to everything else.” — Rube Goldberg

Quick note about this entry- this is part of a novel and as Shepard said: ‘pretty much true’.  Nicely written and gives a good feel of a rabbit trip.
But I have to ask -Jack and Neal were the drivers? How long were they on the road together?

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Won’t you scratch my itch sweet Annie Rich
And welcome me back to town
Come out on your porch or I’ll step into your parlour
And I’ll show you how it all went down
Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town

And I remember something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

‘Cause I headed West to grow up with the country
Across those prairies with the waves of grain
And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue sea
And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee

We flew straight across that river bridge, last night half past two
The switch-man wave his lantern goodbye and good day as we went roling through
Billboards and truck stops pass by the grievous angel
And now I know just what I have to do

And the man on the radio won’t leave me alone
He wants to take my money for something that I’ve never been shown
And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue see
And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee

The news I could bring I met up with the king
On his head an amphetamine crown
He talked about unbuckling that old bible belt
And lighted out for some desert town
Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town

And I remember something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

– Gram Parsons

 

 Louis

Was just messing around on the web and decided to see what would pop up on goggle for greyrabbit and BOOM your post came up, first really good one I have seen in low these many years since I was a driver/social director back then in the old days for good old Lester (we used to call him Lester the Molester for his penchant in regard to the female passengers who for the most part were quite a bit younger than him even then in 1972/73) Anyway I digress- as far as I know I was the first driver other than Lester (who at the time was sole owner of Geyrabbit) to be hired. He had one bus at the time a 1956 Chevy school bus named the “TMU” (TRAVELLING MAGICAL UNIVERSE) he was driving and wanted to expand. About the time I was hired out of Oakland CA. he purchased 3 early 1950’S vintage buses from Greyhound San Francisco that they had been using on local routes around the Bay Area and were about to get rid of. When he bought them he put $900 down on each one (I don’t remember the full purchase price at the time) but whomever was the Greyhound agent for the sale at the time signed off on the wrong line on the back of the title and gave Mr. Rall full title to the buses and we were in full operating mode just like that. BAMM! Lester immediately hooked it back to Oregon and registered all of them as motorhomes and that was that. So my first trip driving I followed Lester in the ’56 Chevy while he mastered the Big 1951 diesel and also so I could “learn the ropes” the route, the routine and the people in New York and Boston (end of the line then) on the trip east, going west I was on my own in the “TMU”. I will post more later if you want but I would like to think along with Lester and some of my close friends we were the trailblazers so to speak. Sorry no pictures survive but my oldest son was conceived due to them darn buses (his mom my first ex was a passenger)

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Robert Winter
Lester Rawl used to own the Gray Rabbit buses around then. He operated out of Eugene, Oregon. I got to know him a bit during a run from NYC to the West Coast (in 1973 or 1974) and stayed with him in Eugene (a commune of sorts) for about a week before heading down to California. Maybe that’s the Lester you’re thinking of – tall, thin, long string hair and a really decent fellow
.

Circa 1974, 3:00 a.m., I-80 somewhere in Iowa. 1974. I was 17. A bus pulls over 300 yards in front of me. After a while it pulls up, door swings open and some sweet aroma exhales upon me, slack-jawed, eyes wide open. Tall genteleman w/Tophat, beard( Lester ?) as I recall, invites me aboard. Recall wild games of nerf-football (on knees, upon mattresses),descending upon unsuspescting Stuckeys etc….. until my departure somewhere before NYC. Paid what I could afford.

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12 thoughts on “1970 -1974

  1. I took a trip in August 1974 my dad Charlie Judge drove a Fitzjohn leaving NYC to San Francisco, trip complete in 3 days 6 hours(I found a log he kept), I was 9 years old. We broke down SF to NYC in Rock Springs Wyoming August 7th. Passengers pushed the bus up a hill andthen jumped in. We rolled for as far as it could. We were towed with everyone on the bus to Philips 66 Outlaw. I have pics of my dad and a couple others rebuilding the engine. How do I post them?Does anyone remember my dad? I remember Jill Johnston from NYC and David from Flushing Queens making sure I made it home.

  2. I road the Grey Rabbit in the fall of 74 from NY to SF and in the spring of 75 from SF to NY when I was moving to Gaskin’s Farm. I’ll post more later.

  3. In the Fall of 1974 as a poor working student I answered an ad in the Village Voice looking for a roommate . The situation was a loft in SoHo and the guy who showed it to me explained that the loft was a “station” for a bus company (Grey Rabbit?). Weird enough, but when I asked about heating costs the guy explained that they reversed the gas meter so it ran backwards for half the winter, so no heating bills. With that I decided the situation was too weird for me and I ended up living in a youth hostel on West 88th that winter.
    Did Grey Rabbit have a “station” in SoHo or was it one of the other hippie bus companies?

  4. In the Fall of 1974 as a poor working student I answered an ad in the Village Voice looking for a roommate . The situation was a loft in SoHo and the guy who showed it to me explained that the loft was a “station” for a bus company (Grey Rabbit?). Weird enough, but when I asked about heating costs the guy explained that they reversed the gas meter so it ran backwards for half the winter, so no heating bills. With that I decided the situation was too weird for me and I ended up living in a youth hostel on West 88th that winter.

    Did Grey Rabbit have a “station” in SoHo or was it one of the other hippie bus companies?

  5. traveled from SF to Chicago Christmas 1977 wonderful trip lots of great people. Somewhere in Arizona an older pulled up next to us honking his horn off, got the driver pulled over and told he was the original driver that delivered that particular bus to LA terminal from the factory, in 1950;s. said he logged on the vehicle numbers and kept them handy while traveling the interstates- what a long strange trip it has been used to hang with Gardner, (Green Tortoise bus) up at Star Mountain on the coast-

    chooch we continue to keep the vibe alive

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