1976

Bill C

I rode the Gray Rabbit, along with my friend Hank, from Oakland to NYC in mid summer 1976. A very enjoyable experience. We had been paid to drive a car from Binghamton NY to be dropped off in San Francisco. Had no real plan for getting back East so decided to go to Cal Berkeley to check out the ride board (remember those). Encountered a person on Telegraph avenue walking with a sandwich board sign advertising $69 dollar three day trips to NYC. He told us to go to an address in Oakland to sign up and pay a deposit. When we found the house in Oakland the bus (we were told it was a 1949 Greyhound) was parked on the street with many engine parts strewn across the lawn.

A couple days later the engine was reassembled and we began our journey. The bus had the chairs removed and I think they had installed a kind of raised floor made of plywood and covered with mattresses. There were pillows along the sides by the windows. The drivers explained that if stopped by police we should say we were on a church retreat. We were told no alcohol but “social smoking” was OK, except in Utah which was described as more or less a police state. The bus interior looked just like the pictures on this blog. The ride was quite enjoyable as there was music and live music, card games and interesting people to visit with. We did miss our scheduled swim stop at the North Platte River in Nebraska due to rain so we may have been a bit gamey by journeys end. My Gray Rabbit ride ended at the intersection of I-80 and I-81 in Eastern Pennsylvania as I needed to hitchhike north to Binghamton to get my car. The Gray Rabbit drivers tried to line me up a ride using their CB radios. They didn’t find me a ride but it took only a few minutes with my thumb out in the rain before I got picked up for my first and only long distance hitchhike. I was so excited I left my backpack on the side of the highway. All in all the Gray Rabbit was a great experience in another era and time of life. Appreciate having this site to share the memories and enjoy the Gray Rabbit stories and pictures of others.

 

Jean Boisvert

rode the Rabbit in August 1976 with my girlfriend.

1976 was the year of the Olympics in Montreal, Canada, our hometown. We didn’t have tickets, and we had the summer off, so we decided to drive cross-country to Vancouver in my old Renault 12. We went west to the coast, the all the way south through Washington, Oregon, California, After about 2 weeks, from our start, we crossed the Golde Gate, and rhight there, the car just gave up. We got towed to a garage who gave us 200$ for the remains. This payed for a week at the YMCA.

When it was time to head back east, we went to Berkeley U, to look for a ride, Some girl said “looking for a ride back east?”, and gave a us a flyer for the Grey Rabbit Travelling Musical Band.
We checked it out and it was the most amazing setup. No seats, mattresses, two drivers who said they were tough guys who took no bullshit from passengers. But it was cheap, 75$ to NY, so we got onboard.
They had no fixed schedule, but they said if they broke down, they would refund us one penny for every mile left to go.
We didn’t have any mechanical problems, although on the uphills, we had to drive at 5 mph on the shoulder, as the bus looked like a school bus from the forties.

I had asked why they can the outfit « grey rabbit travelling musical band ” – you’ll see they said. Aand indeed, as nigh fell, some guy pulled out a guitar, another guy from Alabama had his harmonica, and we had great blues music.
There were all kinds of people onboard. I remember a couple from England, they were both studying medicine.
My most lasting impression was from a guy reading “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. I read the book a couple of times when I got home, and this prompted me to buy a motorcycle. The following summer was a great one too !!

I have very fond memories from this SF-NY trip, I was 25 years old. The only sad note, my girlfriend left me when we got home. Too many “different” experiences , I guess…

Richard B.

I took the Grey Rabbit from Berkeley to N.Y.C summer of “76. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Was bumming around the country collecting unemployment hanging out in S.F. Had my mom mail me my unemployment check c/o General Delivery so I would have some money to get home.I think the fare was $69 or so. You had to give a $10 deposit. The address was some residential house in Oakland. When I went and gave my deposit my receipt was signed Joe Smith. I was like O.K. Received instructions as to where and when the bus was leaving.
Day of departure was from a B.A.R.T. station in Berkeley. Bus was there. Looked like a really old Greyhound; from the outside at least. Some girl was loading what looked like pieces from a giant redwood and I was wondering how she acquired them. We paid the balance of our fares and were told to take off our shoes before boarding.Inside was cool… a couple of regular seats up front near the driver and mattresses lining the rest of the interior. Very cool and comfortable. Took a seat almost near the rear across from some cute Euro girls. This turned out to be a great spot; as the driver(there were 2) came back to sleep in a little compartment in the very back. Whenever they did they would always toke up and generously share with everyone nearby. I though they drove 12 hr. shifts but could be wrong.They were both stoned cool dudes and good mechanics as well.
Things were going pretty well until we got pulled over in Williams Arizona for not having a proper license on the back of the bus. First we were told we would have to wait 2 days or some shit to go to court and obtain some permit. The drivers made some calls to expedite our departure. In they meantime they suggested we all give them our weed so they could hide it from the man. Reluctant at first , the bags started accumulating. We only had to wait about 1 1/2 hrs. and were back on the road. One of the drivers redistributed our goodies like Santa at Christmas.The party was back in full swing.
Had a few minor engine troubles which were quickly fixed. The bus made several stops; grocery stores, restaurants, rest stops, and side of the road pee stops, mostly for us guys who needed to go really bad. Remember some alcohol which I heard later was banned, but pot was the drug of choice.Everyone was really friendly. I was reading a Bukowski book I got from City Lights and some girl asked if she could borrow it. She returned it about 1 hr. later saying “he’s gross!”A lot of cute girls. I remember making friends w/ 2 from Germany on their way back to N.Y to fly home. Dudes at a rest stop in the bathroom suggested we hand out Quaaludes to the girls and have an orgy . I was like great idea, you got any? NO.
Trip took 3 days if I remember correctly and we arrived @ Port Authority on schedule. All in all a great time. Really enjoyed everyone’s posts. Back in the day…..ahhhhhhhh.

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I met a friend of spirit 
He drank and womanized 
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
“Heart and humor and humility”
He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”
I left him for the refuge of the roads

I fell in with some drifters
Cast upon a beachtown
Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs
And I wound up fixing dinner
For them and Boston Jim
I well up with affection
Thinking back down the roads to then
The nets were overflowing
In the Gulf of Mexico
They were overflowing in the refuge of the roads

There was spring along the ditches
There were good times in the cities
Oh radiant happiness
It was all so light and easy
Till I started analyzing
And I brought on my old ways
A thunderhead of judgment was
Gathering in my gaze
And it made most people nervous
They just didn’t want to know
What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

I pulled off into a forest
Crickets clicking in the ferns
Like a wheel of fortune
I heard my fate turn turn turn
And I went running down a white sand road
I was running like a white-assed deer
Running to lose the blues
To the innocence in here
These are the clouds of Michelangelo
Muscular with gods and sungold
Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads

In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads

-Joni Mitchell


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Ramon Sender

The Rabbit And The Tortoise
by Lavinia (‘Channeled’ by Ramón Sender Barayón) (written in 1977 or so
about a Tortoise trip in 1976? with Gardner and Loya as drivers)

Mid-June and The Green Tortoise was hauling ass for San
Francisco to begin her first cross-country transit of the summer.
Gordon was at the wheel, clean-shaven and pony-tailed for the
journey, The Green Tortoise’s owner. Also the purported father of
Kyle and Meadow — the two orangutans disguised as children
trampolining on the foam rubber mattresses behind me. Lavinia —
that was me — the alternate driver, pert and sassy, a no-nonsense
sister who could drive this rig as well as he, that was for sure! This
would be my seventh trip and his thirty-second. Never lost a
passenger or blown an engine yet!
We arrived in the city ten minutes late, dropped the kids in front of
at a laundromat and parked in front of a Mission Street taco joint.
Twenty or so passengers already waited on the sidewalk, some
seated on their sleeping bags and knapsacks, a large percentage
mothers with their children. No dogs in sight, thank God! We’ve
been monstrously overdogged on other trips until we finally had to
discourage people from bringing them. Otherwise the crossing
became one extended Walt Disney special. In a pinch, we’ll still
take them if they’re well behaved, but now we charge half-fare.
Please, oh please, leave dear sweet Spot at home!
The Tortoise — actually The Tortoise Number Two — was in good
trim, a 1956 diesel Trailways type with the GMC engine that ‘won
World War II’ according to Gordon. He bought her at an auction
from the Utah-Texas interstate line and fitted her out with wall-to-
wall mattresses and webbed navy bunks that folded down from the
ceiling. At seventy-five bucks a head — half price for kids and other
life forms — we hoped to make enough money to lay back at the
ranch next winter.
San Francisco took first prize as the coldest city in the nation this
time of year — fog-conditioned — and the passengers were bundled
up in jackets, a little blue around the edges. I was circulating among
them checking off names when a battered cab rolled up and two
black-bereted Spanish gentlemen emerged, one thin and wiry and
the other grey-haired, stocky, his belongings in a black plastic
garbage bag. They hovered at the edge of the group as if maybe
they had gotten off at the wrong reality. I smiled and moved
towards them but just then Meadow and Kyle turned the corner,
staggering under the mattress covers, fresh from the laundromat’s
dryer. I had washed them at the ranch and dried them in yesterday’s
peek-a-boo sunshine but they had needed a final blast of heat to
crisp them up.
“Okay, everybody!” I shouted. “One more minute and we’ll be
ready to load!”
Gordon cranked open the side panels to stow the luggage. In his
white coveralls, he looked like an American Indian, dark and
handsome, instead of the A-flat Bostonian he is. He was a hot-shot
mechanic and an ex-lover of mine to boot. We lived together for
over a year, but now were giving each other more space. You can’t
be lovers and business partners at the same time. At least I can’t.
And I liked it better this way. Otherwise it got too incestuous, living
and working together– that was too much for any two people I
know!
Meadow and Kyle were going East to liven things up for their
grand-parents this summer. Gordon had a serious talk with them
on the way down about keeping their cool on the trip. We would
both have our hands full just with the bus and passengers. Besides,
Meadow was old enough to start helping out. Her main job would
be sitting on Kyle to keep him from setting off stink bombs or
falling out windows.
Gordon began jig-sawing people’s things into The Tortoise’s belly
while I collected the fares. Some friends of ours were coming, Zero
and Omaha from Gresham’s Ranch next door, Judy with little Amen
and Eden, really sweet children! Zero talked to the Spanish
gentlemen in fractured Spanish. The thin one was seeing off his
friend Señor Numa Albornoz in the double-breasted suit with no
tie. I hoped he wasn’t too blown out by it all. Another mother
arrived with a little blond boy — God! His hair reached halfway
down his back! Beautiful!
“Luggage underneath!” I shouted. “Let’s keep the inside
uncluttered. We’ll need every inch of room!”
“How about my accordion?” a thin-faced, hollow-eyed young
woman named Jean asked. “I’ll be playing a lot.”
“Okay, find a corner for it,” I said. Music was a good way to pass
the time.
People started to find their spaces and The Tortoise filled up.
Funny how the interior didn’t look like much empty, but fill it with
people and it took on a cozy atmosphere. Time for the rap, I
decided, watching Gordon climb aboard. He glanced at me and
nodded.
“Hello, everybody!” I yelled. “Welcome aboard The Green
Tortoise! In case anybody asks, we’ve charted this bus to go
camping. We stop twice a day in towns for breakfast and lunch.
Buy something to cook at our supper stop. We always pick a nice
spot to swim and eat. There’s a ‘no tobacco-smoking’ rule and we
have an emergency pee funnel up here by the door if you can’t wait
to go. The stairwell affords some privacy and even women can use
it.” I grinned at my sisters. “However I won’t demonstrate it at this
time.”
I wound down with some comments about how to make the most of
our limited space. Gordon closed the door and began to slide
behind the wheel.
“Whoa there, partner,” I said. “Who drew the first shift?”
“Aw, Lavinia,” he complained. “You can take over in an hour.”
I shook my head firmly. “Nope. We flipped and I won. Fair’s
fair!”
I had to stick to my guns or my rights got eroded, so I pushed by
him with an elbow in his ribs and took over the driver’s seat. Just
then a shadow loomed up beside the window — The Grey Rabbit,
our biggest competitor, an older bus but with a faster diesel.
Charlie hugged the wheel, thin and lean as a March Hare, a kindly
snarl on his scraggly face.
“Pulling out, huh?” He leered at me, his eyes sliding down to my
breasts. “I’m loading in an hour. Race yuh to Manhattan!”
“C’mon, Charles, cut it out!” I yelled. “You know we do things
different, you big blob of overdone machismo!”
“Scenic and slow, that’s us!” Gordon shouted across me.
Speed maniac Charlie tried for three-and-a-half-day crossings with
half-hour truckstop meals and lots of No-Doz, a Vietnam vet a mite
short on common sense. We aimed for five-and-a half days
complete with cook-outs and a hot springs stop.
“Afraid you’ll lose?” he sneered around a pair of buckteeth.
I shook my head. “We take our time and see the countryside. You
probably think the USA’s a three-thousand-mile-wide asphalt blur!”
“A gentleperson’s wager!” he shouted over the taxi beeping behind
him. “A hundred bucks! You’ve got a two-hour head start!”
Gordon grinned and waved him on. “See ya!”
We were aimed for Davis up by Sacramento to pick up three more
riders and another mother and child in Truckee. Omaha came up to
sit beside me on the buddy seat. It hinged down into the aisle to let
a person cozy up beside the driver. Jean was already playing funky
blues riffs on the accordion in one of the six double-seats Gordon
had kept when he installed the mattresses.
“How many are we?” Omaha asked, a tiny, well-proportioned sister
with brown curls and a zany sense of humor.
“Thirty adults and ten kids by the time we reach Nevada.” The semi
up ahead was groaning up the grade in low so I moved into the
passing lane.
“Looks like a mellow group.” She grabbed my seat back while I
swung into the slow lane again, blinking ‘thank-you’ with my lights.
Truckers’ etiquette.
“She’s slow on long uphills,” I explained. “Geared for desert
highways.”
After the Davis stop, I took her over the Donner Summit and we
arrived in Truckee just after midnight. The bus was quiet, most
everyone asleep, heads out and feet in like sardines in a can. At the
filling station, a hysterical woman in a blonde bouffant and heavy
make-up was waiting for us along with a teenage daughter in a
pants suit.
“Where were you?” she gasped. “I’ve been here since ten-thirty!”
“We phoned we’d be late,” Gordon replied. “I left a message with
your husband.”
“He’s flipped out about us leaving,” she said. “He knows I’m going
for good.” She tugged at a huge satchel, wedging it in the door.
Gordon lifted a hand. “Wait! We’ll stow it underneath.”
He got out to crank open a panel. I could hear him rearranging
things with strange underground thuds. All the while she stood in
the doorway fiddling nervously with her shoulder strap, looking like
she had to pee.
“Oh God!” she muttered. “Let’s get outta here before he comes
back!”
“What?” Gordon asked from behind her.
“My husband, my husband!” she jittered. “He went to get my
mother-in-law! They’re trying to keep us from leaving.”
Gordon ushered her inside. “Let’s go,” he said.
Just then a customized Blazer roared up, horn blaring, a 30-30
racked against the back window. God, that tore it! Now everyone
was awake! It screeched to a stop and a red-faced, pudgy man
jumped out and ran over. He leaped up the entryway and grabbed
the blonde in the aisle.
“Puh-leeze, Lindy!” he gasped.
“Get your paws of me, Jesse!” Lindy shouted. “Just leave me
alone!”
From the stairs, Jesse called over his shoulder to the blue-rinsed
grandma in the Blazer’s cab. “Ma — tell her it weren’t my fault!”
Lindy yanked her arm away and started down the aisle. Her
daughter was huddled in back, close to tears.
“We’ve got to go, mister,” Gordon explained. “We’re already
behind schedule.”
Faces were peering at them from sleeping bags and one of the kids
started to wail.
“Lindy!”
She whirled to face him. “Let me go, Jesse,” she said, voice as cold
as a Frosty-Freeze.
“Mother! Say sumthin’!” Jesse screamed to the old lady.
“He’s a good boy, Lindy!” Mother wheedled, leaning out the
window. “He loves you! He jes’ cain’t help carryin’ on like that!
His father was much worse!”
Gordon tried to smooth things out. “Everyone needs a vacation,” he
said. “Give her a break.”
“I’ll write,” Lindy promised.
“But Lassie’s like my own daughter!” Jesse whined.
Lindy’s eyes blazed. “That’s why I’ve got to get her away from you
— you — you — ”
“Let her go, the slut!” Mother screeched, waving a knobby fist.
Lassie started blubbering. Gordon took advantage of Jesse’s exit to
confer with Mother to close the door. Jesse whirled and pounded
on it with both fists. I started her up in a hurry and headed for the
highway. The Blazer came right behind us, horn blatting, bashing
against our bumper. That tore it!
“Pull over,” Gordon said, rolling up his sleeves. “Nobody hits The
Tortoise.”
I swung over on the shoulder and Gordon jumped out to meet
Jesse’s charge with a right and a left that laid him out. He reentered
to cheers and handclaps, nursing skinned knuckles. I got The
Tortoise up to speed, but suddenly the Blazer loomed alongside,
this time old Mom behind the wheel. Mouth distorted, she held the
rifle in one hand, its muzzle propped on the open window. The
bullet whizzed across our windshield, the kick knocking her against
the driver’s door. She lost control and the truck bounced off the
guardrail twice before spinning to face the oncoming traffic.
“Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!” Gordon muttered. ”
That was the last we saw of her, thank goodness! Lindy soothed
Lassie while the other passengers rearranged themselves to make
room on the mattress. Things finally quieted down, and I traded the
wheel with Gordon on a long down-grade, slipping out of the seat
while he slid in. I tiptoed my way across bodies to the driver’s rear
bunk over the engine, curtained off for us as a little oasis of sanity.
I woke up around two a.m. to hear the engine sputter, cough and
die. Gordon coasted along on the downhill run into Nevada,
downshifting gears, looking for a place to pull over. I knew his
mind was reeling off possibilities — loose wire, clogged fuel filter.
When he stopped, I trekked back towards the door over sleeping
shapes. He was already outside with Zero and the odd couple on
board — Jean and her friend Pam. Jean hailed from the New York
Gay scene while Pam, younger, seemed unsure of herself or where
she was headed. They had kept apart from the rest and made up a
bed on top of the plywood cooler behind the driver. I could tell
Jean felt paranoid about the predominantly straight group, sort of a
typical East Coast self-consciousness.
Gordon had the engine flap up and his head inside. A dark, cool
desert night pulsated to one side of us, the roar of Route 80 on the
other.
“What?” I asked.
“I dunno.” He spotlit the carburetor with his flashlight. “Go back
in and crank her over a few times.”
I turned the ignition key. The starter chattered but nothing
happened. With a sigh I retraced my steps outdoors.
“No fuel at the carburetor,” Gordon said.
“You think that redneck bashed in something?”
“Fuel pump?” Zero suggested.
“Maybe no fuel,” I said. “How classic!”
“I thought we had enough to make Winnemucca,” Gordon replied,
scratching his head in dismay. “Maybe I was wrong.”
“What do we — ” I began, but Gordon’s face was turned towards
approaching headlights and the throb of an engine.
“It’s The Grey Rabbit!” he yelled. “I’d know that diesel anywhere!”
He waved his flashlight up and down.
The blue-and-gold bus flashed by followed by the scream of
brakes. It skidded to a stop a hundred yards ahead. Gordon met
Charlie halfway.
“Trouble?” Charlie asked, flashing his penlight towards us.
“Out of gas,” Gordon said. “It’s got to be that.”
“A genius like you?” Charlie jeered.
“The gauge doesn’t work but I figured we had forty gallons.
Maybe the new jets I installed are guzzling fuel.”
“Let’s put in a gallon and see if she fires.”
Even though we were competitors, an on-the-road chivalry made for
sister-brotherhood in tight spots. We would have done the same
the other way around. On more than one occasion Gordon had
helped The Rabbit out with tools and parts.
Of course The Tortoise revived the minute she had something in her
tummy. Charlie ran back and siphoned another ten gallons to get
us to Lovelock, trailing us into town just to make sure. Naturally
there was no diesel pump open and he gave us another ten to see us
through ’til morning.
“Wanna reconsider that bet?” he asked, raising one corner of his
upper lip.
Gordon looked at him in the glow of the streetlight and grinned.
“You’re on,” he said and they shook on it.
“What did you do that for?” I scolded when we were back on the
road. “You just blew a hundred bucks!”
Gordon smiled sheepishly. “He saved us that much in time and
trouble. What could I do? Our ass was in a sling and he unslung
it.”
“Macho games,” I muttered. “That hundred comes out of your
share.”
But he wasn’t listening. “It’s the hare and tortoise at it again,” he
chuckled. “I won’t clip our schedule, but you’ll see. Our bus is
fresh while Charlie’s needs work. We’ve got an even chance.”
“He’s already out of sight,” I replied with sarcasm, heading towards
the bunk. If I didn’t get some sleep, I wouldn’t be worth a damn in
the morning.
We tanked up at the breakfast stop and came highballing through
Utah. The passengers were settling in fine. Señor Albornoz had
found himself a corner of the mattress behind the right front wheel,
the mommies had taken over the rear except for Zero and Omaha
who for some reason were up next to the engine — a hot spot in
summertime. Jean and Pam were carrying on a heavy
psychological discussion about their relationship. Lindy had settled
down and Lassie was eyeing the young men speculatively. We
roared over the salt flats in the late afternoon and started up the
grade into the Logan Mountains east of Salt Lake City before
peeling off at Echo Lake for our first cook-out, a beautiful reservoir
which lay like a chunk of fallen sky in the barren landscape.
We were charcoaling some chickens when I caught sight of a
familiar blue-and-gold streak on Route 80 across the lake.
“It’s The Rabbit!” I shouted.
Gordon shaded his eyes and squinted. He had reworked his
ponytail into two braids and looked like a cigar store Indian. “Got
behind us somehow,” he said and smiled at everyone. “We’ve got a
good chance!”
Zero strapped Jean’s accordion to his chest and struck up ‘Keep On
Truckin, Mama!’ while everybody cheered. Word of the bet had
made the rounds.
“Hey, he’s good!” I said to Omaha. “I didn’t know he played.”
“Me neither,” Omaha replied, frowning. “Will Zero’s wonders
never cease?”
Gordon flipped a chicken breast off the coals. “I don’t think
Charlie saw us,” he said. “We’ll keep him guessing.”
After supper everyone scampered back on board, perhaps because
of The Rabbit’s lead. Kyle had found a disgusting raven’s carcass
he insisted on keeping — ugh! I yelled at him to throw the smelly
thing away but he put on his stubborn look. Gordon finally
snapped off the bleached skull and Kyle pocketed it with a satisfied
expression.
“I’m gonna wear it on a string,” he announced. “‘Round my neck.”
That night we made good time and arrived at the hot springs near
the Medicine Bow National Forest just after sunrise. The original
owner had willed it to the town with the stipulation it remained free
to all. Everyone jumped in the pool naked except Señor Albornoz
who wore a two-piece swimsuit. Lindy and Lassie modestly sat out
this adventure beside the bus while Gordon kept one eye open for
local earlybirds who might find nudity unappealing. A branch of
the Platte River flowed by ten yards from the pool and the hardier
types used it as a cold dip after. The first oldtimer was creaking
down the steps in his bathrobe to join us when there was a yell from
the riverbank. Jean had waded in up by the railroad bridge and cut
her foot badly on some glass. We dropped her at the hospital
before taking everyone downtown for breakfast. When we picked
them up an hour later, Pam had received twelve stitches plus a
tetanus shot and was hobbling around on crutches. It didn’t
improve her mood any. although everyone went out of their way to
be nice to her. She made a pretty demanding patient and Pam was
unraveling around the edges. We continued on our way without
any sign of The Rabbit.
Through Wyoming we headed and into Nebraska. Beautiful, this
big, open country! I could be happy living out there with a couple
of horses and a little cabin in a pine-filled canyon. We were behind
schedule and decided against our usual second night picnic spot.
Instead drove on to the far side of Lake McConaughy over the
Kingsley Dam for our swim and cook-out. The site on the hard-
packed, sandy beach was surrounded by picturesque cottonwoods
and the water sure felt good after the highway heat! Zero stood in
for glum Jean on the stomach Steinway, pumping away shit-kickin’,
country-style blues. Jean finally cheered up enough to pull a
pennywhistle from her pack. Hey, a real virtuoso! Thunderheads
were piling up over us while we ate. Passing motorboaters slowed
down to stare. Were we that strange-looking? I guess so! Skinny-
Dippers International on a nation-wide tour!
After dark we doused the fires and climbed back on board just
ahead of the rain. Gordon swung The Tortoise onto the beach to
turn her around. He had checked out the sand and it seemed firm
but he hadn’t counted on the layer of soft clay under it. Both rear
double-wheels spun under the ten-ton weight and we all emerged
into the steady drizzle to try to dig her out, borrowing a second
shovel from some fishermen camped across the bluff. Lightning
flashes lit up the scene, the storm closing in. But The Tortoise
wouldn’t budge. After a few more tries in compound low gear, her
fanny sat flat on the sand.
“Just like a turtle,” Omaha commented, beads of sweat rolling down
her face from her turn at the shovel. “There she sits, squatting at the
water’s edge to lay her eggs.”
“Gordon’s the one who laid an egg,” I said. He prided himself on
thinking things through before he did them but this time he really
loused up.
“I blew it like some tenderfoot tourist in a rented Winnebago!” he
moaned.
The storm began in earnest with a downpour and everyone
clambered back aboard while Gordon tried to raise someone on his
pieced-together CB.
Nothing.
The fishermen who had meandered over to watch the hippie action
offered us the use of theirs. So Gordon went off to their camp with
them and returned a half-hour later in triumph.
“Got the sheriff first,” he reported. “Sort of a paranoid flash. But
he raised someone at a truck repair place and they’re coming right
out.”
And by God, here they came! An antique-looking wrecker was
backing down onto the sand in the light of its own spots. A lean,
cowboy type got out to set chocks under his wheels and a chain on
his winch. It was still raining but the lightning had moved off west.
Gordon gunned the engine, the winch whined and we came
unstuck! Relief! We figured the bill would run around a
hundredand twenty but the guy only charged us sixty. All in all,
our luck was holding — an ‘educational experience.’
Just outside Des Moines the following morning, we caught The
Rabbit lazing at a roadside stop beside three brand-new double-
decker buses with ‘San Jose Drum And Bugle Corps’ painted on
their sides in patriotic colors. Teenagers were scattered everywhere,
some sort of marching band on its way to play at a White House
reception. Charlie was holding hands with a thirteen-year-old drum
majorette when I pulled up beside him.
“Piss stop!” Gordon yelled. Such a forthright individual!
Charlie waved and broke into his sneery grin but I could tell he was
impressed.
“We had to put in for a carburetor overhaul in Rawlins so I figgered
you out ahead of me,” he said. “When I didn’t catch you on the
road, I knew you’d either taken a side trip or grown wings.”
“We saw you go by at Echo Lake,” Gordon told him. “Had a nice
swim and cook-out.” He didn’t mention the Kingsley Dam fiasco.
Charlie glanced at us lop-sided and tugged an earlobe. “Didn’t slow
you down none. Hey, we need a finish line!”
Gordon stroked his stubbly chin. “How about the first one across
the Washington Bridge?”
“Whooee! All right!” Charlie dashed for his bus, arms aflap.
With an ear-splitting whistle on his fingers he corralled his
passengers and burned rubber down the highway.
“Who’s his other driver?” I asked. “He can’t be driving by
himself!”
Gordon stared at the receding Rabbit. “Darned if I know,” he
muttered. “His valves are chattering.”
That evening, by common consent, we pulled into a truckstop and
porked it up like funky Rabbiteers. By now everyone itched to get
East and we were four hours off schedule. The kids were holding
up fine. Meadow helped shop for us every day and Kyle hung in
like a real trooper. Not a single tantrum so far! The younger
children used the upper bunks for a jungle gym — cute little rascals.
Their mothers seemed unfrazzled and a romance of sorts was
budding between Lassie and the teenage son of the Davis mother.
Señor Albornoz had begun sitting with the shy Japanese girl and
seemed to enjoy the role of token grandpa.
Across the Mississippi, the distances seemed shorter because now
we began crossing more than one state a day. By suppertime of the
following evening we were in the outskirts of Cleveland and
Gordon headed for a little shoreside park next to one of Lake Erie’s
fancier suburbs. It’s one-block area already was playing host to a
neighborhood church picnic. We set up not far away, unrolling the
volleyball net and posts to make our last supper together a
memorable event. We cleaned out the cooler and made a huge
communal salad. The group had jelled nicely into a tribal unit.
Funny how it only took three days for everyone to become friends
on these crossings. Even Jean had been included as the community
qvetch, and just being accepted for what she was had mellowed her
out considerably.
That night we pushed on through Pennsylvania. The Tortoise had
done magnificently. Weeks of preventative maintenance at the
ranch had paid off with a trouble-free trip — at least mechanically.
You have to expect one or two little adventures in this game.
Delaware Water Gap for breakfast and no sign of The Rabbit.
Beautiful, all the greenery after the parched western landscapes.
Zero was blasting away on Jean’s squeezebox up front and people
were singing along. I took the wheel when we crossed the toll
bridge into New Jersey and was winding down into Mt. Harmon
when — there they were! The Rabbit was over on the shoulder,
Charlie wrestling with a rear tire. Guess he had a flat. We beeped
the horn and waved, but Gordon asked me not to stop.
“It would be bye-bye to a hundred bucks if we did,” he said. “In a
straight-out race from here, he’d still beat us.”
“Wouldn’t dream of stopping,” I muttered, giving her the gas.
We trundled down the highway cheering and yelling, everyone
excited that we were in the lead at last. Out around Paterson
someone let out a scream in the back.
“I see them!” Omaha shouted.
Heads popped out all the windows — God only knew what the other
drivers made of us! Sure enough, The Rabbit was on our tail, half a
mile back and closing fast. I floored the accelerator and we whizzed
through Hackensack and Teaneck, The Rabbit gaining in spite of
our speedometer hovering around seventy. The morning commuter
traffic had thickened and Charlie couldn’t find the space to open her
up. At Englewood the highway looped north and The Rabbit
gained until just two cars and an empty flatbed separated us. A gap
opened in the passing lane and Charlie swung out to take his last
chance to beat us to the toll plaza. When the traffic slowed, he
pulled a fast one, passing and then bulling his way into the truck
lane beeping his horn. We all shrieked and yelled. Now he was
one Mayflower van ahead!
He made it onto the bridge before we shook free of the tollbooth.
Damn! He had a half-minute’s lead! I pushed The Tortoise from
zero to fifty faster than I thought possible and grabbed the passing
lane. Here we went, over the Hudson! The Rabbit copied our
maneuver, two cars ahead, and a groan arose from the cheering
section.
“Hey!” Jean screamed, peering out the front window. “His rear
wheel’s wobbling!”
I stared and sure enough, his right rear was shimmying so badly he
had to pull back into the slow lane. I saw our chance at center span
and took it, putting us almost side-by-side. Charlie was frowning,
cutting his speed while his passengers tore their hair and stuck out
their tongues at us. Now we had gained half a bus-length and were
pulling away, The Rabbit limping badly. I careened down the off-
ramp a mite speedier than legal and coasted to a stop around the
corner from the bus terminal. Pandemonium! We had won, just
seconds ahead of The Rabbit!
Both busloads emptied. We stood around to laugh and
congratulate each other. Everyone shook my hand and pounded me
on the back while the side panels were opened and the bags sorted
out.
“I didn’t cinch down that spare tight enough,” Charlie moaned.
“When you passed me, I just finished up fast and got going.”
“You’ve got to tighten the lugs ’til they squeak, ” Gordon said, his
chest puffed out. “Tell you what. I owe you at least ten for the fuel
you gave us. Call it eighty and we’re quits.”
Charlie didn’t argue. Four twenties changed hands and we all got
busy unloading. Addresses were exchanged. Señor Albornoz was
met by a matronly Mediterranean woman whose plucked eyebrows
climbed when she viewed our motley crew. Jean hobbled into a
waiting VW bug, waving and smiling, Pam waiting patiently for her
to get settled. Lindy and Lassie came up to us, mother in fresh
make-up, daughter looking embarrassed.
“Just want to tell you we both had a wonderful time,” Lindy said,
pressing five dollars into Gordon’s paw. “Just to make up for that
scene with my husband.”
“We specialize in quick get-aways,” Gordon replied with a wink.
“Boston passengers! Be here by two o’clock!” He turned to
Meadow and Kyle. “C’mon, kids, help me close up and we’ll go
blow eighty-five big ones on the Big Apple!” He glanced over at
me, slightly sheepish. “Thanks, Lavinia. Here –” He held out two
twenties. “You’re one terrific driver — and partners always go
halves.”
I admit I took the money. When all was said and done, Gordon
was really okay. It had been a good first crossing of the season
and set a good tone for the summer. Funny about the way it
worked out, us winning and all.
Charlie ambled over while we locked up, pretending there was
nothing on his seething mind. “When d’you start back?” he asked
me.
“Not for a week,” I replied. “Why?”
He wagged his eyebrows and stared innocently down the street.
“Oh, I dunno. Thought you might care to place a small wager.
First one ‘cross the Bay Bridge ?” He bared his buckteeth at me
and laughed.

Meader

Right before Christmas, 1976. They loaded us up in Berkeley, telling us, “You’re now a member of the Grey Rabbit Traveling Band” to get around the law. It was crowded (although there was a lot more room in the back) but friendly, and somehow we limped across the country to NYC, the drivers keeping us on the road with some kind of magical incantations—or were they just really good mechanics?. I came back west on the same bus a few weeks later. We had a close call somewhere in PA when one of the drivers tried to pull a u-turn in the highway median and got stuck in deep snow. The staties came along and wanted to impound the bus. Fine, the other driver said, but you’ll have to offload the passengers. The cops took one look at the 30 or 40 scruffy passengers in the back and let us go with a ticket. We got to the Sierra and there was a chain requirement, but we didn’t have any, or any money to buy chains. One of the drivers, Miles, took us to a casino in Reno and sat at the blackjack table till he had earned enough to buy chains. He was some charmer, that guy, and a pretty good card player, too.

One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below.

     -Bob Dylan

 

Ken Masson

I rode the rabbit in Sept. of 76. I was told of the bus service at a Peoples Temple (pretty weird place). We boarded at a SF B.A.R.T station and headed south to L.A. past the bay. I remember seeing acres of weird driftwood / junk sculptures on the mud flats. A stinky chick named Montana something drank a bottle of Boones Farm, got drunk, passed out and peed on me. We pulled into the Farmers Market and picked up some more people and headed west. The driver told us that if we got stopped by the police we should start singing Amazing Grace and say we were a church group. Also we had to avoid Nevada because the state police were trying to shut them down. I had bummed about $15.00 on Telegraph Ave. and bought peaches, bread and peanut butter but that ran out and I bummed food at a truck stop / store on the way. They dropped me off at rt. 79 in Pa. and I hitched toward home and stopped at a bar close to home ran into a chick I knew, married her about a year later and stayed married for 29 years, 2 boys. Man haven’t thought about that in years.

 

 

Joe

Hey, I rode the Rabbit with my parents in the fall of 1976 from Portland to Flagstaff. I was 8 years old. My mom had just married my step-father in Seattle in Sept of 1976. He convinced her to leave and follow him to Douglas, Arizona. He told her some crap about being the son of a mafia figure, and she believed him. We ended up being drifters all over the West for a few years, but that is another story. We went to Portland and stayed at the no-stars Clifford Hotel on the East side until my parents could locate a ride to Arizona. Before long we left the Clifford (shaking the dust off our feet) and boarded Grey Rabbit to head South to Arizona. I had ridden Greyhound a few times when my mom was going to Shelton, WA, to visit her other boyfriend in prison there, but immediately divined that this was going to be a different sort of trip. No seats, just mattresses and pillows, and a small room in the back of the bus for the driver and his kids. There were several kids on the bus, so we played the whole time. My brother and two sisters and my parents rode in comfort in the smoky bus all those hours to San Francisco, and then I think we changed busses to head to Arizona. The bus was headed to NYC, but we got off in Flagstaff, where we hitched a ride to Phoenix. A nice Mexican guy picked us up, and my bro and I rode in the back of his pick-up. Well, we never made it to Douglas. We settled in Phoenix for a few months before heading to San Diego. Never rode the Rabbit again.

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4 thoughts on “1976

  1. I rode the rabbit in Sept. of 76. I was told of the bus service at a Peoples Temple (pretty weird place). We boarded at a SF B.A.R.T station and headed south to L.A. past the bay. I remember seeing acres of weird driftwood / junk sculptures on the mud flats. A stinky chick named Montana something drank a bottle of Boones Farm, got drunk, passed out and peed on me. We pulled into the Farmers Market and picked up some more people and headed west. The driver told us that if we got stopped by the police we should start singing Amazing Grace and say we were a church group. Also we had to avoid Nevada because the state police were trying to shut them down. I had bummed about $15.00 on Telegraph Ave. and bought peaches, bread and peanut butter but that ran out and I bummed food at a truck stop / store on the way. They dropped me off at rt. 79 in Pa. and I hitched toward home and stopped at a bar close to home ran into a chick I knew, married her about a year later and stayed married for 29 years, 2 boys. Man haven’t thought about that in years.

  2. I rode the Rabbit in August 1976 with my girlfriend.

    1976 was the year of the Olympics in Montreal, Canada, our hometown. We didn’t have tickets, and we had the summer off, so we decided to drive cross-country to Vancouver in my old Renault 12. We went west to the coast, the all the way south through Washington, Oregon, California, After about 2 weeks, from our start, we crossed the Golde Gate, and rhight there, the car just gave up. We got towed to a garage who gave us 200$ for the remains. This payed for a week at the YMCA.

    When it was time to head back east, we went to Berkeley U, to look for a ride, Some girl said “looking for a ride back east?”, and gave a us a flyer for the Grey Rabbit Travelling Musical Band.
    We checked it out and it was the most amazing setup. No seats, mattresses, two drivers who said they were tough guys who took no bullshit from passengers. But it was cheap, 75$ to NY, so we got onboard.
    They had no fixed schedule, but they said if they broke down, they would refund us one penny for every mile left to go.
    We didn’t have any mechanical problems, although on the uphills, we had to drive at 5 mph on the shoulder, as the bus looked like a school bus from the forties.

    I had asked why they can the outfit « grey rabbit travelling musical band ” – you’ll see they said. Aand indeed, as nigh fell, some guy pulled out a guitar, another guy from Alabama had his harmonica, and we had great blues music.
    There were all kinds of people onboard. I remember a couple from England, they were both studying medicine.
    My most lasting impression was from a guy reading “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. I read the book a couple of times when I got home, and this prompted me to buy a motorcycle. The following summer was a great one too !!

    I have very fond memories from this SF-NY trip, I was 25 years old. The only sad note, my girlfriend left me when we got home. Too many “different” experiences , I guess…

  3. Hey, I rode the Rabbit with my parents in the fall of 1976 from Portland to Flagstaff. I was 8 years old. My mom had just married my step-father in Seattle in Sept of 1976. He convinced her to leave and follow him to Douglas, Arizona. He told her some crap about being the son of a mafia figure, and she believed him. We ended up being drifters all over the West for a few years, but that is another story. We went to Portland and stayed at the no-stars Clifford Hotel on the East side until my parents could locate a ride to Arizona. Before long we left the Clifford (shaking the dust off our feet) and boarded Grey Rabbit to head South to Arizona. I had ridden Greyhound a few times when my mom was going to Shelton, WA, to visit her other boyfriend in prison there, but immediately divined that this was going to be a different sort of trip. No seats, just mattresses and pillows, and a small room in the back of the bus for the driver and his kids. There were several kids on the bus, so we played the whole time. My brother and two sisters and my parents rode in comfort in the smoky bus all those hours to San Francisco, and then I think we changed busses to head to Arizona. The bus was headed to NYC, but we got off in Flagstaff, where we hitched a ride to Phoenix. A nice Mexican guy picked us up, and my bro and I rode in the back of his pick-up. Well, we never made it to Douglas. We settled in Phoenix for a few months before heading to San Diego. Never rode the Rabbit again.

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