I accidentally came across this blog today. Was looking for images of alternative buses and Googled “Gray rabbit bus images” and immediately recognized the two drivers shown in the image that popped up. I think it must have been around August or September 1978 that I took the bus from Berkely to New Jersey on my way to my first trip ever to Europe. I remember showing up to the meeting point, seeing that bus with foam mattresses instead of seats, and all the other interesting looking passengers. I remember the introductory talk by one of the drivers, how it was ok to drink and smoke weed on the bus but strictly forbidden to smoke cigarettes. And I remember clearly today the explanation why smoking weed was ok but cigarettes not, something about the foam mattresses being rather flammable and how everyone runs away from a falling lit cigarette, but everyone dives to catch a falling lit joint. I think this talk set the tone for our journey.
I remember waking up during the night one night, somewhere in the plains region mid-country. Far in front of us was a thunderstorm and every few minutes a huge bolt of lightning would light up the sky, extending from the clouds all the way down to the earth. This went on and on. I remember the driver just leaning over the steering wheel with a camera taking pictures.
We stopped at truck stops to buy food to eat, and then would take a picnic outside. I remember walking into the diner at one of these stops to use the toilet, and overhearing a conversation between two truck drivers. One of them asked the other where he best could park his rig, and the other answered him that he could just as well drive it into that yellow hippy bus parked outside.
We stopped once or twice for some skinny dipping, and that was quite fun. Just about all the passengers on the bus were cool with that.
It was otherwise quite a calm ride. A nice one, an interesting one. I met a girl on the trip, also from New Jersey. I think her name was Barbara. She dressed in a hippie-like fashion, with a t-shirt (sleeveless, I believe) and a skirt that reached from her waist all the way to the ground. I was quite attracted to her but she seemed to take a liking to another passenger, a guy from Germany. They talked a lot and seemed to get on quite well. We happened to be sitting together on the bus, with her in the middle. I remember that during one night, perhaps it was the second night, I woke up and realized they were starting to get cozy with each other, and it seemed she was enjoying it. I wasn’t so comfortable with this but what could I do, I couldn’t just leave the room, so I tried to ignore it. But after some minutes she turned to me and asked me to switch places with her so she could put a stop to whatever was happening. After that we became sort of friends and I even saw her a few times after the trip when I was on the East Coast.
Good memories … it is like more than half a life time ago. Thanks for making this blog!
Hey Steven this is James. I was the driver that gave ‘the rap’ about smoking. Glad you’re enjoying the the blog.
My name is Coleen and I rode the Rabbit back in 1978 from New York to Utah. It was my big adventure leaving New Jersey to work and go to school in Arizona. Probably the only long ride I never wanted to end. I have to dig through my archives and come up with a picture I know i still have somewhere. The greatest memories of picnics at wonderful stops and meeting and virtually living with strangers who became a road fraternity. The following year I took another line from NYC to San Francisco- the green tortoise, also a wonderful yet hazy memory. This adventure was with a college buddy who later became my husband and then just a friend- good times. I remember stopping at a great hot springs place i think it was called the garden of eden, in TN and Big Bend National Park. I work at Bard College at Simon’s Rock Early College now and was just chatting with some wide eyed students about these rides the other day. I can’t believe nobody has written a book about these trips, they were awesome. I got the idea to google them today, so glad others started this blog. Inspires me to get out the old journals and relive the days a bit.
Leave the Driving to . . .
By Mary Ann Hogan
March 28, 1978
“So the Hieronymous Bosch bus headed out of Kesey’s place with the destination sign in front reading, “Further” and a sign in the back saying, “Caution: Wierd Load. It was weird, all right, but it was euphoria on board . . . Besides, the joints were going around, and it was nice and high out here on the road in America. So Tom Wolfe wrote in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
hey don’t make hippie buses like they used to, you know. That’s what Cookie was saying that Saturday afternoon while standing in front of his old blue and white bus in Berkeley, surveying his 14 passengers, each with a backpack and a load of luggage, one with five musical instruments stacked under her arms.
Cookie did another quick count and for a moment his face froze in a pose that spelled heavy calculation, crumbling walls, financial ruin.
“You guys got to come, Dirk,” Cookie said. “We need you.” No, Dirk said, he and Carmen would catch a Greyhound instead. They heard Greyhound was a lot cheaper, and they were only going to Albuquerque anyway.
“Albuquerque, Dirky, huh?” Cookie said. “Hey – the bus is fine. Don’t let the outside fool you.”
The fine bus has a 1948 GM body. Half of the rear bumper is missing. The windows are lined with duct tape to help cut the cold. But it does have a good 1977 engine. And the body is tough.
“I saw one of these mothers roll over eight times once,” Cookie said.
“Didn’t even get a dent in it.”
Cookie calls his the American Gypsy. He charges $69 from Berkeley to New York, with scenic breakfast, dinner, bathroom and telephone stops at points in between. His Gypsy is one of five or so buses left shuttle passengers cross-country on the alternative bus system, whose granddaddy is the Grey Rabbit.
It all started five years ago when Lester, a former insurance man from Oregon, started theGrey Rabbit. Grey Rabbit packed them in – 25 to 40 passengers per trip; two buses leaving twice a week [reservations] from each side of the country. The company pulled in $40,000 one summer. Then came the complaints: Buses were too crowded; they were breaking down, sometimes being held up for a day or more. Gypsy passengers Albuquerque Dirky and Carmen came out west on a Rabbit whose driver handed Carmen a tin coffee cup when she asked him to make a bathroom stop.
Cookie used to be a Grey Rabbit driver but quit last spring – “money hassles and head trips” – to start his own company. Nobody knows about his company yet, he says. They think he’s still a Grey Rabbit driver. And what’s worse, he says, is that he’s a victim of the nice-guys-finish-last syndrome: “Even if we had more than 25 people booked, which is unlikely these days. I wouldn’t want to try to squish ’em all in.
“The handwriting’s on the wall,” Cookie said. “The lowered Greyhound fares [from $142 to $55 one way]. The-lowered airfares [Supersaver airfare is $244 round trip]. We all lost money this year, and if a miracle doesn’t happen, we’ll all be out of business by summer. But I believe in miracles.” Pharmaceuticals
At 1:30 p.m. the 14 passengers, including Carmen and Albuquerque Dirky, boarded the bus – smokers and road watchers to the four sets of front seats; congregators to the hanging mid-bus bunks; readers and sleepers to the upper bunks in back.
Jeannie the musician brought her guitar, mandola, psalstery, violin and flute. Dirky (whose asthma was bothering him) and Carmen sank into a lower bunk and smooched under thier jackets. Aaron, a Princeton graduate student with an organic chemistry book and two reliable road maps sat in front to watch the road.
The others, including a French dancer, a Hungarian political dissident, a freelance photographer on his way to Kenya, four undergrads returning to school, and an unemployed Long Island electrician, went mid-bus to talk and eat their lunches. “Hey – You wanna roll some of that Hawaiian pretty soon?”
The bus moved out of Berkeley then on down Highway 5 toward L.A. at a clip that belied its looks.
“Holy s . . ., Cookie – what’s that noise?”
“Not to worry – it’s just the fanbelt going haywire again. Always sounds like she’s going to blow up.”
First stop, Los Angeles. End of the line for one. Dinner in a Mexican cafe off Sunset. Two more get on, including Randy, whose mother tells Cookie, “Be careful. That’s our son.”
“I know how to handle anxious parents,” Cookie told Randy later. He was moving across the desert now, and most of the other passengers were asleep. “I usually tell ’em I’m an ex-driver and an ex-teacher, and that usually sets their minds at ease, but it’s all I can do to stop from yelling, ‘Hey you guys, the acid’s up here in front here.
“‘If you really want to get into some heavy pharmaceuticals, it’s all there in the back, and why don’t you le tme tank up myself, here, before we get rolling?”
Cookie used to work as a psychologist’s assistant at a mental health clinic in his home state, Maine. He’s small and wiry and his knee-length down jacket, baggy blue jeans and unbuckled work boots fit him like borrowed clothes. He has shoulder-length hair and a thin, curly beard that hangs down to his chest, making his small, thin face framed by wire-rim glasses look gnostic. Dressed in anything other than the bus gear, Cookie, 27, could pass for a middle-aged Russian Rabbi.
He’s a part-time writer and a part-time mechanic and his favorite part of the southerly route east is the Painted Desert, because, as he says, it always looks like a John Wayne movie. Irish Jigs
The Gypsy crew woke up when the bus made a stretch-and-breakfast stop in Flagstaff, Ariz. “. . . Damn cold, huh?” . . . “You guys ain’t seen nothin’ yet – this trip is like the goddam circles of Hell. Wait’ll we get to Ohio” . . . “See, it has something to do with the relationship between you muscles and your nervous system. . .”
“Can you imagine doing a trip like this on acid?”
Everyone fed, the passengers reboarded, and Jeannie played Irish jigs on her psalstery through Arizona. Tucumcari
Almost dinnertime, outside Albuquerque, the Gypsy pulled up behind a Trailways coach with a bumper sign reading: “$55 ANYWHERE IN THE U.S. $39 MOST OUT-OF-STATE TRIPS.”
Hey Cookie – how come you’re so expensive?”
“Expensive!” Cookie flashed his red warning lights and passed the Trailways coach sans effort.
“Anyway, look at all those bored people in there having a boring old-lady time.”
In Albuquerque, Carmen and Dirky got off – “See you in another life, maybe” – and sally and her Doberman pinscher got on, the Doberman, free. The dog found its home for the night in Charles the Hungarian’s sleeping bag and Cookie talked for the rest of the night about his previous bus trips (300,000 miles worth) and how the business is changing.
“. . . and then vandals mysteriously burned our bus in New York right after I started the American Gypsy, but I went home to Maine and took my life savings and bought a new engine, and you should’ve seen it – hauling that engine in a trailer all the way to Boise where the other bus body was . . .”
And then there was the woman, three children, two dogs and their living room furniture he towed to Columbus in a U-Haul, no charge.
“See, I’m not a very good businessman,” Cookie said. “I mean if the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) ever told me to stop making runs, I’d probably stop making runs. Cookie doesn’t have an ICC license.
“Next bathroom stop, Tucumcari, so if you want to stop now, we’ll stop – speak now or forever hold your P– . . .”
“Hey Cookie – will ya turn off the lights back here?”
“Can’t. Gotta keep it on for a while to see how it affects the generator, which I think is going to need some work pretty soon . . .”
(To make any kind of profit, much of which goes into bus repairs, Cookie needs at least 20 passengers. The 14 he towed barely covered the fuel cost.)
The generator worried Cookie even more now, because Sally, who boarded with her Doberman in Albuquerque, needed to get to Boston, and if the bus wasn’t in shape, he’dhave to put her on Amtrak, and he did’t know whether Amtrak would take the dog. (Under a new federally regulated pet-travel policy, Amtrak only allows seeing-dogs.)
“See, the only way I can rationalize still doing a thing like this,” Cookie said, “is looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing everybody having such a good time.”
It was outside of Tucumcari, 11 p.m., and a group of five congregrated midbus watching Jeannie play “The Green, Green of Home” on her guitar.Tony the electrician was rolling a joint on the Anwar Sadat issue of Time magazine.
“I love these names – Tucumacari,” Cookie said.
Tucumcari. Three-go-bus-sy. Tucumcari. Ha. Ha. Ha.”
“Hey, let me know when we get to Texas,” a voice shouted out. “We got to have a joint in every state.”
An hour later the Gypsy grossed the Taxas border and most of the passengers, including the voice, were asleep again. Foot Massage
Next morning, breakfast in Oklahoma City. The brakes stick again. “Somebody stole the damn hydraulic jack.” Twenty minutes later Cookie has the Gypsy ready to go. “It’s effin’ freezin’ in here – turn the heater on!” . . . “It’s Elizabeth Kubler Ross. I couldn’t imagine anyone who was into Jesus being into foot massage.” . . . “Hey – you got another?” Next TIme?
“I’m glad you guys are such good sports about the brakes,” Cookie was saying to no one in particular. “With the generator and the brakes, this is the worst trip I’ve ever had.
“In 300,000 miles I’ve had no one major breakdown. HEY AARON! Will you come up here for a sec and figure out a way for me to avoid St. Louis – thanks to Aaron’s crumpled road map. Breakfast outside of Columbus. Snow storm. Thirty below. Bus gets stuck in a rut. Passengers get out to push it free. Anna and Charles do a polka in the snow before reboarding. Cookie clips up through Ohio and across Pennsylvania at 70 mph in the left lane passing every trucker on the road, shouting, “Ain’t you guys never seen snow before?”
“Hey Cookie! What time are we getting to NEw York? . . . ” “Are we getting to New York . . . ?” “Gotta have another joint before we get to the Lincoln Tunnel. . .”
Midnight on Tuesday, 83 hours after the Gypsy left Berkeley, the passengers deboarded in New York City.A feeble, thankful chorus of “We love you, Cookie” broke out when the blue and white diesel pulled into Port Authority. Cookie was just explaining that he had a lot of plans to upgrade the bus – “make it a real comfort cruiser.” He wanted to put in a stereo sound system, he said, and the duct tape gave him this great idea for plastic storm windows. In the back he wanted to redo the bunks, fix them so they’d fold out to make a comfortable sleeping platform. He was even thinking of putting in a toilet. Big plans, he said, takes money, you know.
“Wow – thanks a lot, Cookie. Maybe we’ll meet under happier circumstances like a funeral. Ha. Ha.”
Cookie handed out American gypsy business cards, which read across the top: “Guaranteed Travel Through Time and Space.”
“Hey Cook – I’ll remember to ask for your bus next time.
“Sure,” Cookie said. “That is, if there is a next time.”
Karen Van der Vort
My son will bring up a trip or two that we took back in the ’70’s and I can’t remember exactly the years. But one of the memories we both had was stopping at the infamous hobo pool in Wyoming. I knew Cookie well as I lived in Santa Rosa and when I needed a ride cross country we, my son, Noah and myself paid our way. It was the best.So I had a nickname, Hobie, and my son, Noah. I remember the fun, but there was a another young woman who played guitar on the trip who knew all the words to Bob Dylan’s songs. She was amazing. Looking back on those years were some of best. Making friends with complete strangers, sleeping with them and all the beautiful moments on those trips. Thank you all.
Yep…I’m another one of those Grey Rabbit passengers from the later 70’s, 1978 I think. What a ride and what a tale.
It started with the ad in one of the San Francisco underground papers. I called in and they directed me to a head shop on Haight. I was going to Colorado, so it was about $40 and I had to prepay. They said to call in the next day for the location and time to go. I did. They sent me to Berkeley at 7:00AM on some street corner, slightly off the beaten path.
Gathering were about 35 or 40 colorful forms of life ready to go. They loaded us in like the slaves in Roots on a ship. We got going, swaying back and forth like a plane from Matamorus on the way to DF in the 60’s with a drunken pilot.
Somewhere in Nevada or Utah, we stopped. One crazy skinny blond hippie chick went crazy, walking out in the country. She wouldn’t come back. On we went. I got dropped off about 10 miles from my place. All was right with the world. I hope that girl survived.
There’s a lot more to the story between the lines.
1978 — Summer
My wife Mary Jan & I ran the Seattle Ride Center and I drove most of the Seattle-Oakland and return trips with a variety of drivers but mostly with Larry Wenk, a most congenial partner. He’d do all the city driving, we’d roughly split the open road driving, and I’d do most of the narration & interaction with the passengers.
On one late summer trip, Mary Jan and I had pulled an all-nighter postering and fielding calls and cleaning out the bus, and spent the morning hustling to get a larger than average cadre of passengers collected in the parking lot of a Taco Time (back then, unspeakably awful “Mexican” food and worse coffee) on Capitol Hill. Lester was very late with the bus, off doing something. I was having a hard time staying awake, so I drank two big beer-stein sized mugs of terrible coffee (>30 oz.).
When we finally got everybody loaded and oriented, checked-in and filled with stories, Larry drove and after about five minutes the sonorous thrumm of the Detroit Diesel made me really sleepy, so I crawled to the way-back into the elevated reserve driver’s bunk and fell into a deep sleep. That compartment was right over the engine, so it was like the Magic Fingers attachment on a cheap motel bed, but you didn’t have to feed it quarters.
I woke up about 90 minutes later with an electrifying, actually painful bladder urgency. I ambled to the front and told Larry I needed to get a rest stop and soon. He told me we were about 20 miles from the actual Interstate rest stop, but I knew I couldn’t make it that far. It took us about two miles to find a pull-over with woods. He opened the door lever and I trotted about 10 yards to the forest and 5 yards into the bushes. I knew I was going to be there a while but suddenly I felt a slithering up my pant leg and then another. I looked down and there were a couple of dozen hornets in a cloud around my feet. I got bitten, but the pain was less than my need to finish the job, then a group of bits…too much. I turned, tried to zip my pants, swat my legs and make like Usian Bolt simultaneously.
I burst out of the woods at a goodly pace and yodeled to Larry from about 10 yards to close the door. I shot through and he slammed it shut and there were a couple dozen pinging noises as the hornets chasing me hit the door.
Turns out there are hornets that build underground nests. Larry knew all about ’em, he has been running a landscaping crew for a couple of years and knew they were a common occurrence. He recognized my syncopated dance before he even saw them, knew exactly what to do.
The rest of the trip was pretty ordinary, except when we finally got to that rest stop, we had a touch football game and Larry’s team kept flooding my zone because he knew my ankles were sore from the hornet bites and I wasn’t fully mobile. Only fair, I suppose — I would have been toast without his cool thinking and quick reactions.