The Gray Rabbit

This is a quick overview.
The contributions are broken down by year listed below.

Please feel free to send in anything, I’ll be happy to post it. Occasionally people have asked to used pieces from this blog for other articles and documentaries. At first I contacted the contributor and asked for permission. This is becoming burdensome, if you don’t want what you send repurposed, please tell me and I won’t post it. Anything on this site is free for anyone to use- if you posted earlier and are uncomfortable with someone using your material please write me and I’ll pull it down. Any suggestions as to content, style, or format would be appreciated.

There’s a very informative article on ‘the grey rabbit’ to be found on Wikipedia. We spelt it both ways back in the day. When it went legal right toward the end it was listed only as ‘grey’.

James

James Spach and Richard Cook Washington Square 1976

James Spach and Richard Cook
Washington Square 1976

This blog is a place to assemble memories and try to contact other people involved as drivers or passengers on the gray rabbit. I was a driver on various buses from 1975 to 1978. I drove with Lester, Peter, Richard (Cookie), Jody, Miles – everybody that was involved at that time. Joe and Rene ran the ride center in Berkeley- Shep the ride center in New York. I found the warehouse Lester bought to garage the busses down in Hunter’s Point.  The buses in the picture below belonged to Lester, Peter and Richard.

Interior of Hunter's point warehouse- busses belonged to Richard, Lester and Peter

 

My name is James Spach- but back then people called me ‘JD’ or ‘Spock’ – the proper pronunciation of my name.

James waking up

James waking up

A couple of thoughts about this post.  I don’t want this blog to be about me or my memories and experiences, but everyone’s. It would be great to find peoples’ posts from the same trip. Also please leave your full name and perhaps the time period – if you can remember- that you either rode on or drove the bus. As you can see, I’m just putting up disjointed memories to start things rolling. If you have a quibble about the veracity of a post remember that it was 30 or more years ago and we were all living in some state of befuddlement in those days.

A very great girl w/ a dragon tatoo Nevada
A very great girl w/ a dragon tattoo (really)  crossing Nevada

If you have pictures or longer comments that you want to send I can be reached at dspost@sbcglobal.net Please don’t send anything that you don’t want reused in a larger project. I’m new to this, so apologies in advance for any mistakes I make.

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about what I’ve been up to for the last 37 years. You can look me up on LinkedIn. I’m still working as a film editor at Warner Brothers

. I may live on until I long for this time in which I am so unhappy and remember it fondly -From the Japanese translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Scan 

On hearing Richard Cook had died-

Last I saw Richard was in 1977 at his place just outside of Santa Rosa. We were friends for a long time but had a falling out over a stolen Volvo. I didn’t drive for Richard, I drove with him on Lester Rall’s buses. We went to his place in Maine a couple of times before it burned down- met his pig ‘Hamsteak’ On our first cross-country trip from SF to NYC we dropped all the passengers and decided to light out for Maine- we had a major breakdown and ended up sitting in the South Bronx -right across from Yankee Stadium- for 2 days until we could get parts. Limped back home and Peerless Oakland rebuilt the engine. We had some amazing adventures. About 8months after our first trip Richard used the insurance money from the loss of his house to buy his own bus- he brought a few friends down from Maine and they moved into the warehouse in Hunter’s Point. Richard and Reeny (?) stayed in a studio apartment on the GG park panhandle, and we also kept one or two buses parked up there. One of his friends, Peter Frantz, bought his own bus and we made many trips together. After Richard’s bus was torched in Jamaica Bay. He and I made one last trip together in Peter’s bus. One of our passengers lost it and we had to pull him stark naked out of a freezing river in Miami, OK. When the split happened between Richard and Lester I drove for both the guys from Maine, excepting Richard, as well as Jody, John Durham, Miles and sometimes w/ Lester – most of the time w/ Peter. I never owned a bus outright, but loaned Peter $3000 to rebuild his. He paid me back and I used that and the money I’d earned driving to move to Europe and go to grad school. Peter Frantz is the CEO of Maine Entertainment. John Durham is working as a trucker in Portland.

I’ve added snippets from songs we played while traveling. Always in italics.

James and Peter
James and Peter

Lately it occurres to me 
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
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18 thoughts on “The Gray Rabbit

  1. I took the rabbit for the first time in 1975 from NYC to Berkeley
    I was 17
    The memories are clouded but I know for sure I lived in Eugene with a big red haired guy named Jim that was a mechanic and driver and Andy and his girlfriend I don’t think they had anything to do with the bus
    Ill write more latter just want to be part of the conversation maybe reconnect with people Mark

  2. Hello out there…
    My name is Mark, and I drove for the Gray Rabbit from June/75 to Jan/76.
    I don’t remember anyone named JD, who drove at that time, can you fill me in with some more details?
    Mark Schweble is right about the tall red haired guy who was a driver and later self taught mechanic. Jim and I drove from SF to NYC a few times. He was a nice guy, and had a sister who also worked at the ride center on Hugo Street near Golden Gate Park in SF.
    I had just completed a tractor trailer course and received my class 1 license.
    I was living on Divisadero and Haight, in San Francisco.
    In the flat above ours, was a guy named Rick who was a driver, he introduced me to Lester, and from there I began driving for the Rabbit.
    It was a blast, and I still drive a bus today, but not an alternative service.
    I remember a wonderful women who I have lost contact with named ILA.
    She loved photography, and took many pictures of the Rabbit trips.
    If you can find her, you’ll have plenty of photos to share.
    I remember she was from Idaho.
    Keep in touch,
    Mark

  3. I’m the guy who apparently started the comments flowing with a comment about the Gray Rabbit almost 6 years ago over at the Cambridge Chronicle blog. It’s been great reading all the recollections about all the people associated with the Gray Rabbit – drivers, passengers, and everyone else. I was only a passenger, but I did spend a week in 1974 at the end of the ride with Lester, Wendy, and a bunch of others in Eugene whose names I’ve forgotten. As you can see, it left an impression. I’m glad this random little Internet post has helped to reconnect people.

  4. Rode the rabbit from SF to NYC in the summer of 81′.The guys from Maine were running the trip.We made an unplanned visit to the grand canyon for two days.I was living on a communal farm in Mendocino at the time.I was traveling with an orange cat in a cage,bringing it back east for my sister.

  5. 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.

  6. I just discovered this blog site…..and am so glad I did. My wife of 30 years (who is 8+ years younger) claims I never told her about my epic ride on the Gray Rabbit back in the Fall of 1979 from NYC to San Francisco. I will return here later this week to tell the whole tale….need to dig up more detailed memories from that week more than 35 years ago. My wife, Clare thought I was fabricating the entire Gray Rabbit bus story! Ha!

  7. I have a few pictures and many great memories of my ride to SF from NYC in August 75 or 76. I’ll check the dates and work on sending the pictures.

  8. 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!

  9. A good friend (Betty) and I rode the Grey Rabbit in the summer of 1975 after our sophomore year in college, We left from NYC having first purchased our tickets a couple of weeks beforehand in a seedy and very tiny office in Manhattan. Our tickets cost $50.00 each to get us to Colorado which was to be our first stop in this cross-country adventure. Tickets to go all the way to California were $65.00 as I recall. We showed up on a sidewalk outside of Madison Square Garden on the appointed day where others had gathered. Up until that point we were hopeful but not entirely sure that an actual bus was going to show up…such was the strangeness of the “ticket office” that didn’t seem quite real.

    Soon, our bus did appear. The group of us piled onto an old bus that looked pretty great to us inside. There were two front rows of bus seats remaining but the rest had all been pulled out and the space was fitted with mattresses. With shoes off, we all staked out our spots, organized sleeping bags and other necessities and then commenced getting to know each other. I wish I could remember the names of our terrific group of fellow travelers.
    I do remember there were two guys on the trip who filmed the entire experience as their plan was to make a movie of the journey. Whether they accomplished this goal, I don’t know. But somewhere out in the world, there still may be a lot of footage from this particular trip. I also remember two college age girls who had dropped out of school and who were moving to Santa Barbara where they hoped to get jobs working in a bakery with an ultimate goal of opening their own bakery.

    There was another guy I remember named Jim H. He lived in Santa Rosa California and was taking the bus back home after having been in Europe. We got friendly so when Betty and I finally made it to California we met up with him again. I remember him meeting us in San Francisco on his Honda motorcycle.

    I only remember having one bus driver on this trip and I can’t remember his name…great guy…. quite a bit older than the rest of us. I think he was from Missouri which is in fact where our bus broke down one day and where we were happily stranded for a couple of days as a result.
    I have a great photo of all the guys on the trip standing behind the broken down bus and pushing it off the road as the driver steered it to a safer spot.

    We spent our days hanging out in a nearby park each day while the bus was getting repaired and this was tremendous fun. No one cared the trip was delayed. We just continued to get to know one another, played music, had impromptu picnics where we shared food and just generally goofed around.
    We were however all in desperate need of a shower at this point. The employees of the shop where the bus was being repaired let us use their water hoses to wash up. That some of the group of us stripped completely out of all their clothes I think stunned the employees although they were too polite to say anything.

    I remember that I had great conversations with my fellow passengers, learned how to play different card games, shared books and food, listened to music and was amazed by all the new sights flying by outside the bus windows from places I had never been before. I couldn’t believe my luck that I was on the coolest bus ever with a great group of like-minded young adventurers.

    By the time we got to Colorado, Betty and I didn’t want to leave but we had the rest of our trip planned so off we went amidst hugs and goodbyes and promises to keep in touch. We were quite literally dropped off on the side of a road in Denver. Part two of our adventure was about to commence.

    I have trays of slides (remember those?) from this trip. I will have to dig them out and figure out how to send them in…they are quite a paean to early 1970s alternative cross-country traveling.

    Betty and I are still friends…she lives in Oregon and I live in Boston now but whenever we do get together we almost always spend some time reminiscing about our Grey Rabbit journey. That we were two 19 year old young women in the mid-70s undertaking this particular kind of adventure (and that our parents let us go) seems remarkable to me from my much older vantage point today. We trusted that this trip would be great and safe and perfect and it was. We had dutifully read our Jack Kerouac but it wasn’t the same as having had a book like On The Road but written from a female perspective. The Cheryl Strayed’s of the world were not known to us then. This trip on the Grey Rabbit was by far one of the best life experiences I have ever had. It’s great to have this website to document and share our experiences and to remember a very special era in travel.

    • Wow! Great commentary. You really captured a lot of the alternative bus experience in your posting. Thanks so much for sharing. My first experience was a trip from Boston to SF in 1980 but we ended up deviating to West Virginia to take in the Rainbow Gathering with hopes of getting a few more fares on board. No one minded, we were all having such a great time.

  10. 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.

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