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.

2019 comment- I’ve been approached by a production company- Topspin Content – that’s interested in making a documentary about the Rabbit – if you have and pictures or stories they’d be interested.To speak  w/ Topspin contact eddie@topspincontent.com. If you have any great stories from the day they might well be interested. They are especially interested in anything on film- maybe some people had an 8mm camera.

Please keep the stories and pictures coming for this blog.

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.

1983

Marc Daquila 

I drove the Grey Rabbit for the four years while attending chiropractic school in portland OR (79-83). Every friday afternoon a driver would come down from seattle and a group of 20 or so people would be gathered around the ride center chick (my gf meg) who put posters up around town and took calls. We’d all hop on, wave goodbye to meg and pick up more folks in Eugene. Soon we’ld stop for a soak in a huge hot springs in the national forest and arrive in Bezerkly then SF at the haight before noon. The return trip included a swim in shasta lake getting me to ptld before, usually, my first class. This run was a natural follow on from the early days where Lester, a very cool but sometimes misunderstood fellow started it all by bringing the east coasters out west to begin with in school buses and later retired LA diesel 4-speed coaches. There was also “another grey rabbit” and the green tortoise, still operating (legitimately) today. If stopped we were just a bunch of friends camping, although I did spend a night in jail in Eugene once. There were so many experiences we all had in those days that I can only recount a few. For thanksgiving we has 2 buses going south to san fran and mine (my favorite mission trails) conked out and we had to put all 87 people and all their luggage in Don’s bus for the final 4 hours. I ended up succeeding in bleeding the air out of the fuel line and ended up passing Don’s bus an hour from the finish line. Imagine an empty bus with all the curtains flapping in the wind with an open door cruising by in the pleasantly hot california sun. Don decided to just get there and not put our folks through any more roadside attractions. Another time Iwoke up (in the drivers bunk) in eastern OR, after driving most of the night on a x-country run. When I returned from the truck stop facilities the bus was gone heading east without me ( it was assumed that I was still crashed). I had to get a fast ride to overtake the bus and hopped on after flagging them down. This was all done without cell phones. Imagine making dropoffs at 15 different places and arranging to meet 2 weeks later without cell phones. I’m sure there are storiesof forgotten passengers but none of ours were nor were there any injuries. A good time was definitely had by all.

Julie Dolan

Rode the Grey Rabbit back from the West Coast to NYC late July 1983. Heading home after a backpacking trip up in the Canadian Rockies. A lively group of Rajneeshpurum folks were on the bus. I remember a young girl, Ayesha. She must be around 40 now.
We stopped at a hot springs and what I thought was called Voodyroos State Park, but can’t seem to find it on google. Great way to travel across the country. I’m sending a photo:

grey rabbit 1983

Mark Fisette 

I drove for Green Tortoise 1982-1985 “Cowboy” was my nick name great times, loved those days…..

1982

Grey Rabbit 7

Kevin

My name is Kevin Jennings from Fairfield, CT. I had just gotten discharged from the Navy in Hawaii and had to fly back to CT to bury my Dad in November 1981. By early January 1982, I had about $130 left to get back to Hawaii. The Grey Rabbit would at least get me to my Aunt’s house in LA for $90. About 10 of us were picked up next to Madison Square Garden on an overcast and frigid afternoon. The mattresses and floor boards were lifted up to stow our bags under and then replaced. We settled in for a 3 day trip across America. The front of the bus had 2 rows of seats, then mattresses all the way to the back where a pair of bunk beds made an aisle to the private crew’s quarters at the back. I landed just forward of the bunk beds and made friends with the folks within earshot. There were no music boxes, so some weed and a guitar set the mood and the highway sounds lulled us to sleep. I made an acquaintance with a lovely girl named something from somewhere. There was just enough privacy to get to know each other well. There was a dog wearing a bandana whose best friend in the world was anyone eating. Dog’s owner was one of the friendly drivers. The driver sported a beard 35 years ago back when the last time beards were in. The driver also had his lovely wife and an adorable girl named something who could somehow move up and down the bus without stepping on anyone, a skill that the dog did not have.

I have no recollection of the 2nd day but I’m sure it happened, probably more weed and guitar. I do remember stopping in a rest stop for dinner and I somehow found a shower, then another night’s sleep as America slipped under the magic bus. I have to say that being able to lie down is the only way to travel. Sitting for hours and hours is not comfortable and given the choice I still go horizontal.

We stopped in St. Louis and picked up a few more passengers including a beautiful and very friendly girl from Haiti. The other passenger I remember was a guy that could juggle. Anytime we stopped, he would start juggling which is always a crowd pleaser. I remember after one stop we were some miles up the remembered that the little girl was left behind. A U-turn and a joyful reunion and we back on the road. We hit some deep snow over the Rockies and stopped to help a car that had run off the road.

Our last stop before LA was in Barstow, CA just after sunset, where we loaded up on bottles of liquor to augment our weed to sustain us through the dangerous desert crossing. Our desert crossing was a little different from the group of Oakies in the movie “The Grapes of Wrath”. Grandma didn’t die and our agricultural products were not inspected. We did however have a fine party culminating in none of your business. Me and another passenger were dropped off in LA and the Grey Rabbit continued north to San Francisco and out of my life.

I’ll never forget that trip. Good people of all ages and from all walks of life treating each other with respect and friendship, sharing food, drink, weed and stories across a beautiful country. I doubt the Grey Rabbit could operate today, however myself and thousands of others are grateful that it did for so many years. Thank you to all of the people that made that singular experience possible.

Grey Rabbit 9 Grey Rabbit 8 Grey Rabbit 6

Steve

I took the grey rabbit (although the “t” was missing) from SF to Buffalo via Seattle in August 1982. We went via Seattle to pick up 14 kids from a Haarlem theatre group with their teacher (who was ill with cancer) and the love family who were involved with looking after them. The crew were Bob, Don and Doc. The trip was the best single trip I have made (and I’ve cycled from London to China). It finished with Doc being arrested in Ohio with the bus being surrounded by a dozen armed police and the kids singing love songs.

If you know the story behind Doc’s arrest I would love to hear it. If you would like to hear more about my trip I can send you details along with one or two photos

 

1981

RJH  

Mardi Gras 1981, 7 Rabbit (Cookie and Carla, not you Lester) and Tortoise buses behind the Brewery in Jackson Square circle-parked wagon train style, speakers blaring, dancing and partying into the morning listening to Jim Carroll “All the People Who Died, died, they were all my friends, no wonder they died.”
I woke up passed out on the tracks, nitrous burns on one hand and a bottle of Tangueray in the other. Perfect candidate to get rolled, but my karma was in the black and I lived to sip and sup another cafe au lait and beignet.

Todd 

I drove the Grey Rabbit back in 1981-82. Cookie showed me how to drive the bus one morning in Iowa, heading into the big red sun coming up over the steamy cornfields. Love you Cookie! That was the beginning of my Big Adventure in Life, which is still going on even though I have respectable jobs now. Yes, drivers drove 12 hour shifts. The drivers’s bunk got lots of action. Besides teaching me to drive large motor vehicles, Cookie also showed me how to pick up girls.
The whole thing came to an end in New York City. Cookie and Lester were both using the Grey Rabbit name, but Lester had a secret weapon. At the pickup point by Penn Station our bus was mobbed by beautiful, young and very angry German girls wearing purple pajamas – disciples of the Baghwan – and Lester! you dont know what a cult is about until you’ve had to face the hippy furies.
I am so glad to read you are well, or at least were back in 2007, Cook. Take care and God bless, hope our paths will cross one more time…

Keith 

Caught grey rabbit SFO to seattle 1981,remember Yukon jack bourbon,Paul Masson wine n hit springs in Oregon.most travelers were heading to rainbow peace festival in Washington state.stayed with Kathy in Seattle,an employee of the grey rabbit company,great memories !

Jerry Liebrandt

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.

1980

Margita Persson

Hi! I was traveling with the Grey rabbit bus 1980 from New york to Los Angeles. I had came from Sweden, traveling alone ,only 19 ears old. John Lennon was recently shot. I´m glad i found this page! I have some photos, and i often think about this big trip i did in your country. A lot of things happen along this journey. I remember that one girl had her dog run over and we had to take it in the luggage, and we forgot one passenger at a rest stop and had to go back and pick her up. She sat under a palm tree waiting for us. And we pick´t up hitchhikers along the way too. They had guitars and played for us. I remember a lot of things! Do you want to see the pictures and hear more?

Yes! -James

Kevin Kovarik 
I took the Grey Rabbit in 1980 from NY to SF although I had a ticket to Seatle. I met the bus it was parked across the street from the George Washington Bridge bus terminal. There were 2 drivers one guy had a blonde hair and beard and was a school teacher that wasn’t teaching at the time. The other driver had brown shoulder lenght hair and a mustache and I do remember something about him being a carpenter.We couldn’t leave NY right away because we took a vote to wait for some late passengers , a couple and their dog , they might of had children. The drivers after takin attendance said they would pay for the wine and we would pay for our food nd we went across the stret to an Italian restaurant to kill time until the late passengers arrived. well they never made it and off we went.The bus was a Blue and white 1956 GMC diesel with a goofey lookin running rabbit on both sides. The inside was converted like a camper , diner type boothes that turned into beds , an open communal area with matresses and cushions in the back and 2 bench type seats on both sides by the driver. There were some very memorable things that happened. The drivers decided that we would take a more southerly route because it was November to avoid any chance of hitting snow.One thing that happened was in Tennessee (Memphis I think) we stopped in the State University to use the gymnasium showers apparently this was done before. Well I was the first one back to the bus only to find there were security with the dean and other faculty by the bus watching me come forward. I drawing on the little bit of the Czeck language that I knew told them I didn’t speak english.The drivers came out with the rest of the 18 passengers and told the Dean e were a bunch of students traveling across country and we were in need of showers. The Dean seemed delighted that we stopped there and told us to come back.Later on in the trip after picking up this hitch hiker in New Mexico Who left his successful life (wife and kids) to live in the mountains of New Mexico we went to Zion National Park in Southern Utah. We got there in the nightime and we woke up inside this beautiful natural ampnitheater at sunrise. Some of us then went on to climb one of the most beautiful rock formations Angels Landing 8735 feet high. In California we got pulled over by California HWY Patrol. We and the driver was feeling no pain and the Blonde bearded driver was sleepin , The 2 drivers switched places and the cop is at the door.We know to tell the cop that we are not paying passengers (Grey Rabbit only had permits for Cal. Or.and WA)That cop tried his hardest to get one of us to slip up but we didn’t. The driver was pulled off the bus into the cop car. The driver returned later with a speeding ticket fo 70 in 55. That bus couldn’t do 70 downhill with a tail wind. Oh I forgot to mention we stopped in Las Vegas for a couple of hours. We went down coast Hwy 1 stopped at Pismo Beach , Big Sur , Contemplated using Esalens baths but didn’t. We stopped and camped in Julia Pfiefer state park overnight and went on to SF the next day. Oh yea we stopped in Santa Cruz where a guy came up to the bus and offered some mushrooms to sell. In SF we went to the SOMA hotel (hostel) That night we went to Braodway for Chinese food and decided to catch some live music , Iggy Pop was sold out across from where we went in to see from Brooklyn The Mud Dogs (hardcore) I grew tired of the scene and went back to the SOMA hotel. If any of this sounds familiar to you then we were on the same trip.It was supposed to take 3 days but it took 6.The bus broke down we needed to improvise on a fuel filter gasket wich was made from styrofoam.There was a guy named Udo from Germany , A girl from SF who was the president of the SF vegatarian Society her name was Edie , there was a couple from NH Dave and Julie Morningstar , some one from France , Italy, and a bunch of great fun people who I can’t remember thier name.
RJ
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.
Will 

I rode the Rabbit in the summer of 1980 from NYC to Berkley. The bus was an ex-Passaic – Athena and said “MT HEALTHY” on the destination sign. As we were leaving Manhattan the driver said “this bus has 1970 air conditioning – we roll down all nineteen windows and drive seventy.”
I started talking to a couple girls from Long Island. One seemed to like me until I said I liked Zappa – she resented the song Jewish Princess. She wound up seducing one of the bus drivers and they disappeared back into the sleeping cubby.
No one seemed to have weed (and alcohol was strongly discouraged to avoid pee breaks), but starting somewhere in the midwest a friend and I sampled some purple microdot and were coming down just as we hit the hot springs. Priceless.
Leaving Tahoe where the road gets a little scary with a steep drop on the right we blew a rear tire. All us guys had to help wrestle the spare out from under the mattresses and swap it with the flat.

Chris 

I rode the Grey Rabbit – or the Green Tortoise, can’t remember which – from somewhere in Montana to NYC sometime during the summer of 1980. I’d been hitch-hiking east, not very efficiently, and was running out of money.

So I had about $15 in my pocket when I got let out at a truck stop, then headed over towards the “hippie bus” I’d seen on the highway earlier. I couldn’t afford the $50 ticket but they let me on anyway, and I was in heaven – platforms, mattresses, sleeping bags, interesting people to talk to (including my future girl-friend).

The two drivers would take turns – one would drive and play an endless selection of Dylan et al tapes, the other would sleep in a cubby-hole in the very back of the bus.

At some point we stopped at a big lake in MN to swim and basically wash up, and I ended up rescuing a passenger who was having trouble swimming back to shore. That earned my ticket, according to the driver

We eventually made it to Grand Central, at which point my new girl-friend and I headed south to Maryland (my parents’) and DC (her parents’), respectively.

This all seems like several generations ago, needless to say!

I worked in Kendall Square for many years and just a couple of years ago, saw a Gray Rabbit (or Green Tortoise  parked on a side-street. This brought back a rush of memories because it looked very much like it did back then. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

 

?

Just came across this site. I came across as a little girl with my sister and dad back in 80 or 81. My folks were friends with the owner and drivers. We packed all our belongings on the rabbit in Maine and it took us to Sonoma California. Every time I smell exhaust I remember that trip. The bunks, the drivers taking turns at the wheel. And watching the sights out my tiny toddler eyes. Names that come to mind, Cookie, Rusty, Ricky to name a few. I wonder what happened to all of them. Rusty was a big sweet bear of a man.

1979

 

Paul

I started on my big OE from New Zealand in 1979 where I lived for most of that year. I used the Grey Rabbit 3 times from memory. The last time was from San Francisco to NYC. I well remember buying my bus ticket from a Mad Hatter’s shop in San Francisco and picking up the bus at Berkley University, I think.. I remember getting on the bus and lying down, as there were no seats, and loved the driver’s initial welcoming speech, and his No Smoking….tobacco that is…diatribe. I sat beside a guy , Tom, who was weird and stopped the bus in the middle of the Arizona desert in the dark to get off and wander into oblivion!! I loved the sign at the back of the coach for heterosexual couples to have a wee ‘lie down’ in private , and enjoyed the food sharing, nude swims to have a wash. I think it was that trip that a dog accompanied us as well. Our bus had Paris on the front but we didn’t quite make that. ‘ I’ll hunt out my old photos and add it .

Loved the trip, loved the concept and loved the fellow travellers. It sure was a special time in my life. Thanks!!

Jeff

Probably 1978 + 1979.

I have more memories I could share of rides fun and scary, my
co-drivers, some passengers, Lester’s unfortunate eccentricities
and just-plan-fun ones.

But I’m about to be off the grid for the rest of April. I would
be glad to contribute things, some of which you may find of value,
but I can’t work the time until May.

It was fun to find your project. Best wishes and

Vaya con carne,
el jefe

“You’re only young once. But you can be immature FOREVER.”
— Larry Andersen, relief pitcher, Seattle Mariners.

 

 

The Year of the Grey Rabbit

by Timothy LedwithIn 1979, as the U.S. became embroiled in the events that would develop into the current political climate, one man set out in search of America. Today, he remembers who he—and the country—were.
Credit: Timothy Ledwith

For the counterculture of late-1970s America—including latecomers like me, who had missed out on the original wild ride of the ’60s—the Grey Rabbit was the “hippie bus” of choice.

Not to be confused with its straight-laced cousin, the Greyhound, the Grey Rabbit was the most successful of many alternative bus lines that were based in northern California and the Pacific Northwest in those days. Born of the wandering spirit of Kerouac and Kesey, the Rabbit was sustained by a generation of stoners in need of cheap, weed-friendly transportation. For a fare of $75 per passenger, the vintage bus sprinted along the full length of Interstate 80 between San Francisco and New York City. To keep white-line fever at bay, the bus’s two drivers took the wheel in alternating eight-hour shifts.

In the autumn of 1979, I rode the Grey Rabbit back home to New York after hitchhiking 3,000 miles to the West Coast. Four years earlier, my escape from a stifling childhood on Staten Island had been made possible by admission to the state university in Albany. My academic career eventually fizzled out, but I fell in with a community of kindred spirits in Albany’s inner city and began to make a life for myself there.

I spent the summer of ’79 working on a house-painting job with my friend Jay. Like most of my Albany comrades, Jay was older than me and had come of age at the height of the Vietnam War and civil rights protests. His horn-rimmed glasses were perpetually speckled with paint from the 19th-century row houses he artfully restored.

In July of that year, while Jay and I scraped and repainted old bricks baked from Hudson Valley clay, portentous events were playing out halfway around the world. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was formally taking power as head of state. In Afghanistan, tensions were building toward an impending Soviet invasion in December. In Iran, the newly victorious Islamic revolution was consolidating its grip on power. Our own country quickly became entangled in these events, and entangled it remains. If these were warnings, we didn’t heed them. And I certainly wasn’t listening—in all my naïve, 21-year-old glory, I only heard America calling.

Overly egalitarian as a boss, Jay paid me more than he probably should have that summer. My living expenses were absurdly low, and by the time the house-painting season wound down in September, I was feeling flush.

With three months’ cash wages to burn, I set out for California via a route mapped according to the whereabouts of any friends, relatives, or vague acquaintances with whom I might crash along the way. In this circuitous fashion, I reached San Francisco in about three weeks.

To a city kid who had only seen the West in the movies, the trip was a revelation. Even Cinemascope, I realized, crammed that vast expanse into a constricting frame. Revelatory, as well, was the openness and hospitality of virtually everyone I met.

They asked us to take our shoes off to keep the mattresses clean and the vibe mellow. We readily complied.

Admittedly, the people who gave me rides out of their way and put me up for the night were a self-selecting group of freethinkers, while a majority of clean-cut Americans surely would have had nothing to do with my scraggily kind. And yet, at that brief moment in time—just a few years after the end of a long, divisive war and the downfall of an arrogant, felonious president—it seemed possible that America had learned something about peace, justice, and even love, and would begin to act accordingly.

This was a beautiful hope.

 By the time I left San Francisco on the Grey Rabbit, heading home, it was mid-October of 1979. I got an early start on the day of my departure, because I had heard that the Rabbit operated on a highly approximate schedule—no surprise there—and I didn’t want to miss it.

Strapping on my well-worn backpack, I checked a street map and began hiking toward the intersection where the bus began its weekly run. I paused at a traffic light after a few blocks, and a lanky blond kid ambled up to me, holding out his hand in greeting. The kid wore faded army fatigues and had an overstuffed duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

“Hey man, you lookin’ for the Grey Rabbit?” he asked. “Me too!”

I returned Duffel Boy’s bro-style handshake, though not very enthusiastically. He had the air of a shaggy dog who might knock you to the ground in his eagerness to buddy up, so I tried to keep my distance. Still, out of all the vagabonds on all the street corners in Haight-Ashbury, he had somehow profiled me as a fellow ticket holder on the hippie bus. We walked together the rest of the way.

The Rabbit wasn’t hard to spot. Parked on a nondescript side street, the bus was resplendent with psychedelic filigrees and, if memory serves, Day-Glo peace signs painted on both sides.

We mingled on the sidewalk with about 20 other assorted but uniformly disheveled passengers, then formed a ragtag line for boarding. Once inside, we saw that the coach had been stripped of everything except the driver’s seat, and mattresses were laid end-to-end along the entire length of the floor.

The flannel-shirted drivers counted out the small bills that most of us used to pay our way. I don’t remember their names, but before long we were calling them Cheech and Chong. They asked us to take our shoes off in order to keep the mattresses clean and the vibe mellow. We readily complied.

During a final engine check, the drivers made earnest incantations over the open hood but didn’t adjust a single belt or hose. And then we were off. The bus immediately filled up with a haze of incense and marijuana smoke that would persist until we pulled up outside the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan, three and a half days later.

 Though the Grey Rabbit was known for making a straight shot from coast to coast, there were a couple of selected detours off Route 80. One of them took us to a hot spring in a remote corner of Wyoming.

Patches of snow dotted the stark foothills around the spring, which billowed steam into the afternoon sunlight. We all piled off the bus, stripped down and gingerly waded into the deliciously hot, sulfurous bath. After relaxing every muscle, we roused ourselves for the coup de grace: a bracing splash in the cold mountain stream that ran through a nearby ravine.

Cheech and Chong sat on their haunches next to the Grey Rabbit and shared a smoke, watching us with the bemused expressions of indulgent parents. Eventually they coaxed us back onto the bus—not an easy task, as we had scattered around the vicinity in various states of ecstasy and stupor.

Soon the Grey Rabbit was moving again, its atmosphere now sober and subdued (though still smoke-filled).

The Rabbit lurched into gear and we were back on the road. It was dusk when we reached the eastbound interstate. As night fell, the world outside faded into pitch blackness and the coach lights dimmed. We bundled ourselves in sleeping bags and comforters against the chill seeping in through the leaky windows. A Grateful Dead tune—“Sugar Magnolia”—played low on the driver’s cassette deck, and we began to doze off.

Then from the darkness a plaintive voice asked no one in particular, “Yo, where’s that tall guy?”

I sat up and peered around, stomach knotting when I realized it was true: Duffel Boy was gone. I still regret my snobbery in rebuffing his harmless overtures. Had we bonded, I would have noticed his absence earlier, before we left him alone at the hot spring.

The bus pulled over and the lights came on when word of our missing passenger reached the drivers. We commiserated on the best course of action and agreed that going back would be pointless—it would take another two hours, and Duffel Boy already might have hitched a ride. Instead, Cheech and Chong would steel themselves to notify the state police at the next rest stop, and the cops would have to take it from there.

Soon the Grey Rabbit was moving again, its atmosphere now sober and subdued (though still smoke-filled). We got back under our wraps, but none of us would sleep well that night. The next day would be my 22nd birthday. I decided to keep it to myself.

Out of the heavy silence, the same voice that had raised the alarm about Duffel Boy’s disappearance sent one more missive into the void:

“I hope the poor dude had his boots on.”

Two weeks later, on Nov. 4, 1979, a group of radical Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking scores of hostages and holding them for more than a year. The hostage crisis discredited Jimmy Carter, contributing directly to his 1980 election defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan’s conservative coalition—which, in turn, begat the resurgence of the hard right and all that has followed in its wake.

My fellow travelers and I didn’t know it that night in Wyoming, but the Grey Rabbit was carrying us headlong into an ominous new landscape of political and cultural backlash. It was almost morning in America, and soon enough, we, too, would be out in the cold.

aron pieman kay

high i rode the rabbitt 3 times….i did the nyc-mardi gras 1978 trip; july 1978 nyc to sf and the xmas 1979 nyc-sf trip….i enjoyed them all!!! met all sorts of folks from everywhere and i would do it again!!! i still recall peter….i met him on the 1978 mardi gras trip and i saw him in san luis obispo at a demonstration protesting the nuke plant at diablo canyon….ironically peter came by my crib in the east village to buy some weed….i sold him a generous amount…soon i did the christmas nyc-sf trip….it was fun for sure!!!

1978

Steven

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.

Coleen

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.

 

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.

 

Hunter Gatherer 

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.

 

Jeff

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.

 

1977

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Marc 

Took the Grey Rabbit from NYC to SF Summer of ’77 and again Spring ’78. $69 / 69 hrs. In ’77 the bus broke down in Wyoming but some very cool freak in a blue school bus gave us all a ride. Sat next to the driver going down the Sierras deciding which turn to break on and which to coast ’cause there sure wasn’t enough brake left to use on all of ‘em. Opened a bottle of Jack and passed it around as we finally arrived in SF. A record for the most people bumming a ride at once?

Danny, Sloan, Linn, Daphna – any of you ever happen upon this, reply here. I’ll check in once in a while… or just ask around if you’re in Telluride

  • I was the driver on the Wyoming trip. I was sleeping on a shelf over the engine when it blew up. Lester was driving.
    As far as I know, the bus is still in green river
    James (JD)

    • James,

      Ha ha ha. I live in Colorado… I should go up to Green River and look for it. Has anyone ever kept up with that guy that gave us all a ride? I recall it being a blue school bus. Tell me it wasn’t a halucination.

      Marc

       

Steven

Boarded the Rabbit , ’77 or so, at a warehouse in lower Manhattan. Rode all the way to SFran. I think it was $60 or thereabouts.

What a marvelous concept: old 50-s era bus whose seats had been removed, except the first row behind the driver. Remainder of Passenger area replaced with false floor equipped with trapdoors. Luggage went into the trapdoors; passengers rode above on big foam mattresses — with our sleeping bags, guitars, Southern Comfort, and drugs.
( Hitchhiked back to NYC, where I was making my home. )

Broke down at least twice. Didn’t stop multiple rolling romances nor mass skinny dip at a reservoir somewhere in Colorado. ‘Hard to imagine these Miley Cyrus Days we’re now living through will produce such memories. (Some of the best I carry around in my head.

But ya never know.

Bill Pannifer 

This brings back memories… took the Rabbit from SF to NYC in August 77… fare was $69 and the bus, an old Greyhound/Trailways I think, was mainly mattresses and bunks with a few seats upfront. Registered under (I think) “Church of Community Consciousness” to avoid the interstate licence. I remember bathroom and eating breaks at truckstops and a mid-trip dip into some sort of reservoir or lake… and Salt Lake City drifting by in the early morning in a stoned horizontal daze… met some great people, including Mary B (you out there anywhere?) who kindly provided a NYC crash pad at the end for myself and a couple of others… a unique trip and the nearest a naive British first-timer to the US was going to get to being “on the bus” (in the Kesey sense) in the late seventies!

Vince Ferranti

I road on the Grey Rabbit from NYC to Boulder Co. with my girlfriend and our dog to spend the summer camping. I remember one of the 2 drivers names was Captain Cookie. I think it was 1977.

Terrence Shimizu

I rode the Grey Rabbit in 1977. It cost me $40. from the N. Berkley Bart station to someplace in Ilinois. I was going to Chicago but the Grey Rabbit didn’t go there on it’s journey East so they let me off where I could thumb a ride the rest of the way . I had a lot of experience hitchin’ so I was cool with that. I was recently discharged from the Navy about a year and a half prior and about the only thing I owned was a 650 Triumph Chopper w/ a coffin gas tank on a stock ridget frame which I left w/ a friend from Laney College in Oakland. As a matter of fact we rode it to the Bart station, where he dropped me off and he rode it back home. When we arrived the drivers came over to check my bike out. I told them what my arraignment and how much it meant to me and hated to part w/ it. They actually said for $40. more they would tie somehow to the back of the Bus and take it with. I almost went for it but decided not to as I was returning to the Bay Area and did’nt want to chance being stuck w/ it in Chicago and having to leave it there. Those were priceless times filled w/ eccentric, interesting and colorful individuals along w/ a wonderfully memorable adventure unavailable for the young of today. Not to mention all the smoke, mushrooms, and wine we all shared. They also had journals that people would write things, draw pictures, or just doodle in along our journey. What ever happened to the journals. One could publish a compilation of them that could document a unique time in American history. I know I’d buy a book such as that.

James Spach 

Found some old ledgers from 1977
I think people may find them interesting.
Summer trips made between 1500-1700 each way.
Drivers were paid between 250 to 300 each way.
Winter trips would make around 1000 each way.

Scan Scan 1 Scan 2

 

 

Don

Back in the 1970s I used to work at Willow Beach Resort & Marina along the Colorado River in Arizona. The Green Tortoise bus would come down there about once a month wanting to rent some small boats from me to go upriver from there and enjoy several of the natural hot springs that are in that area (right below Hoover Dam). Whenever I would see that bus pull in I was automatically in a good mood because I knew that night I would be partying with them in our parking lot.

However, I just ran across a link to this page quite by accident and after reading about the Gray Rabbit Bus, I now think I may have missed the real party! Too bad I didn’t know ya back then 😦

 

1976

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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.

 

Katherine H.
Just idly looking through the blog about the Grey Rabbit and it brought back so many memories of such a bizarre trip – when I mention it to anyone here they hardly believe that that was how I managed to get right across the States for $65!
Anyway, I went from New York to San Fran, starting on the 14th February 1976. Arrived 17th.
According to my quite brief diary –
It was a full bus, including a woman with 2 kids, Susan (with her cat) Lynn, Jody and Debbie and I were the only females.
We travelled quite well south due to tornados, which to me coming from NZ seemed quite weird, having no experience of such weather events, so we went  through Ohio, Indiana, Illinios, Missouri, Oklahoma, Albuquerque (ran out of petrol ) Flagstaff Arizona, Barstow, Needles and San Fran.
My page of memories:
Spaced out people
A lot of smoke
Prone bodies
2 violent children
Window view
chips  and ash and cat urine
Truck stops – pancakes,
Wierded out local girls in the truckstops with beehive hair
Bare trees
Yellow flat scenery
gradual appearance of tablelands
beautiful colours – red earth, sun sets
Needles – Santa Fe train, cops
Getting dirtier day by day
Badly taped music
people jamming – guitar and mouthorgans
juggler – balls and skittles
wine flask
passing rubbish along.
It was a fun trip! Loved the Church name on the bus! Dont know who the people are in the photos – I am only in the group one, girl standing up in red jersey
Stayed in Marin County for a while and then hitched to Grand Canyon and back to SF then up to Canada and across to Quebec. Those were the days!
cheers
Great blog, good to read others’ experiences.
Katherine

1975

 

Alix

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.

 

Mark 

I rode the gray rabbit for the first Tim from NYC to SF iwas 17 in 75 I was the kid on the bus and the severs took special care of me I ended up in Eugene planting trees with drivers.

I was with my friend Eric on another ride from Eugene to NYC Eric had long red hair we both had been living in the woods for 4 months and looked it Jim was driving and pranced us at a truck stop told the waitres we were dangerous and not to give us knives and forks so we had to eat or diner with our hands and all had a great laugh

 

Elliot Margolis

In the summer of 1975, after winding up a year of teaching pre-school, I set off to travel for the summer. Hitch-hiking out of Berkeley, I caught a lucky ride with some people headed to Denver. Unfortunately, as infrequently was the case, the people made me uncomfortable. They were a bitter bunch with nothing good to say, but a steady stream of derogatory jokes. Hours later, we stopped for gas in barren desert-country on the Nevada side of the Sierras. There was a bus fueling up. There were two empty bays where cars could be worked on by mechanics and a platform alongside the bays where a curly black-haired man was incongruously sitting in a lotus position. I did a double take when I realized it was my buddy and fellow preschool teacher, Curtis!

He told me he was on his way to New York to meet his mother for a trip to Russia. He was onboard “The Grey Rabbit Bus” that catered to hippies and made weekly cross-country trips. It had rock music piped throughout the bus, and instead of seats there was one huge foam mattress. People sat with their backs against one side or the other forming a long row of alternating legs down the center. I approached the pony-tailed driver with Curtis and asked if he could take me to Casper, Wyoming. He gave his beard a tug, made a mental calculation, and asked for ten dollars.

I grabbed my stuff and got on the bus. Grey Rabbit was the “anti-Greyhound.” At one point we all piled out naked to take a refreshing dip in a lake, causing a few fishermen in scattered boats to fumble for their binoculars. Casper came much too quickly, but Curtis and I wished each other well until we’d meet again in a preschool classroom.

Peter Noble

 I rode on this bus with my mother when I was not quite ten years old – the last week of 1975, between Christmas and New Year.
We spent Christmas in San Francisco with friends of my mother’s who had converted to Islam. After non-alcoholic egg nog at breakfast, Salima’s husband took me to pray with the men at the mosque. My mother and I crossed America in the Grey Rabbit bus, an underground transcontinental service, the counterculture alternative to Greyhound; seats ripped out and replaced by mattresses and incense, joints passed carefully over my head and out of my reach, reading Watership Down as the bus drove flat out across the continent in four days. We saw the New Year in with the macrobiotic community in Boston and then joined the yoga group in Long Island, in houses so big our Cape Town flat would fit in the kitchen. We flew from New York to Bombay, travelled by train first class on the Deccan Queen to Poona and the Iyengar ashram. I leaned back into the comfort of my enormous seat in the majestic carriage, feet dangling in the air. I explored buttons in the armrest, adjusting the recline position and switching the overhead reading light on and off. I expected an in-flight movie as India flew elegantly past the window.
It’s not much, but I wasn’t quite ten years old and it was a busy week. My birthday was in Poona three weeks later!
Ted C
I rode the Grey Rabbit in late December 1975. We were heading from Eugene to the East Coast, but broke down in Boise Idaho. The bus could not be repaired. We spent a few days at the Motel 6 (I think) in Boise. Hitchhiked into town to play pool and drink Coor’s at the Bouquet Bar and Grill. Had a very nice personal encounter with a bus mate. Ah, youth.