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

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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.

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.

1970 -1974

 Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 7.55.17 AM
Truckin’ got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin’, like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.
You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel;
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’,
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.
Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurres to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on.
Hey now get back truckin’ home.
Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 5.53.21 PM
Lester Rall – Our Founder
Shepherd Ogden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked up from his book. Nothing.

“My name’s Chuck.” Still nothing.

Finally, “Teko.”

“What?”

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

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

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

“School?”

“Yeah. Your sweater…” I motioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Gram Parsons

 

 Louis

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

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

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