Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Epic Bus Trip of 1973

A couple of tweets between old friends and thus a blog is born.  It was the summer of 1973.  I was 17 years old, training my ass off for fall cross country, when an opportunity came to make a trip to see my oldest sister Dianne in San Diego, California.  Dianne was getting hitched to Bob Throop.   She had met Bob while he served in the Army and she was working for the Selective Service, AKA, the Draft. 

The lovebirds had moved out to California to Bob's hometown where he returned to college after his time was finished with Uncle Sam and Dianne eventually landed a job with the U.S. Navy.  So somewhere along the line it was decided that I would take the bus from Lawrence to San Diego for their wedding.  Bus travel was super cheap comapred to flying.  My memory as to the cost is long gone but I know it was less than $100.  My middle sister Karen was to fly in later for the big event.

The bus trip was monumental with very little sleep.  I was carrying this ancient acoustic guitar to San Diego for Bob.  Somewhere along the road I met a hippie who tried to play the guitar.  I certainly couldn't and he barely could.  But he did have some marvelous marijuana and we took turns heading back to the bathroom in the back of the bus to light up.  I was pretty stoned when we hit Phoenix as the sun was coming up.  The only other thing I remember was how freaking hot Arizona was.  The bus was poorly air conditioned.

It took about 36 hours but I arrived in San Diego by late Saturday afternoon.  Bob and Dianne lived in a cramped apartment in a so-so part of San Diego.  I've got to give my brother-in-law to be credit.  He kept me entertained.  We went to a Dodgers-Padres game which meant to world to me.  I was a huge Dodger fan and had never seen them play in person.  In fact, it's the only time I've ever seen them play.  I remember Al Downing was pitching for L.A. and a rookie named Dave Winfield was playing the outfield for the Padres. 

The next night we saw an NFL exhibition game.  The Chargers had just acquired the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Johnny Unitas.  Sitting on the bench was a soon to be NFL great, rookie QB Dan Fouts.  I don't even remember the Chargers' opponent.  All I remember is that Unitas looked really old and the Chargers played really bad.

Bob also kept me well supplied with beer.  When your 17 beer is about as good as it gets.  I remember a tremendous shrimp dinner and I think I nearly drove poor Bob and Dianne out of their apartment because of all the gas I was passing. 

The trip came with a twist.  The twist that was the push behind this blog.  One of my best friends, Mark Booth, was staying in San Francisco for a couple of weeks with his older brother David Booth.  David worked for Wells Fargo.  Somehow I was invited to spend a few days with David and Mark as part of this cross country adventure.

While in San Diego Mark got word to me that David was going to have to leave town so if I was going to come up for a visit, I'd better come now.  Now I was in a pickle.  The wedding was still a couple of days away.   The choice was San Francisco or the wedding.  Then there was the matter of Karen joining us in the already cramped apartment.  In my 17-year-old mind it made perfect sense to choose San Francisco.  I'm not sure to this day what Bob and Dianne thought of my decision.  Looking back, it was a dick move, but it's in the past and I get along great with both so go figure.

Part of the reason I took off early is that I thought I would spend a day in Los Angeles.  But those plans quickly went out the window.  I took one step outside of the downtown Los Angeles bus station and saw skid row heaven.  It was more than this boy from Kansas could handle so I stepped back in the depot and hopped on the next bus headed to San Francisco.  Unfortunately it was not an express bus.  The bus made stop after stop up the Pacific coast.  I didn't land in San Francisco until just after midnight.

Somehow my suitcase hadn't made it onto the right bus.  So I quickly found a cabbie who gave me a Steve McQueen style taxi ride jumping the hills of San Francisco to David's apartment near Fisherman's Wharf.  Mark quickly informed me that David's palatial bachelor's pad cost an ungodly $1,000 a month. 

The next morning Mark and I made the trek back to the bus station to pick up my wayward suitcase.  On the way out of the bus station a hippie stopped us and promised us an incredible high if we would just join him in his apartment.  We politely refused his invitation and headed back to David's pad.  The two biggest highlights I remember is playing tennis with Mark in a park not far from Lombard Street.  San Francisco, even in the dreary 70's, was a beautiful city.  I also remember David buying me the best shrimp dinner I ever ate.  The fun was over all too soon and I was back on a bus for a marathon trip back to Kansas.

I want to point out a couple of things about Mark and David.  Mark went on to join MTV on the ground floor, started MTV Europe and ran it before running BSkyB for Rupert Murdoch and then NetJets Europe for Warren Buffett.  Mark retired a couple of years ago.  David run's his own mutual fund company in Texas.  As mentioned in my previous blog, they built, along with their sister Jane, the Booth Family Hall of Fame at K.U.'s Allen Field House.

The trip back was even more monotonous than the journey to Southern California.  I remember hitting Reno in the early morning hours.  The sun came up as we headed across the Nevada desert and the landscape was mind-numbing.  By the time we hit the Rockies it was pitch black so the incredible scenery that the mountains would have offered were veiled in darkness.

We arrived in Denver well before dawn.  A hippie got on our super crowded bus and sat next to me.  We talked and talked and laughed and laughed and laughed. I think we were both so exhausted we found everything funny, but the bus driver and weary passengers didn't. In St. Francis, Kansas the driver ordered the two of us off the bus and told us to wait 15 minutes for a baggage bus that was following us.

So the hippie and I were the lone passenger on this stinky, smelly bus, filled with the overflow of baggage. By the time we hit Oberlin, the rest of the hippies had decided to join us on our smelly fun bus. The hippie I was with and another hippie shared some peyote. I was curious but knew better. By the time we were nearing Lawrence my hippie companion asked me if I could hold onto his Fender Stratocaster while he looked for permanent lodgings. I agreed and when I got off the bus in Lawrence I carried both a suitcase and a guitar, just like I did when I had left.

It took at least a couple of weeks before my hippie friend came by the house to pick up his baby blue Strat. I never saw him again. I don't remember getting a lot of grief for skipping the wedding. If I did, I've blocked it from my memories. Despite my boorish behavior, it was an epic trip.

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