When I was a young boy, living in Montana, I had a recurring nightmare. In it, I was driving a sports car, something like an MG convertible, and was being chased by a school bus full of stereotypical whooping and befeathered wild Indians. We swerved back and forth up a winding mountain road in the woods. At the end of the dream, I would always turn suddenly to the right and the busload of Indians would drive off a cliff.
It is unclear where these images came from. For my entire childhood, I was restricted to one hour of PBS programming a day plus news and special events like the olympics or the moon shot. My home town in Montana was so small that I’m not sure we even had a school bus, except maybe for the kids who lived on outlying ranches. Nobody drove sports cars, and, in northeastern Montana, a convertible would be exceedingly unlikely.
My favorite thing about the dream is that I always escaped, surviving to dream again. My least favorite thing is that I did so by killing all the Indians, or at least by leading them to their deaths.
I didn’t actually ride in a school bus until junior high school. We waited for the bus on a corner at the base of a steep hill. A ways up the hill were a couple of apple trees. We would pick apples and roll them down into the intersection to be squashed by cars. At one point, someone had the clever idea of lobbing them at cars in the air. That stopped as soon as he got “lucky” and the outraged motorist slammed on his brakes and gave us all a dressing down. Then we started smuggling them on to the school bus and dropping them out of the windows on to passing cars. It is amazing that we never broke a windshield or got anyone hurt. One day, I sat in a seat that a bully wanted. When I refused to get up, he slammed the detached seat cover in front of me on to my fingers, breaking one. This is the only bone I have ever broken, and the school nurse didn’t even believe it was for several days.
I rode the public bus to the YMCA once a week for swimming lessons. I made it all the way to barracuda, which I think was the highest level. A bus ride cost $0.20. I would give the driver a quarter, and he would give me back an Indian head nickel every time. (Indians again) I don’t have any of those nickels. I probably spent them on candy.
I went to a boarding school in Vermont, which had some school buses that we used for field trips and the like. I once got kicked out of the back of one by a jerk as it was driving away.
I took the bus to Des Moines, Iowa once, thinking I might live out there. It was incredibly boring, although I did get amazing seats for a Yes concert. We decided the day of the show that we would go. We got there 15 minutes before the doors were supposed to open and bought general admission tickets. There were only a few people outside, so we walked straight up to the doors and were among the first people inside. The venue was still filling as the band took the stage.
I also took the bus all the way across the country to Portland, Oregon, to stay with friends. This was supposed to be the first leg of a trip around the world. I was in Portland for four months. I left one week before Mt. St. Helens erupted, and took a bus to San Francisco. Little vials of volcanic ash were selling for a dollar on the streets in California, and my friends in Portland were shoveling it out of their driveway. Bad timing. Two months later, I took another bus to LA. The driver got lost entering the city and a passenger had to help her find the bus station. I caught a local bus from there to Seal Beach, where I spent a couple months working at Taco Bell and sleeping under a lifeguard tower to avoid being chewed up by the machines which cruised the beach at night picking up trash. That was as far as my round the world trip went. I hitchhiked home.
Back in NJ, I rode the bus back and forth to Port Authority in NYC to go to shows, and later on to get to the subway which took me to Pratt Institute, In Brooklyn, where I went to art school.
In 1983, I took another cross-country bus trip, this time to Tucson. These trips were back in the day when I smoked cigarettes and you could smoke in the back of the bus. There was always a core group of people who got smellier and friendlier by the day. We smoked more than tobacco, and drank a bit too. There was even a bit of hanky panky (busses).
I’ve ridden the streetcar in Tucson, but never the bus, except one time when I was courting a girl who lived on the south side and I took the bus to Laos Center and walked from there. She moved in with me shortly thereafter, and I haven’t been on a local bus since.
Since then, my only bus trips have been almost exclusively tour buses in other countries, ranging from the luxurious, high security buses that are wise to take in Honduras, to the second hand, colorfully painted American school buses in Guatemala and India. In India, I took the bus from Badami, where I had seen spectacular cave temples and accidentally eaten some bad meat, which made me sick. On the trip to Margao, I could only eat the occasional potato chip for fear of nausea. At the end of the day, a few miles from our destination, the bus got a flat tire. Coincidentally, it happened right next to one of the many used tire stores along the roads of India. The driver got off the bus and talked to the proprietor for what seemed like an hour. In the end it was evident that there were no tires available of the correct size. Fortunately, because the buss had dual tires on the back, we were able to continue on. Unfortunately, the other tire on that axel went flat 500 yards down the road. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere, at dusk, with no hotels or bus stations for miles. I began to panic, but then the other passengers grabbed their bags and started flagging down passing buses. When one stopped, there was a crush of people trying to get on it, as is the way in India. I stood back as it pulled away with about three quarters of my fellow passengers jammed into it and hanging off the side. The next bus that came by easily accommodated the rest of us with seats. We weren’t even charged for the ride.
photo taken in Antigua, Guatemala