# # Doin' the Dog -Taking the bus to 1970's California

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

Doin’ the Dog –
Taking the bus to 1970’s California

Doin' the Dog - short faction by Corey A. Edwards

It must have been the summer of 1974 or so, I would have been five or six. My maternal grandparents hadn’t seen me since I was a baby, so my mom decided it would be a good time for a visit. We didn’t have a lot of money, though, so it would just be mom and I making the trip, my father and older brother would stay home. As a further expression of our finances, mom and I wouldn’t be flying from Northern Colorado to Southern California but busing.

Being wee, I knew none of the reasons behind why we were going. All I knew was, I was going on a big trip for the first time and I couldn’t wait.

You know you’re young when the prospect of taking a bus from Northern Colorado to Los Angeles with your mom sounds like an exciting adventure.

Mom knew I might be bored on the bus so, one day before the trip when we were at the supermarket, she let me pick out a couple of comics – a rare treat! – then grabbed herself a book of crossword puzzles and, as an afterthought, a Magic Slate for me.

You remember Magic Slate, don’t you? A comic book-sized paperboard back, decorated with cartoon characters, framing a thin, rectangular layer of black wax. Laying over the wax and stapled to the board at the top, is a plastic sheet of milky transparency. Using the little, plastic stylus included, you scrawl on the sheet. Your scribbles press the plastic sheeting into the wax at the point of contact and it sticks there, dark in contrast to the rest of the sheet. You can “erase” your skritchies at any time by grasping the plastic sheet at its foot and lifting it away from the surface of the wax: ta-daaa – Magic Slate!

Cool. I’d never had one of those before!

My suitcase in those days was a small, vinyl number that unzipped in an arch on the front, a red plaid pattern marking the flap. I don’t remember much of what went in there but I suppose there were socks, underwear, shirts, pants, and not much else. We were going to LA, after all.

My father and brother dropped us off at the bus station with cursory goodbyes. I suppose my brother must have been jealous but I didn’t notice his sullen behavior; being at the station and seeing all the other people queued up to go filled my senses. Some people had suitcases, others backpacks, rucksacks, or duffels. Some people had nothing but a purse or a magazine or just themselves. I knew this was because it was going to be almost two days drive and the bus picked up and dropped off people along the way.

Most people just looked hot and distracted but some looked dirty or mad; out of place. Mom kept me close with a stern warning about strangers as we collected our tickets.

After our bus pulled in with a big puff and squeal and all outbound passengers unloaded, we lined up to board. I was surprised to see men from the station busy loading people’s bigger bags into compartments, below the passenger windows, on the outside of the bus.  Secret compartments! I got to keep my suitcase and mom took her purse and a plastic shoe bag with a drawstring that said “Brown’s” on the side. We always kept our shoe bags.

The inside of the bus had a green cast to it even though there was so much silver and grey. The seats were so tall I could’ve stood on them and still would have had to strain to peer over the headrest at the people behind me, not that mom would let me. Sit your tush down, mister.

The bus loaded up with other people as we arranged ourselves in the seats; mom on the aisle with her purse in her lap, me in the window seat with my suitcase on the floor below my dangling feet and the shoe bag between us. A nice old lady made smiling eye contact so I waved and my mom talked to her for a few moments about where we were headed.

The seat in front of me reclined back of a sudden, tilting back into my space, the person in it scrunching around to get comfortable. I could see the top of his head poking up over the headrest, one elbow propped against the bus window, his wrist and hand resting atop his head with slack fingers in dead-spider curl.

I asked my mom how to recline my seat and she showed me how while telling me not to, explaining that it was rude unless you were going to sleep. This last was said in a voice louder than necessary. I could tell she was unimpressed with something. Well, she needn’t have worried: I wasn’t going to sleep any time soon!

The bus seemed ready to go when, at the last minute, a huge, old woman in a blue dress, grey, scraggy hair, and no teeth got on board with her narrow, pinchy daughter. Everyone tried to hide how they stared as she worked her slow, breathy way up the aisle: sweating, grasping seatbacks, and brushing aisle-seat occupants with her cotton-covered bulgy bits. Her daughter hung her head behind.

You have to understand this was back before people were fat as a rule. Even now, however, this unfortunate woman’s poor health and size would call attention. My mother told me it was rude to stare in the same breath that she castigated the woman for her weight, never considering the potential road that might have led her to this state. Vestiges of that kind of thinking haunt me still.

Finally we pulled out and I watched the station slide away. The first part of our journey took us down the familiar streets of my hometown but they looked so different from this height, so small. I watched people on the sidewalks and imagined how they must be looking on us with jealousy and just a little bit of admiration: we were going on a trip!

Soon the bus was on the interstate and the novelty began to wear off: I wanted one of my comic books but mom warned me against going through my entertainment too quickly and, instead, we talked about the trip and things we would do in Los Angeles. Eventually she pulled out the Magic Slate and we played some games of tic tac toe.

In Denver we pulled into a far bigger terminal, offloading some passengers and gaining some more. There was no need to crowd, we were told, as another bus would be joining us to LA: plenty of room for all.

Some people changed buses at this time, which my mom thought was silly. “They’re looking for the party bus,” she told me “which is just fine with me as long as it’s not this bus.”

Soon we were on the way again, heading out on I-70 and over the Rocky mountains. Mom let me get out one of my comics. I chose the Casper one because it had lots of stories in it with different characters like Wendy the Good Little Witch, the Ghostly Trio, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, and more. I could figure out most of the words on my own already but mom was there to help if I had any trouble. I used context as my guide more often, though. It was pretty easy stuff.

As our elevation increased I could feel the pressure in my ears changing. Mom must have, too, because she reminded me how to yawn and work my jaw around to relieve the pressure. Sometimes my ears would pop and it could be a little uncomfortable but I found it far more fascinating than painful.

We weren’t alone in the sensation. Every so often, the large, old woman in the blue dress would let out a rasping shriek. The first time she did it we all jumped and the bus driver called back to see if everything was okay. The woman’s tired looking daughter explained that it was just her mother’s ears popping, so we all settled down again … until the next shriek. And the next. You never knew when she was going to do it and you’d always jump a little. A pursing of the lips and a rolling of the eyes were secondary effects of the shrieks on my mother.

People were getting up from their seats on occasion and going towards the back of the bus. In a little while they would return. I tried to look back between the seats but all I could see were the people behind us. Where were they going? My mom explained that there was a bathroom at the back of the bus.

A bathroom? Really? I tried to imagine it. Was there water back there, too, or did you just lift the lid to a hole, the pavement rushing away below, a blur? I tried to remember if I’d even seen anything splashing out from under of a bus before. I wasn’t sure I could ask my mom about this as it seemed mildly dirty. Mom didn’t like to talk about poop.

I was just about to ask to go use it myself when the big woman in the blue dress struggled to her feet and made her ponderous way back in that direction. Oh, no. Could I hold it? What if the woman got stuck? She looked like she might be able to get stuck. I squirmed in my seat and my mother caught on. “You can wait, you’re next” – but there was no way to assure that, no waiting in line at the door, not with her coming out of there. No room even for a small boy. When she was in the aisle, it was her and no one else. Why did I have to wait until now to have to pee?

The woman exited the bathroom soon enough and, as soon as she’d gotten back to her seat, with a nod of affirmation from mom, I got down from my seat and made my way back. No one else was hurrying to go, so now my mind switched from worrying about not being able to hold it to what it was going to smell like after having been used so recently. I passed the woman in the blue dress. She didn’t notice me and I did my best not to notice how she pushed out around the firmer portions of her seat.

I couldn’t help it: the large woman fascinated me. The way bits of her body, mottled and shot through with tiny veins, like bruised bolts of lightning, bulged out around her joints. How her elbows and the knuckles of her her hands were concave dimples rather than rounded protrusions. Her eyes looked pink and sore and her toothless mouth hung open much of the time, wet and rubbery. I tried so hard not to look. What if she’d pooped in there?

The bathroom was a small compartment just behind the last seats but, at my size, it didn’t seem overly close. There was a tiny sink, some paper towels and toilet paper, and a toilet seat. I was relieved that the only odor in the air was that of some kind of strong, industrial deodorizer. The toilet was made of metal, just like the rest of the bus, and came up out of the floor like a narrow bench but with a toilet seat and lid in its center. I lifted the lid to reveal a steel bowl that tapered down to a smaller hole closed off with black, rubber flaps. There was a bit of poo stuck onto one of the flaps and the sight of it made me think of the big woman. Was that hers? It made me a little nauseous. Unzipping, I tried to blast it off with a steady stream of urine but to no avail. There appeared to be no way to flush the toilet, so I just closed the lid, zipped up, and hurried back to my seat.

The two buses stopped together along our journey to fuel up,  drop off and collect passengers at terminals, and to allow the passengers to get off, stretch their legs, and get something to eat. I didn’t know where we were at any of these times – what states, what towns, and only wanted to go inside to look at the people and the places. My mother had packed snacks and didn’t go in for restaurant meals. We didn’t buy candy or chips at the filling stations or sit at the big lunch counters with the other passengers. I always wanted to, of course, but mom was not to be enticed. Instead, she’d grab us a couple of sandwiches, some fruit, and two, small milks: “We don’t have money to waste. Eat your sandwich.”

As the day wore on into afternoon, I surprised myself with a voluntary nap. I was not at an age where scenery did anything for me and I’d exhausted other forms of entertainment – snacking, chatting, reading, doodling on the Magic Slate – so, instead of squirming and griping, I just leaned over and fell asleep.

Mom woke me when we stopped for dinner. It felt good to get out, even though it was hotter than it had been both back home and on the climate controlled bus – it felt like the wind was making my shirt stick to my skin. There was no place to go but the diner, so mom relented and we got a booth where we shared a burger, some fries, and a small piece of pie. Mom didn’t seem too impressed but I loved everything: first the bus now a restaurant! I was having the time of my life.

Whenever the bus stopped for a break, the driver always warned us how much time we’d have before it was time to board again. Mom would keep her eye on the clock and get us back to our seats well before the driver returned to the bus. It was a point of pride for her: to be in her appointed place, ready to go. Tonight, though, as we settled back into our seats well ahead of the rush, something was bothering her. I could see it in the way she kept looking out the windows towards the two drivers as they stood together in front of the diner, gesticulating. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that the other bus had picked up hitchhikers during our early afternoon fuel stop and now the two drivers were arguing about it.

What was a hitchhiker?

Mom pointed to two young women and a man, all scruffily attired with worn, if colorful clothing and long, unstyled hair, who sat on the edge of the sidewalk, not too far from the two drivers, smoking cigarettes and laughing with each other.

Oh. I thought those were hippies.

“Same difference,” my mother replied, wrinkling her nose. “They stick their thumbs out along the side of the road and expect something for nothing. Anyone who picks them up is looking for trouble and I don’t know what to think about a bus driver who picks them up in the middle of nowhere, even if they can pay.”

Say what you will, Charles Manson had more to do with my mom’s fear of counter culture than her conservatism.

The encounter between the two drivers culminated with the three hitchhikers getting a ride in a different vehicle entirely, thus ending the discussion. The buses loaded up and we headed into the oncoming night.

I finished up my after-dinner comic with a bit of disappointment: I’d read it once already but the story bothered me. Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost had been charged with locating four impossible items – things like blue oranges and red grass – for a spell to escape a weird, magical land he’d gotten trapped in. After numerous adventures and struggles, he’d rounded up all he needed to gain his exit but they were cheats: none of the items were actually what they appeared to be. The oranges were normal oranges that had been frozen, which, in comic-book land, meant they turned blue. The grass had been painted red but was, otherwise, green grass, yet these false things worked to affect the spell needed for Spooky’s escape. Very disappointing; the comic didn’t even believe its own religion. I explained my disappointment to my mother then, at her enthusiastic encouragement, reclined my seat and curled up to sleep, the vibration of the tires on the road helping me to drop off almost immediately.

I always loved sleeping in a moving vehicle as a kid, lulled not only by the road vibration but also the gentle momentum of the vehicle as it stops, accelerates, or takes a corner. Best of all, the lights of other traffic: flowing liquid against shadow in rhythmic predictability as the glow from the other cars approach, pass, and recede into the night. This dance of light, as seen from a supine position, figures into your dreams as you drift from fading awareness of it to just the pale ghosts of the luminescence playing against the dark, stereo planetarium of your unconscious mind’s closed eyes.

It must have been around one or two in the morning when I was awakened by a jolt. I felt like I’d been shoved. Everyone around me was waking, too, coming to awareness as the bus pulled over onto the side of the road. Our driver put the bus in park, unbuckled his seat belt while pushing the lever that opened the door, then dashed outside, jogging down the ditch alongside the bus towards the rear.

The passengers talked among themselves, a hushed and confused hubbub:
“What’s going on?”
“Why are we stopped?”
“Has there been an accident?”
“Are we broken down?”

Soon, details began to trickle back from those at the front of the bus who had been awake before the disturbance:
“Barely missed him.”
“Fool was right in the middle of the road.”
“Surprised we didn’t crash, as wide as we swerved.”
“Guy’s lucky. Oughta be put in jail, pulling a stunt like that.”

After what seemed a very short time, a few people’s curiosity overtook them and they got off the bus to see why we were still stopped. It didn’t take long until some came back with tales of what they’d seen: “We missed him but the bus behind us didn’t. Nailed him head on.”

What were they talking about?

Telling me to stay put, mom excused herself, along with much of the rest of the bus, and went outside to take a look. I entertained myself for the short period of time she was gone by looking out the window at the people who passed back and forth along the side of the bus and the long grass there that weaved intermittently in and out of the glare of the headlights from the bus behind. I noticed that there now seemed to be a red pulsing, as well. Looking up, I could see more in the distance down the road – police cars! Before long, every window throbbed with their bobbling effects: now blue, now red.

Mom came back with a morality tale: A man, apparently drunk or high, had walked into the slow lane, out in the middle of this long stretch of un-lit nowhere, in an attempt to flag down a ride.

We’d just barely missed hitting him, our driver swerving around his sudden appearance in the middle of the road. The bus behind us, however, ploughed directly into the fellow at cruising speed, without so much as a tap on the brakes or a twitch of the steering wheel.

Serendipitously, the man he’d hit was of the hitchhikers he’d given the ride to earlier in the day. It seemed their ride from our last stop had gotten them just far enough ahead to be on the side of the road, looking for another ride, when we’d come along. The two girls were back there, besides themselves with shock, surrounded by all manner of strangers and ex-fellow passengers, gawking in horrified inquisitiveness at the jellyrolled remains.

Dying of curiosity and lacking maturity for the empathy to truly appreciate the situation, I wanted to go see but mom wouldn’t let me. I found this a little disappointing but not too surprising. I reasoned how I wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies, either, but my mind was not content to stop thinking on it.

Our bus waited on the side of the road for at least an hour until another pulled up to replace the bus and driver that had been in the accident. Once the passengers and their belongings were transferred, the new bus swung out into the lead and we followed, continuing on our journey to LA. I pried a bit more but mom wouldn’t comment further, telling me to go back to sleep.

Blissfully unaware of the physics and anatomy necessary to truly postulate the effects of the collision, I imagined the fellow I’d seen earlier in the day, laughing and tossing his hair out of his eyes as he tried to impress the girls, stuck to the front of the bus like a moth, perhaps even in a slight indent of his own outline. Or maybe it wasn’t like that. Maybe he bounced off, leaving bits of himself, like his eyes and lips, stuck in the grill. My mind flipped through its limited catalog of Warner Bros. cartoon-informed, imaginary gore trying to find a scenario that fit. I didn’t get back to sleep for a long time.

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