A formative event in my adolescent years was a year taken away from school and spent on the road with my parents in a converted Continental Trailways bus. The “Bus Trip” as we called it, was a major turning point. I was set adrift from any friends I had in Grand Junction and closed into a moving metal bubble with just my Mom and Dad for company. My father had built the interior of the bus out so that there was a small desk area with a single seat by a window in the very rear. This is where I would sit while we were rolling down the road, ostensibly I was to be continuing my education while we traveled, however my curriculum consisted of reading and keeping a journal of our adventures. Much from the result of my urging, the bus had also been equipped with a combination AM/FM radio & 8-track tape player, which was set up so that the speakers could pan from front to back, enabling me to have many happy hours by myself watching the countryside roll by as the music played directly into my little hideout in the back.
From Grand Junction we headed west, our first destination was the San Francisco Bay Area. But we were not there to revel in the pleasures of the psychedelic era by any means, no, our mission was to hopefully rescue my brother from the evils of hippiedom and convince him to come with us on the trip. Well, as you might imagine, this backfired, and even though we managed to track him down in Sausalito, broke, in questionable health, with no visible means of support, his polar opposition to my parent’s world was stronger than ever and there was no chance of him coming along for the ride.
There was a drama-filled week with me and my Mom sidelined in a suburban campground while my Dad did his best to “sort him out” but to no avail. Once he was well enough to manage things on his own, he bid us farewell and we left him to his own devices and moved forward with our trip. I was, of course, both fascinated and magnetized by the mystery of whatever it was that he was up to that exerted so strong a pull. There was obviously such a strong charge in the family around anything to do with drugs, hippies, long hair, and the sexual revolution that I couldn’t help but be wide-eyed and curious on the sidelines. My fear and fascination with all-things-off-limits in these years would boomerang back upon me later on when my own quest for rebellion was unleashed.
But for the bliss of our little family unit, and the good graces of the Bus Trip, I was still just young and innocent enough to be able to hang out and travel with my parents without the stigma of being “uncool.” We spent a year on the road, making a big loop around North America. From the Bay Area we headed south to LA where some final work was done on the bus and made our preparations for the South of the Border leg of the trip. We towed a little Mazda station wagon behind us, so that wherever we got the bus all hooked up for a few days in an RV park, we could buzz around in the Mazda, with it’s little Wankel rotary engine to see the local sights.
The early part of our trip took us south into Mexico for a month where we camped across the road from the beach in Mazatlan. That stay was a highlight of my early life, throughout the trip I developed the skill of making friends fast, since we would be at any one place for four to five days at the most. But my time in Mazatlan took my interpersonal skills to the next level. There were two other boys about my age at our campground, one was a local Mexican kid, and the other was French Canadian, traveling with his parents from Quebec. So there we were, three impromptu playmates without a common language, playing together happily using improvised sign language and drawing pictures with sticks in the sand. I learned that there’s much more to communication than just language.
One of the gadgets that kept me entertained on our journey was our CB radio. This was in the heyday of CB and trucker culture, and with our CB radio we could talk directly to other folks on the road. Everyone monitored the open channel 9, where you could hail one another to start conversations before switching to an unused channel. Everyone had a ‘handle’ (i.e. a nickname) to refer to themselves by, and you would call on another vehicle by describing their ride and naming yourself. “Breaker Breaker One-Nine, this here’s the MushMouth in the big orange bus looking for the southbound silver 18-wheeler with the load of lumber. Do you copy?” The trucker would reply “Ten-Four Good Buddy, whatcha got yer peepers on?” “Well, we just spotted a Smokey hiding behind the billboard at exit 90 with his camera out, giving you a heads-up to watch out and bring it down to the double-nickels.” There was an entire language of slang and specific rules of etiquette that one had to learn in order to hang with the radio road culture. It was a fascinating era in that you could reach out to complete strangers to communicate and there was this presupposition of camaraderie in that we were all in cahoots against the ever-vigilant Highway Patrol, aka Smokey the Bear.
My oracle for the journey was the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Decades before the advent of MapQuest and Google, these large-format map books were the only guide to the highways and byways of the land. We would consult it carefully every step of the way. Our trip was a big meandering loop around the map, with our itinerary never spelled out further than the next stop or two. We were ostensibly checking out other parts of the country where we might live, and meanwhile following springtime to take advantage of the best traveling weather. From Mexico we worked our way east across the Deep South, where we encountered alligators and water moccasins peering up with hunger at us on the elevated pathways in the Okefenokee Swamp and marveled at the gardens and masses of pink flamingos on Avery Island where Tabasco Sauce is made. Explored the French Quarter in New Orleans and rolled around on the white sand beaches of Pensacola. Went deep into the Mammoth Caves and found ourselves stuck in traffic on Derby Day in Kentucky. Made our way to the very end of the road in Key West and back up the Eastern Seaboard in time for the cherry blossoms to be blooming in Washington D.C. Went to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and up into Canada where the forests seem to never end. North America has a lot to offer!
The other constant companion on our journey was our trusty 8-track tape player. Whenever we were finally rolling down the road with our next destination planned out, I would make sure that one of our tapes was in the machine and the speakers panned to the rear over my little rolling desk. For some reason, our collection never grew much beyond the few tapes we embarked with, but those recordings left an indelible mark upon me to this day. Fortunately we had a copy of Will the Circle be Unbroken, the epic Americana project by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that featured Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, that is still recognized as a landmark production to this day. We had the soundtrack to Deliverance, another bluegrass masterpiece. We had the straight-up country western of Roy Clark, and the hard-gravel voice of Johnny Cash. Also the comedic novelty of Ray Stevens, famous at the time for his Top-40 hit ‘The Streak’ which referred to the 70’s sensation of people, (usually men) running naked through public places.
But the two tapes that broke the trucker tunes mold and again forecasted my future as an electronic music aficionado were Switched-On Bach, the Moog synthesizer treatment of the classical masterpieces by Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, and the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, which was also predominantly composed by Carlos on the Moog, in this case covering Beethoven. The frenzied treatment by analog electronics of these timeless compositions opened my mind to a world of musical possibilities. And looking back now that I understand the principles of electromagnetic resonance and sound, I can understand why I was able to hear these albums over and over ad infinitum and never tire of hearing the music again.
(To be continued…)
Much love till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine
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