Nuclear Bus Rides With Dad
My first cross-country bus ride did not travel all the way across the country. Just most of it – Phoenix, Arizona to Boston. Good old Greyhound, I’ll tell you I must have earned an honorary golden ticket or my face on a plaque at corporation headquarters, for all the miles I logged with that sleek pup pic under the big front windshield.
And there was the first one, I cannot tell you how I got to the terminal from my father’s mobile home, out there on the city outskirts – was it Cave Creek? They had what they called 500-year floods that year. It might have been while I was there, or before, again with the memory thing. This was 1980, I remember that because my Dad passed away January 8, 1980 and it was a week or so later I was out there to attend to his end-of-life details. He was 68 years old and I was 30. He had retired to his dream southwest life the previous September, which never felt very fair he got so little of it – heart attack – and I was still an active drunk, with all that inherited stupidity and self-centeredness and you could make a good case of generally being an asshole.
I had begun a few weeks earlier crashing in the back room of my friends Kevin and Alyson’s new home in Newburyport. MA, and now here comes the lead into the bus story, it was even before my official couch surfing move-in, up visiting them, I had joined up with the Clamshell Alliance. Go ahead and Google that if it doesn’t ring a bell, a quick suffice it being the primary obstacle for the in-process being-built SeaBrook nuclear power plant, up in New Hampshire, and there I was out in Arizona with a big scheduled anti-nuke conference coming up somewhere in Boston and I wanted to go, I mean could they really carry on without me? So I bought a bus ticket no doubt with some money my Dad had around, and there wasn’t much of that, and got myself to the Greyhound terminal in Phoenix and three days later was back in the Bay State and then on to the conference, and I actually got to chair some of it, which shows all us lefties were always pretty open around sharing the wealth.
And as I type this – in a ‘Shut Up and Write’ Wednesday morning writing group in a coffee shop in Northeast Portland, which my only intention when first writing the opening lines hours ago in the living room recliner, everyone else sleeping, was to tell the details of that bus ride across country, well, most of the country, and now go and look at me, I’ve dredged up all these memories and thoughts and feelings about my dad and myself and our relationship – me and my dad – and what came of crashing with Kevin and Allyson and then the high school sports newspaper job I landed immediately out of that, which I always considered a cheap joke from the Universe that my Dad spent much of his life as a journalist, and a bunch of that as a sports writer, and had to go and have a heart attack three weeks before I could say, ”Dad, I got a job as a sports writer too.”
Maybe life is a bitch, you might think, and maybe it is after all sweet and tender and kind, and I haven’t yet told you that I had next to no money at just about turning 31 (I found a birthday card in his trailer my Dad had for me he had not had time to sign and mail) beginning more free-loading (ah, couch surfing sounds so much more romantic) and it was in fact a drunken party of those anti-nukers which held a collection for me and raised the money for my flight ticket out to Phoenix in the first place – god damn – and now here I was coming all the way back on a bus, by the way my first time ever seeing the New Mexico landscape, and Joplin, Missouri at twilight and the Saint Louis arch never mind the Mississippi, and if I ended up writing the bus story it would have included this young woman smuggling her cat on board in New Mexico and the driver kicking her off the bus in St. Louis and all of us on the bus running into the office in the terminal and demanding she be let back on with her kitty, or else, and we won that fight if you can believe we used to win fights about justice and kindness and tenderness, and later in the drive the bus hit a deer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and knocked out all the electrics and we had to wait there for another bus and there were two Asian (Chinese I think) young guys sitting in the seat in front of me and one said to the other he’d seen a shooting star and seeing a shooting star meant some animal had just gone to heaven.
And I think I had to borrow the money for the plane ticket back to Phoenix again, after the conference, and drove my dad’s car back to Massachusetts and it went to my younger sister – and here I will say I did rather screw up being in charge of some of the rest of my father’s meager affairs, one of those regrets they say you don’t hang onto but if you’re still breathing you do –
And I’ll also say this may not have been a bus ride all across the whole wide country, but I did go on to have a number of them. And it may make your day just a little bigger to know that the Greyhound trip from Boston to San Francisco or from Los Angeles to Boston or in either the opposite directions, any of those rides take 96 hours. And I honest to God think I’m better off for all of them.
They built the nuke. I wrote high school sports for three years, both in northeastern Massachusetts and Orange County, California. My dad’s ashes are buried in Dartmouth, Massachusetts where he was born – I drove them the same road the bus had traveled – and I’m still here. Still typing. Still a bit of an asshole. And truth be told, still kind of all dreamy-eyed with the thought of real long bus rides.