Segarini: On the Buses

I will not get on a plane.

I haven’t been on one since 1978, when I had to fly out to the Left Coast because my father was gravely ill.

I had flown a lot over the years and at one point, really used to enjoy it. There were dozens of flights to and from San Francisco and Los Angeles, a 45 minute puddle-jump from airport to airport that cost $15US on PSA but then would take another hour to reach my destination which was always as far away from the nearest airport as it could be.

A miserable drive from Inglewood (where LAX is parked) to Hollywood (which is where Hollywood is located). Years later when touring was a 12 week at a time exercise in boredom and the growing feeling that I would run out of luck on one of these flights, I started to notice how unpleasant the experience was, and even though the red-eye flights from New York to L.A became 5 hour drunken games of cards with hot stewardesses (as crazy as nurses around ‘rock stars’ in those days) while the other passengers were asleep, and once, during a trip back to economy from first class (where a stew I knew was sneaking me cold bottles of champagne), I got to spill an entire glass of champagne all over Ed Sullivan’s wife, the cattle-like process, the hours of waiting, the awful food, eventually compromised even the cheap drinks and assorted willing stewardesses. Enough, already.

=0=

When I was a kid, my mother drove me everywhere I couldn’t ride to on my bicycle. Not that I minded being shuttled around by my mom, not like all the kids on TV shows and in movies, who act like their mother is a plague carrying goofball who will embarrass little Suzie or Johnny if their friends ever saw them with this horrid woman who had been lugging them around since 9 months before they hit sunlight. No, I liked my mom as well as loved her, and so did all of my friends.

I had never been on a school bus.

This was back in the days before politicians and over-thinking committees of childless fussbudgets decided that kids should go to schools miles away from where they lived, even if they lived across the street from a school, to desegregate the schools. Using kids, who were completely oblivious to hating someone for the colour of their skin or religious beliefs unless taught to by their parents, to fix a problem inherent in the parents, is nothing new; want go to war with someone…hey!…don’t go yourself…let’s send the kids! Here’s a little history from Wikipedia….

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education made racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The process of integrating public schools met fierce resistance in the South where segregation laws took hold after the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era of the United States. In Northern and Western states, de facto segregation was the customary practice. Due to patterns of residential segregation, a principal tool for racial integration was the use of busing.[1] In the 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had the discretion to include busing as a desegregation tool to achieve racial balance. While the Swann decision addressed de jure segregation in the South, it failed to address de facto segregation which persisted elsewhere in the country. In Georgia, Governor Jimmy Cartersaw that Swann was “clearly a one-sided decision; the Court is still talking about the South, the North is still going free.”[2] In the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision, the U.S. Supreme Court placed an important limitation on Swann when they ruled that students could be bused across district lines only when evidence of de jure segregation across multiple school districts existed.

“Forced busing” was a term used by many to describe the mandates that generally came from the courts. Court-ordered busing to achieve school desegregation was used mainly in large, ethnically segregated school systems, including Boston, MassachusettsCleveland, OhioColumbus, OhioKansas City, MissouriPasadena, California; Richmond, VirginiaSan Francisco, CaliforniaDetroit, Michigan; and Wilmington, Delaware.

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Stockton was anything but a hotbed of white folks running around putting Miracle Whip on corned beef sandwiches and drinking Tab with their Twinkies. Like Toronto, Stockton was an ethnically rich community, everyone worked alongside everyone else, became friends and respected one another. My mother and father were colourblind as were most of their friends, and that trickled down to us kids. We had no idea we were supposed to judge people on the strength of their ethnic background or religion…it just never occurred to us. There was never a time when I didn’t count Mexican-American, African-American, Muslim, and Asian kids amongst my friends. To be fair, Stockton did have a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan stealing sheets from Grandma’s backyard clothesline back in the ‘20s, but they were in the minority and disappeared long before I was born.

I can see where desegregation would be useful in places where children were kept away from meeting anyone different than they were, but that has always been the providence of uneducated and fearful parents whose learned bigotry and intolerance is passed on to their kids, kids whose only hatred is reserved for naps, broccoli, and being denied a bowl of sugar 3 times a day, until someone teaches them to hate what they hate.

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My original distaste for buses came from the stories I heard from my friends who took them. Stories of nicked lunches and jarring stops and starts. Stories of obnoxious seatmates and senses defying odors. Stories I heard, but never experienced. In my naïve, inexperienced mind, I had no reason to doubt my fellow classmates. Their stories, fact or fiction, never spoke of racial unrest, colour, or ethnicity. Their stories basically blamed the proper culprits for their dislike of riding the schoolbus; stupidity and assholes. The same as it ever was.

=0=

So the first time I ever rode a bus I was apprehensive. Would I be bullied? My lunch stolen, my personal space violated? Would I be made fun of, suffer a Wedgie or an Indian Burn in the presence of my peers?

Standing in line to board the schoolbus that would whisk my 2nd grade class to a dairy farm on the outskirts of Stockton on my first ever field trip would surely answer these concerns. The question, I thought to myself, is am I going to be rushed to the hospital mid-trip with a potentially fatal Wet Willie or gurney’d into an operating room to have my testicles unstapled from my thigh. I was 7 years old…I should have been wondering if Superman ever went to the bathroom or looked through girls clothes with his x-ray vision.

=0=.

As it turned out, the bus trip was fucking great.

First of all, a teacher could keep an eye on 25 kids pretty easily in a classroom facing us from her desk, but on a moving bus, facing away from us, we might as well have been in another room. We behaved for about 5 minutes, then, the first sign of rebellion. Tom, or Gary, or Whitey, snuck his hand into his madras shirt, cupped it in his left armpit, and forcibly dropped his left arm down to his side. In the silence of the big yellow bus, 25 kids doing their best to face forward and make mom and dad proud, were treated to a familiar sound of class clowning that acted like the starting pistol at a track meet. Silence. Armpit Fart. Uncontrollable Laughter.

Let the games begin.

=0=

There is nothing quite so joyous as the sound of children’s uncontrollable laughter. It is guileless, guilt free, and pure in its innocence. It is contagious, and feeds on itself like The Ouroboros, something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. Apparently the teacher and her volunteer parent realized there was no harm in this and, obviously as happy as we were to be out on a beautiful Spring day and on the way to the countryside, turned to see what was happening, smiled at us, and turned back to their conversation, likely about Tupperware or whose shoes, (Clark Gable’s or Cary Grant’s), they wouldn’t mind having parked under their beds. We took this as a sign to escalate the happy, and with a unity known only to bees and delusional Republicans, a chorus of armpit farts filled the air, the laughter began to bring tears, and other time worn and schoolroom tested diversions began as if on cue.

To my left, a booger eating contest between two rows of seats commenced, directly behind me a game of thumb wrestling, somewhere in the back of the bus, a rousing chorus of “On Top of Spaghetti” rose up and spread to the adjoining seats. The booger eating contest wound down and was replaced by an enthusiastic round of   Rock Paper Scissors (or Ro Sham Bo), our version topped off by the loser of every round being punched as hard as possible in the upper arm by the other player, and finally, in hushed tones, a few of us would repeat the dirty jokes we had heard (usually misheard) our dads or uncles tell when they thought we weren’t listening. To a 7 year old, even the word ‘hell’ is enough to send you into paroxysms of laughter when you said it. ‘Penis’ could bring on a stroke.

Why had I ever been afraid to ride the bus?

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Several years later, when the Giants moved to San Francisco (1958), my Mom, a baseball fan and lover of children, chartered a bus the first three years and took my friends and I to Seals Stadium to see a game during the optimistic beginning of the season every Spring. We would sing, we would play games, we would look out the windows of the brand new Greyhound and watch the world go by, wondering what adventures lay ahead.

Driving through the Altamont, (yes, where the Stones played the concert that officially brought the Peace and Love era to a crashing halt a decade later), was a feast for the eyes. Dry and brown during the Summer, the rolling hills of the Altamont were lush green in the Spring and covered in California poppies, a blaze of orange on a sea of green under an unrelenting deep blue sky. We would all gaze out the windows, quiet for a few minutes only to resume the horseplay and laughter as soon as the bus wended its way down the other side of the tiny mountain range into the Livermore Valley. I can still see that landscape when I close my eyes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, when I miss my mom, and those friends, and those times.

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I was living in Montreal, but spending a lot of time in New York. Normally, I would take the train, so much more convenient then flying. I would book a room on the Overnighter, have a wonderful meal in the dining car, retire to the bar car, and when it closed, repair to my room, read, fall asleep, and wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for the day when we came to a stop in New York. Not at LaGuardia, Idlewild (JFK), or Newark International, miles from Manhattan, but in the bowels of Penn Station, in the heart of the city on 34th at 8th Avenue. A joy.

Once, unable to get on a sold out train, I took the bus (a Voyageur) from Montreal to the Big Apple. It was inexpensive and left at midnight, arriving in midtown at 8:00 in the morning. I packed my traditional carry on overnight bag and bought the current issues of Playboy and Penthouse to read until I fell asleep. In my bag was a quart bottle of coke, a third of which was Jack Daniels, a bag of chips, and a pastrami sandwich from Schwartz’s…and you could smoke on the damn bus. I was set.

I arrived early to a mostly closed depot, and decided to board the bus (if I could find it) and get comfortable, have a drink or two, and stare at some naked women.

I was alone on the bus for at least a half an hour, and when I finally heard other passengers boarding the bus, I was too busy mentally measuring the Pet of the Month’s nipples in my mind to look up. I continued to ‘read’. When the bus lurched into motion, I was reading a letter from a Penthouse reader who “couldn’t believe his luck”, and “had never thought this would happen to me” describing some encounter he had with a set of nymphomaniac millionaire twins, (who writes this stuff, really?) when I heard a very curious sound. A murmuring at first, rising in volume slowly but surely, and sounding faintly like a cross between Klingon and the clearing of one’s throat. And it wasn’t just one voice. It was a chorus of voices. I took one last look at the ‘twins’, and sat up straight. I looked around the interior of the bus, dark except for the tiny pin-point pools of light from the reading lamps above the seats. My eyes adjusted. I saw the hats first. Flat brimmed black hats from which side curls hung like construction paper streamers on a Christmas tree, a few pair of rimless reading glasses, and everyone in crisp white shirts and black suits.

I was in a bus with 30 Hassidic Jews who were bound for New York along with one Catholic guitar player who slowly rolled up his two skin magazines and shoved them back into his overnight bag and zipped it up.

I should have brought more sandwiches.

=0=

When the Dudes landed the BeeGees comeback tour of Canada, a hard earned, well deserved second career for the Brothers Gibb based on the strength of their “Main Course’ LP and its first hit single, “Jive Talkin’”, we were beside ourselves with happy. We had a deal with CBS in the States, a powerful American manager in one Fred Heller, who counted among his other charges Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Ian Hunter, and now, a fucking unbelievably tight and talented band who had earned our wings playing 7 nights a week for months in notoriously legendary dives like Norm Silver’s Mustache on Closse Street in downtown Montreal across the street from the Forum (home of the Habs), and the submarine-like basement drunk tank called the Edgewater, a favourite of the Anglo kids on the West Island in Pointe Claire.

After an incredible album release party thrown by Fred and CBS Records in the Ritz Carleton Hotel on Rue Sherbrooke that was attended by every Montreal mover and groover along with members of BS&T, Ian Hunter, and immortal rock and roll Pharaoh, Kim Fowley (who had co-written tha albim’s title track with me), we were told that we would be doing the tour in our very own tour bus, not Richie Henman’s Vista Cruiser pulling a trailer full of gear. Our first purchase in preparation for the tour?

15 cases of Brador.

=0=

After the first show, which resulted in an encore in our home town and in the Forum (home of the Habs), and a thumbs up from the incredibly supportive and gracious Gibbs, we left the building and stepped out into the crisp Montreal night and onto the street. There, gleaming in the moonlight, its blue and white visage sparkling under the street lamps and its chrome accents polished to light reflecting perfection, stood our tour bus…a long distance, two level Greyhound, seemingly crouched against the curb like a great metal cat, waiting to pounce onto the 20 and carry us into the night with a deep, guttural roar of its diesel heart and with the fierce glow of its bright dual eyes cutting through the shadows and the night, hell-bound for glory.

At least, that’s how it looked to us, sitting there idling on the quiet sidestreet, the driver that came with it slumped behind the big round steering wheel enjoying a last minute nap.

Soon after we were on the road, the Greyhound revealed its true self to us. An aging veteran tour bus full of memories provided by legendary country acts and a few rock gods, and covered in the scars of its previous battles; beer stained couch cushions and bunk beds, chipped and dented door frames and appliances, and the faint, yet unmistakable lingering scent of 100s of buckets of chicken, cheeseburgers, and bottles of cheap cologne. A week later, our own contributions were added to the mix, and the aroma of pot, whiskey, and unwashed socks held sway. Still, this was heaven after years of sliding across Canada in bald-tire’d vans and family station wagons. We were on tour with the hottest band in North America who also happened to be heroes from the British Invasion. Fuck you, Doubting Thomas’s and disbelievers…and God Bless you friends, family, and Jesus, or Lady Luck, or whoever and whatever got us to this point. We were in the moment, in a tour bus whose tires were humming against the pavement, propelling us down the highway into the night, while we rolled joints, drank beer, played cards, and laughed ourselves silly.

=0=

One night we pulled into the parking lot of the Hotel where the BeeGees were staying and found another tour bus parked a few spaces away. Our driver (Jimmy?) recognized the bus as being from Nashville and pulled alongside it in such a way that the two doors were just a foot or two away from one another. You could step from one bus into the other with no effort at all.

The occupants of the Nashville bus turned out to be The Oakridge Boys, boys being a bit deceiving because they were all tall, older guys but (we soon found out) in possession of the hearts of schoolboys and a capacity for alcohol that rivaled my own. We exchanged Brador for Lone Star, and proceeded to party in the parking lot like old friends at a high school reunion. The highlight was listening to them sing a capella harmony so beautifully honest and effortless, that the reason we were all here in this parking lot, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere when lesser men would be sleeping in their own beds in preparation for the workday ahead, was this music. This undefinable, impossibly personal connection, that led otherwise sane men to abandon all just for the opportunity to strum a guitar or beat on a drum, or write a song that would touch another human being. Regardless of whether it was the magic of music, or the beer, or the combination of the two, it was evident to me that whatever it was, sitting here in this Greyhound bus bonding with like-minded lifers was where I was supposed to be.

Here.

No other place on Earth.

Just pulled up next to another bus in a parking lot, making music with strangers in the middle of the night.

=0=

After leaving another arena after a show someplace in the Midwest (Sudbury, perhaps?) about 30 miles down the highway we discovered we had a couple of stowaways. Two fresh faced young girls had snuck onboard and waited until we were well on our way to make their presence known. They were very, very cute, and obviously willing to play ‘groupie’ to our ‘rock star’, and had we been Led Zeppelin, or Kool and the Gang, or pretty much any other band, they would have been living the dream, the band would be debauched and passed out on the floor, and I would have been writing to Penthouse, beginning with, “I never thought this would happen to me…”.

We let them off the bus at the next small town.

They waved from the side of the road and we waved back, but we still had our dignity and were guilt free and they still had their hymens and un-smeared lip-gloss. I’d like to think that years later they appreciated the Canadian chivalry and respect and spoke highly of us. Probably though, when they’re drunk and sharing stories of their adventures when they were young, they just tell their friends about the time they got picked up by a bunch of gay guys in a bus one night.

=0=

I’m not going to go into details here, but once, broke, but with an invitation to come hang out in Reno for a couple of weeks, I borrowed a 100 bucks and took the bus from Montreal to Reno, Nevada to see an old friend. While there I would be the lucky recipient of the kind of hospitality known only to people who could afford to pay for it. I could not, and am still boggled by the generosity of my friend and the hotel casino that fed and housed me for two weeks of lobster, steak and leisure. That is a tale for another time or never, but the bus ride from Montreal to Reno could have very well been written by Hunter Thompson or Charles Bukowski.

The bus I boarded in Montreal only took me as far as Detroit. There, after a 3 hour wait, I was shuttled onto another Greyhound and made the rest of the journey. I would be sitting up for a little over 3 days, eating truck stop sandwiches and drinking gas station coffee. I knew no one else, had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the bus in Reno, and was shirking my responsibilities, obligations, and everything else. Bukowski’s lowlife was about to meet Hunter Thompson’s absurdist opportunist.

While sitting in the Detroit terminal waiting for my connecting bus, the guy sitting next to me struck up a conversation by asking if I had a cigarette. I did. We made small talk for a bit and, after telling him a little about myself (“Yeah, like, I’m in a band”) he told me he was on his way to California to see family. He hadn’t been home in years, he tells me, but his tour is over and he’s going home.

“Tour?”, I asked, “Are you in a band too?”

“Nope, says he, “Just got honourably discharged from the Army.”

He sticks out his hand. “Ray”, he offers, and I take his hand and shake it. “Bob”.

“The Army, huh? Cool”, I manage, “Must be exciting, going home to see everyone.”

“Yes and no, my family is pretty religious and kind of uptight. I figure I can cut loose on this trip a little before I get there.”

I remind him that he is about to get on a bus for 3 and a half days, bathing in a sink while the water sloshes on your shoes, eating candy from depot vending machines, and sitting next to an obese garlic salesman who smells of gin and cheap cigars.

“Nah”, he grins at me, “I’ll just sit next to you.”

We laugh.

Then he asks me how much time is left before we leave.

“About an hour. Why?”

“I have to find a bank and a liquor store…shit…I forgot all about it.”

“Hey”, I’ve got a little money. Not enough for booze, but we can probably get a beer at some of the truck stops.”

He pulls out his wallet and fishes around in the sleeve until he brings out a heavily creased piece of paper and breathes a sigh of relief.

“I’m going to go find a bank. This trip is going to be fun.” He says to me, standing up and pushing his duffle over to me with his foot. Keep an eye on this until I get back.”

Trust. I will keep an eye on his duffle bag.

“What’s the big deal with the bank? Not a whole lot to spend money on in a Greyhound bus”, he unfolds the paper. It’s a cheque.

“We stop at a lot of places. We can split up and run in two directions and see if we can find liquor, beer, smokes. Hell, I haven’t gotten drunk since I got back stateside”

Okay…this might be a way to stave off boredom on the long ride if nothing else. I reach into my pocket and pull out one of the two 20s I have left over from the 100. “Here”, I say, handing it to him. “If you find a liquor store, grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of Coke.”

He refuses the 20, waving it off like you would a fly. “Don’t worry about it”. He’s looking out the window across the street. I follow his gaze. There’s a bank on the corner. “I just hope they cash my cheque.”

“Why wouldn’t they?” I ask.

He glances back at me as he steps toward the depot’s double doors

“It’s for $30,000 dollars.”

=0=

There are liquor stores and smoke shops within 2 blocks of every bus station in the United States. There are restaurants that can cook a perfect medium rare rib steak with mushrooms, sautéed onions and mashed potatoes and cram it into a container in under 30 minutes. There are bus drivers who can be talked into waiting just a few minutes longer…and there is the Grand State of Iowa.

We had been driving through hours of cornfields pouring shots of Jack with beer chasers, when the bus pulled off the Interstate into what looked like the set for The Andy Griffith Show. Holy shit, we were in Mayberry.

It’s after midnight and the little depot looks deserted and sad, a single dim street light over the revolving door in front and an ancient neon sign in the window that says ‘Op n’. I get out of my seat and walk down the aisle past the sleeping passengers and ask the driver if I can go inside to see if there’s a vending machine. “No”, he says, “we’re just picking up a group and leaving. There’s a stop coming up in a few hours with a diner…wait until then.” I go back to my seat just in time for Ray to poke me in the arm. “Check it out”.

From out of the little revolving door comes a steady stream of what looks to be 18 year old corn-fed blondes, each more beautiful than the previous one. “Quick”, he says, this time slugging me in the arm, “Move across the aisle.”

We’re in the back section of the bus. There are no other passengers around us. I move.

A minute later 8 or 9 of these girls are parading down the aisle and taking up seats. Ray was right. I look up to see one of the girls slide into the seat I had vacated just as a voice like honey, barely a whisper, asks me if the seat next to me is taken,

It is now.

=0=

We talk. I honestly don’t remember if she ever told me her name or if I ever told her mine. I was mesmerized. She lives on a farm. She just graduated from high school and starts University next year in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has never been away from home, and her and the other young women she is with are on their way to Des Moines to a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) retreat. We enjoy miles of small talk and interesting tid bits about ourselves and then she asked me if there was a blanket in the overhead because she was getting cold. I was aware of her being cold thanks to a very thin blouse and my roving eye. I retrieved a blanket and a pillow. Her hand brushed against my thigh when I stood up. When I turned to hand her the bedding I glanced over at Ray. He and his seatmate were playing tonsil hockey and fogging up Ray’s window. I sat back down.

I was 29 years old, a wizened old geezer compared to this young woman, and I had been around the block a few times while she still sat on her parent’s porch drinking lemonade and planning what to wear to her prom. She rustled around, settling into her seat like a hen on a nest of eggs, and, placing the pillow on the armrest between us, gently and quietly spread the blanket over both of us. She tentatively rested her head on my shoulder. Her hair smelled of summer and peaches. I looked down just as she raised her head up, brown eyes twinkling in the dim light from the Interstate’s light standards. I felt her hand slide gently onto my right leg. In a hushed, barely audible voice she said, “There are a lot of things I’ve read about, and thought about, but…”

“Go on”, I said, feeling my blood shift in my veins, and my ears becoming warmer. “I want to learn about those things but”, her hand began gently moving toward my thigh, “…I could never do these things with my boyfriend…”

=0=

Ray and I got chased back onto the bus in Cheyenne, Wyoming by a couple of pissed off cowboys over an argument in a bar where we bought a six pack of beer to go. Lesson: Never bad mouth a Ford pickup with a gun rack in the window when the owner is sitting 2 feet away from you with a half empty bottle of whisky and a shot glass in front of him.

=0=

I never heard from or saw Ray again. I think we exchanged information, but I never came across it again if we did. I hope his life turned out good, because he was a good guy. Once in a while, when I’m on Facebook, I concentrate trying to remember if he ever told me his last name. I don’t think he did. But even though we only knew each other for roughly 4 days, he still pops into my head from time to time. A generous and fun loving guy who served his country and did right by his family…and helped me have one hell of a great bus trip across most of America. And somewhere in Iowa, there is a very, very, lucky guy.

=0=

Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

2 Responses to “Segarini: On the Buses”

  1. Ernie Williams Says:

    Thanks Bob, I once had a similar trip, but I was the military guy and hitched a ride with UCLA guy driving from San Antonio to Calif. We had a great time, lots of booze, and a stop for a few hours in a mexican border town….this article brought back fond memories

  2. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    Good one Bob. Those were the days for sure. I’ve been on a few train rides that were memorable enough for sharing. You are one awesome story teller.

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