Hi readers. Thanks for coming by.
Maybe the reason I lured myself into allowing my hopes to include that 1977 C60 school bus was just a time warp slipped in briefly. Fond memories have a way of coming back to haunt folks as they approach the jumping off place, I reckons.
A million years ago, Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented, summer, 1964, when KoolAid was just KoolAid and acid was still just something to excite a strip of litmus paper, I had my first experience driving a school bus.
As described in the post linked above, I’d gotten out of jail in Rochester, NY, walked halfway down Ohio, been picked up by a taxicab going deadhead back to Terre Haute, Indiana, after taking a drunken businessman to Columbus, OH, to see his estranged wife and kids. He left me on a street corner in Terre Haute, where I dodged beer bottles thrown by kids the rest of the night.
Mid-morning a yellow school bus pulled across the intersection where I was standing, a car pulling a trailer pulling in behind it. Loma Linda Academy painted on the side. The door popped open and the driver yelled, “Do you know how to drive this thing?”
I had a middling amount of experience driving dump trucks and such when I was younger, and I was hungry enough for a ride to lie through my teeth. “Sure thing. Nothing to it!” He vacated the driver seat, I took it, and we said goodbye to Terre Haute.
Turned out he was a Baptist minister moving his family to Las Vegas, New Mexico. He’d contracted with the manufacturer to take the bus to Loma Linda, California, figuring he’d stack the seats in back, load up his belongings in the empty space, and get the hauling expenses paid for by delivering the bus.
Rick Riehardt was his name. Young, 30ish man with a nice family. One of several Baptist ministers I’ve met in my life I came to respect and was able to enjoy their company. But a menace behind the steering wheel of a school bus.
The rear of the bus was loaded with his belongings, forward of that, loose seats stacked, with about half the seats still bolted to the floor, up front. Rick had a five-gallon jug of KoolAid and a cooler loaded with Bologna sandwiches behind the driver seat. He was “a loaf of bread and a pound of red” sort of man when it came to eating on the road.
We struck up a salubrious acquaintance as we motored along in that bus, picking up other hitch-hikers as we came to them. Enough, at times, to fill the intact seats in the bus. College kids, soldiers on leave or in transit, bums, beatniks, people who didn’t care to admit where they’d been, where they were going.
One kid who’d just been down south working with SNCC and marching with emerging civil rights movement, marching, getting beat-hell-out-of by redneck sheriffs, getting treated like a stinking step-child by a lot of the blacks he was supporting.
The hitchers rotated on and off the bus as we drove southwest, Rick and my ownself being the only constants, me being the only driver. We hadn’t gone far before Rick began cajoling me to drive the bus on to California after he’d unloaded it in Las Vegas, re-installed the seats, and he’d leave the family behind. But I was headed for Portales, New Mexico. Figured on getting off and heading south at Santa Rosa, well east of Las Vegas.
Eventually I agreed to it because I didn’t think there was a chance in hell he’d get the bus to California in one piece driving it himself. That, and I was probably hallucinating on KoolAid and bologna sandwiches by that time.
We parted as friends, him offering to buy me a bus ticket back to Portales, me insisting I’d ride my thumb. Caught a ride in Needles, CA, with four drunken US Marines in a new Mercury Station Wagon on 72 hour pass. Headed for Colorado Springs. All they wanted from me was for me to stay sober and awake watching for Arizona Highway Patrol airplanes. Every time I dozed they’d catch me at it and threaten to put me back afoot.
We made it from Needles, CA, to Albuquerque alive, about 1100 miles in 12 hours. I was ready for a rest. Crawled into a culvert and slept until I had my head back on straight enough to stick out my thumb again.
Rick and I used to exchange post cards for a decade or so, but I lost track of him somewhere back there. Never lost track of the KoolAid and bologna, though. I still keep it around in my head in case I ever need it.