Here I sit in Denver International Airport, known as DIA locally and DEN to the rest of the flying world. In a couple of hours I will be flying into Houston. Looking on a map the other day, I realized Houston is really far south compared to California. On a line of latitude, Houston is about 200 miles farther south than San Diego.
Thinking back on my travels I only passed through Houston once in my life that I recall. I don’t ever recall flying through Houston IAH Airport. Continental Airlines was never a big part of my travel life that I remember, yet I picked up another 150,000 lifetime miles in MileagePlus with the United/Continental merger. I only recall flying the airline one time on a mistake fare in the early 90s getting myself from grad school in Massachusetts back home to my wife in California for $32.
If I’m ever back this way.
I have had a book sitting on my dresser for nearly a year all wrapped up in paper with a Royal Mail stamp. I finally opened the package this morning. Gavin Cologne-Brookes is an English author who I heard speak at the John Steinbeck festival in Salinas, California two years ago. His lecture was about Bruce Springsteen and the Ghost of Tom Joad and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Gavin was selling his book If I’m ever back this way at the 2012 Steinbeck Festival and I didn’t buy it, despite his brilliant sales pitch. When I mentioned on my blog sometime later that I regretted not buying his book after learning it was out of print and unavailable through Amazon, Gavin mailed his book to me last summer. On the flight from Monterey to Denver, I read the first 90 pages about his travels in the USA on a Greyhound bus.
Gavin was born in 1960, the same year as me. He took his first USA Greyhound trip when he was 19. His travels took him to Des Moines and Jacksonville. I passed through Des Moines, Iowa, or Desmoinesia as it reads in the book, while on my Iowa Agriculture Trailways bus tour last month. Tonight I will be in Jacksonville, Florida.
Riding the Greyhounds
My first solo Greyhound bus trip across the USA was May 1977 when I was 17. I boarded a bus in Salinas, California and called my parents from Los Angeles to tell them I had left high school and was on my way to Florida. There were tears and fears expressed over the phone.
In Phoenix, the ghost of Jimi Hendrix boarded the bus. This guy was so cool. He made the Greyhound bus adventure a cross-country Festival Express. In west Texas we walked into a cowboy bar during one of the bus stops where there was an hour or so break from the coach travel. When we sat down in a country bar with a handful of white cowboys and my black friend looking like he stepped out of Woodstock, I suspected this might be an afternoon where I could lose some teeth as unkind words, furniture and fists were tossed around the room.
It didn’t turn out that way at all. The bar stools stayed on the floor. Jimi had the cowboys laughing and buying us drinks after the first round. Yeah, it was the 70s. I was underage, yet rarely got carded at bars. My moustache was thicker then at 17 than Tim Lincecum’s at 29.
The west Texas bar and the riverwalk in San Antonio are the most memorable stops from that $50 cross-country ticket from Salinas to Orlando, Florida. Interstate 10 passes through Houston and I must have passed through the city. I don’t remember the place. Jimi departed in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Greyhound station in New Orleans at 3am was a scary place to be alone without Jimi. The next day I was in Orlando. I’d gone to hook up with a high school buddy from two years before when we both lived near Mainz, Germany.
My white friend had always been rowdy and a fighter. His friends with a truck picked me up in Orlando and with four of us piled in the front seat, they were on a mission to kick someone’s ass. They couldn’t find their intended victim, so driving on the sidewalk a couple of times to knock over stop signs kept them delinquently amused. I’d left high school and California to get away from gangs. I was out of the frying pan and into the Florida fire.
After one night at his house and a fine morning swim in his family’s outdoor pool, I put out my thumb to hitch to Tampa where I had relatives. My aunt and uncle had a toddler boy and a six-month old girl. I helped around the house and helped my aunt with her errands. After a couple of weeks in Tampa, I joined them on their road trip from Florida to Virginia. I returned home to California from Virginia.
I’m back this way.
Tonight I will be in Jacksonville at the start of a 1,000 mile road trip up the Atlantic Coast. In 1977, I saw an alligator at some park near Tampa where we were having a picnic. I couldn’t believe that we were eating at a picnic table with a large live wild alligator sitting some 50 feet away beside another picnic table.
I have no idea what I will experience in 2014 in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia this next week. Have car, will travel. Only my hotel nights are set.
Tonight Jacksonville, two nights in Savannah, Georgia, then two nights in Charleston, South Carolina and then two days and nights for a journey through the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The storm clouds that brought the historic deluge to the southeast this past week have moved on out. Sunny skies are forecast.
My road trip begins tonight.