The Bus Ride

I graduated with a BFA in December of 1968 and caught the Greyhound bus out of town right after Christmas. I had $500 from savings and graduation gifts. Bus fare was cheap. I can’t find the fare online, but $35 comes to mind. At the time, it was the only way I could figure out to leave home. That was my only plan – leaving home. Until this trip the farthest west I’d been was to Ludington, Michigan on Lake Michigan.

My grandmother Cleage said she wanted to pack a box lunch for me. She packed lots of fried chicken, bread and butter and various fruits. And I think I remember some pound cake. There was so much food, I couldn’t have eaten it before it went bad on my cross country trip. I remembering sharing some with a young man also heading west. And when we crossed into California I only had an apple left. We were warned to turn over any fruit and a fruit smelling dog walked through the bus, sniffing for fruit. He missed my apple and I hope that I didn’t import any virus or bugs with my rogue apple. Here are my memories of the five day bus trip west.

From a letter I wrote on Christmas, 1968 “My father said I’m crazy, but if that’s what I want to do he’ll try and give me some money if i need it. But he didn’t think it was good planning etc.”

My cousin Jan, me, my sister Pearl. The night I left.

My cousin Jan remembered: I remember being there and thinking it was very romantic and grown up you going away and all. You always did what I wanted to do before i was old enough to. And you and Pearl were my idols.

… i think it was my idea to go over and send you off properly. plus i wanted to pack myself in your luggage  

My sister Pearl remembered:
here’s what i think i remember. you had on a pea jacket and a long scarf looped around your neck and you were grinning sorta like in this photo. you had on jeans, i think, maybe bellbottoms… almost certainly… but mainly what i remember is that you didn’t seem scared (i was terrified for you!) and you seemed really happy to be going/going/gone! i also remember how weird it was going home with ma and henry. whew…]

January 5, (I think, the date is smeared) 1969

Dear Ma and Henry,

I am in Utah.  Ech.  So far no lechers for seat mates, only soreness.  I’ll never ride a bus again.  The country looks just like Michigan until Wyoming when it got hilly and now is getting more and more mountains.  I’ll write more later.

I knew you would like the patriotic pic on front (Monument to Mormon Pioneers in Temple.



January 7, 1969

Dear Mommy and Henry,

            I’m doing O.K. so far.  It’s really strange not to know where anything at all is.  Today I’m going over to Berkeley, if I don’t get lost on the bus.  I’ll never ride on another bus trip!  I thought I’d never walk again. 

The people on the bus were O.K  That is everybody minded their own business, but the seats were too small you couldn’t get comfortable or sleep.  And no water.  My whole face was flaking off from dehydration when I got here.  I opened a back, I mean bank account and so my money is safe.  The Y is okay.  I don’t see anyone up here but I hear them moving so they must be here.  There’s a sink in the room, so I can get lots of water and last night I washed my hair.  The bathroom is across the hall.  This morning I woke up to the sound of some construction work at 5 – what were they doing working at 5?  Downtown here looks like Detroit downtown, but bigger.

            The towns I went through on the bus were Chicago, Des Moines, Salt Lake City (not a very interesting place, don’t go there) Reno, (Is it easy to get married there?  They had churches with Christmas lights and lit crosses. Pathetic)  Also Wyatt Earp’s town in Wyoming.  Up to the end of Iowa the scenery all looked alike, but then there were mountains.  From a distance, they looked low, like you could run up the side.  There was a shepherd herding sheep and leading a horse.  I’ll write later, now I’m going to get something to eat.  My phone and address are:

415-775-6500   ext. 402
621 Sutter Street #402
San Francisco 94102
Write soon,

On envelope:  I got luggage

January 8, 1969
Dear Aunt M.V.
          I went over the bridge to Berkeley and it’s really high.  Every student at Berkeley seems to have his own personal dog that runs along with them.  I never saw so many dogs.  They must take them to class.

By January 16, I was writing my parents from Washington, D.C. where my sister was a student at Howard. You can read more about the next parts of this trip “Once I worked in a sewing factory

16 thoughts on “The Bus Ride

  1. So much fun to read! Great that you have those letters you wrote home. How long did you stay at the Y in San Fran? Your cousin Jan was right–so romantic and grown-up!

    1. I’ve added a bit more information. I was probably in San Francisco for about a week, at which time I took a train to Washington D.C. where my sister was a student at Howard University.

  2. What was the plan? Did you get a one way ticket? Why California? How long did you stay?

    1. The plan was to be on my own and leave home. I stayed about a week. I knew somebody in California, and a lot of stuff was happening there.

  3. I always like your adventure stories. Even when the most awful thing is an uncomfortable seat. I took a few bus trips in the 70 and 80s but only short distances. I remember train trips better and still imagine those would be fun. But riding a bus? Never again.

    1. Yes, by the 1990s, the bus was really awful, the bus stations were horrible and they treated the passengers like we were criminals. The trains aren’t what they were but they’re way better than a bus.

  4. Isn’t that a grand adventure! The first time out on your own. Decisions for each day, each hour…where do you want to go, who to speak with, who to ignore. WHere is good food? And is this a safe area to walk around? Yes, I went through that my first trip away from home, and then I went back to college the next year, only to quit for good in 2 quarters! Travel by bus and train…been there definitely done that!

  5. An interesting journey to cross the continent. Vast distances. Fun to see the scenery change.
    I took a bus once from Sydney to Brisbane (about 600 miles) but it was overnight so I did not see anything much. It wasn’t uncomfortable except in those days they allowed smoking and the non-smoking area was one side divided by the aisle. Not a very effective separation.

    1. From Detroit to San Francisco California is 2,393.5 miles so there was plenty of daylight to see the passing countryside. I’m sure they allowed smoking, but I don’t remember it.

  6. I didn’t have a car until I was married. When a bus wouldn’t get me where I had to go, my parents let me borrow their car, and I got to drive my brother’s car when he was in boot camp. Other than that, buses were my transportation – either for shopping trips, to get to work, to visit out-of-town friends, or get up to Lake Tahoe to join my family for vacation. I can honestly say I never had a bad bus trip, long or short – well except for the old rush-hour buses I took to work with, I kid you not, horsehair stuffed seats. Those I would not like to ride in/on for a long trip! But the people on the buses I rode were usually friendly and helpful. And maybe I was lucky with that. Not sure I’d want to take a long bus trip with strangers in this day & age, however?

    1. Same here, except I didn’t learn to drive until I left home so I walked, took the bus or got a ride. Mostly walked or took the bus. I never had a problem with people on the buses, just that on the greyhound in the last 20 years or so, the company employees treat the riders like they are guilty. Guilty of what I do not know.

  7. This post played like a film in my head. Your sister’s recall of what you wore on the day and your cousin’s adoration for you painted a vivid picture of you when you left home.
    Your ‘rogue’ apple put me in mind of the book — ‘It might be an apple’ by Shinsuke Yukitake.

    What a treasure those letters are Kristin.

    1. It plays in my head too. I appreciate all the letters I have that take me back to the past.
      I never read that book, I will have to look for it.

  8. You are a natural born writer, judging by these letters. Brave of you to go cross-country. I was lucky to get away from home for college — the same year you went out west. I spent a great deal of time on Greyhound buses going back and forth to school (Binghamton to Syracuse, then transfer to Buffalo the first year — often in blizzards), so I can’t imagine going cross country that way! Looking forward to your future posts on your trip.

    1. I was 22 and had graduated from college. I wasn’t scared or feeling brave. There’s a link at the end of the post above that will take you to an older post that describes the rest of the trip which takes place by train and plane.

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