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 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
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“