Beyond the Bus

. . to stay is to be nowhere . .
– Rilke

My philosophy of life and underlying theme of everything is, never pass up a free ride.

Of course I never go anywhere anymore. That’s because, like so many of my contemporaries, I fail to live by my principles. So there you have it. My philosophy of life, a confession, and a commentary on twentieth century culture in three sentences and it didn’t cost you a dime.

I had an apartment in New York, a 35 dollar fifth-floor railroad flat on East 5th Street between C and D Avenues, sublet from an actor named Skip Weatherford. I lied to the authorities about my place of birth (Brooklyn) and got a social security card (127-36-1972) and a job. Every night I passed the Five Spot a few blocks away, where Monk’s band played the whole time I was there. I couldn’t afford to go in but I never passed by without stopping and leaning against the front window and hearing what I could hear and feeling the glass vibrate to the bass notes. When I had two bucks I went to Birdland and when I didn’t I went to Union Square and listened to the philosophers, dissidents, bolsheviks, mensheviks, religious zealots, and crackpots. I ate at the Automat, the best place in the world to eat, or so I thought at the time and I probably still do. Anything free listed in the back of the Voice I went to and that included the whole incredible sweeping range of everything on the cutting edge in New York City. Poetry, dance, music, theatre, movies, everything. One night I walked up two flights of stairs to see Philip Roth perform in a short play. If you a had a little money New York was far too expensive a city but if you had no money at all you could have a ball every single day and night of your life.

Skip’s flat had everything I needed. A copy of Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares which I read, thinking I’d become an actor, too. A denim jacket which fit me perfectly, phone, radio, and a typewriter on which I wrote loveletters and poems to Debbie R. back in Montreal. Once she actually replied and I carried the letter all day, taking the subway uptown to Columbia University and even then walking around campus looking for the perfect spot to open and read this letter. The edges of the two pages had been singed all the way around and whatver it was she wrote, it made no sense to me whatsoever. But it was dramatic! To this day I don’t know if she loved me or was just insane.

One late night the phone rang for Skip. They were looking for extra hands to strike the set at the Theatre de Lys where The Threepenny Opera had just finished about a decade’s run starring the glorious Lotte Lenya. I gave the caller Skip’s number but said I could help so I got one night’s job helping tear apart a piece of twentieth century cultural history for which I was paid fourteen dollars. The walk home at 5 A.M. from the Christopher Street theatre was one of the most beautiful walks of my life. The streets deserted and the sun coming up over the East River.

My brother Larry and his pal drove down one weekend in Larry’s Impala and stayed at my place. When they headed back to Montreal . . . well, it was a free ride so I went along. I planned to stay a couple of days, see my pals at the Potpourri and hitchhike back down or take the bus which only cost about twenty bucks then. Friday night John, Bud, and Rocky showed up, guys I’d never met till the moment they came in and announced they had a brand spanking shiny new forty-seat yellow school bus parked out front on Stanley Street that they were about to drive to Alberta and if anyone cared to join them they were more than welcome.

I went and got my small canvas pack from my parent’s place in Snowdon where I was staying. My poor bewildered, despairing parents. I lived in New York now, was in town for a couple of days and I said, stuffing all my worldly possessions, underwear, notebook, pens, toothbrush, Kerouac’s Scripture of the Golden Eternity, into that bag, “I’m going to Alberta!”

Alberta? It was thousands of miles away ā€“ west, I think ā€“ and that’s all I needed to know. The story of the bus is as follows: they made these things in a factory in Woodstock, Ontario. The way they delivered them to the schools all over the country that bought them was by advertising in the classifieds for drivers who took them out to wherever and got half of whatever they spent on gas refunded to them. I knew about doing this with cars but it’s the first I heard about school buses. So the three wiseguys, John, Bud, and Rocky, were doing it and after getting the bus actually drove east to Montreal for a last wild night partying before heading west to Lethbridge.

When I got back to the bus it was around 11 or midnight and we were all already too fucked up to go anywhere so we hung out in the bus, eventually falling asleep. There were five of us as Murray had also enlisted. The bus had seats for forty or more so we’d travel like kings. Someone painted BOHEMIAN EXPRESS on a large sheet of cardboard and taped it to the back of the bus. The right front fender was already busted off from the drive from Woodstock to Montreal when whoever was driving sideswiped a highway barrier. This was a sign of great things to come!

June 17, 2006 – this just in:

Hey Brian,
It was East 6th street 209 as I remember… Just Googled my name and there I was.
Blessings Skip

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