A Greyhound Bus Trip Across the USA
1969 was a memorable year for flight. Buz Aldrin flew to the moon and I flew across the Atlantic – both of us for the first time. Oh OK... I know, not much of a comparison but for a twenty year old student who had previously only flown 400 miles to the Channel Islands it was a big step for me too!
I ventured forth to the USA and Canada for a summer vacation, both to see my then very pregnant sister in Ontario and to explore the lands of opportunity.
It was “the thing” for students to do then, a bit like the recent gap year to Thailand only, for us it was just the summer holiday – it would have been inconceivable to take a whole year out!
At the last minute my travelling companion backed out. That was a bit of a blow, however, undaunted I set off on my own clutching a Greyhound bus ticket that would take me across Canada and America as far as I wanted to go. I seem to recall it was $30 for 30 days. A bargain!
A female travelling alone was quite risky I suppose but you don’t think of these things aged twenty. One of the plus points about travelling alone on long bus journeys is that your companions constantly change, resulting in a kaleidoscope of conversations giving one an insight into people's lives. It’s a far better way of learning about life in that country. My abiding memories of that time are of the friendliness and generosity of Americans and Canadians. We student travellers (there were hordes of us cris-crossing the States) had a fat book of recommended cheap accommodation, but I rarely used it. As soon as I uttered a few words, people seemed to fall over themselves to buy me a meal or offer to put me up for the night. It was of course, the accent. It had an amazing effect on people - usually a stunned silence followed by yelling to their friends to:
“Hey’all come and listen to this gal!”
After the initial embarrassment, I became used to it. A checkout lady once asked me to repeat what I said several times. I was just getting worried when she said:
“Oh, I just lurv your accent dear, could ya say thad’again”!
For my part I learned a whole new vocabulary, such as – baathroom or rest room, sunnyside up or easy over and that in America the word “please” is superfluous. It’s inherent in the intonation of the sentence and I soon realized that as a well brought up English girl, I said it far too much and sounded ridiculous!
After a while I discovered I could sleep comfortably overnight on the buses and that the Rest Stops had adequate washing facilities, so if the offers of accommodation ran out, who needed a bed anyway? I could then set off sightseeing during the day. There were particular greyhound buses - Scenicruisers, whose seats were elevated and so comfy (something I wax lyrical about in my diary!) and had a panoramic window at the front. Oh, what joy to get that seat overnight on the trip down the Pacific West Coast. The view of the rollers crashing in on a moonlit night is a sight I have never forgotten - straight out of a Hollywood movie.
I did need a hotel in San Francisco. It was as if every hippie (including yours truly) in the world had descended there, so accommodation was difficult to find and my hotel was particularly seedy. I recall there were two doors to my room, one locked from the other side, rather unnerving! The city seemed inhabited only by young people who were floating around wearing beads, flowers, wafting incense and other interesting smokes around. It really was an incredible time to be there.
On to Los Angeles where I stayed with a friend, which was just as well as it was too terrifying to ever cross the road. Never had I seen such highways and so many enormous cars. Whilst in Los Angeles I received the news that my sister had given birth to a baby girl. So it was a sharp left turn to journey to the amazing Grand Canyon (which I do not recommend walking down wearing flip-flops) then a race back through middle America and up to Toronto to meet my newly arrived niece, Meredith.
It was a truly memorable trip. I met loads of wonderful people from all over the world. I had lots of adventures, a marriage proposal ( I declined ), and when a fellow student traveller keeled over with appendicitis, ended up in the Baptist Hospital in Amarillo! When I explained the problem to the bus driver, he grabbed his mike and boomed out over the tannoy – (you must imagine this in a Texan accent)
“ We have an emergency here people. One of our young passengers is seriously ill. We have to ged’er to hospital immediately. Hang on in there litl’ady, it’s only eighty five miles to Amarillo!”
And with that he floored it! I think he rather enjoyed it. The bus with all its passengers screeched to a halt outside the hospital. Medics and stretchers appeared and whisked Sheila inside. As another travelling companion and I were interviewed by the doctor, we saw the bus disappearing out of the car park – with our bags! They were returned of course – the bus driver drove back with them later. Another episode of extreme kindness, as was the hospitality given by both the Baptist and Methodist ministers.
The next day I climbed aboard my last Greyhound bus and finally made it back to Toronto where I was able to see and cuddle my new niece, Meredith. Who’d have thought fifty years later we would be combining our talents in a publication! Meredith is now known as the Blue Jean Chef, has worked in the food industry for over twenty years, published books and worked on live TV. This year, together we have produced a calendar for 2021 with reproductions of my food paintings and Meredith’s recipes.
Meredith has always had special place in my heart. I’ve watched her grow up and achieve tremendous success in her career as a chef and cookery guru. I’m so proud of her and am thrilled to have been able to collaborate with her on this little project. It has been a labour of love that, as she so aptly put it, “has truly transcended a generation and an ocean to bring you a monthly visual and culinary feast for 2021!” I hope you like it too.
Check out Meredith's website: www.bluejeanchef.com