Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Grateful Dead Bus Trip

I took a week off from driving cab, because I went to Los Angeles, where I lived from 1971 to 1982, when I was part of the Jesus movement, when I converted to Protestantism, after being a Roman Catholic for 24 years. The reason for the visit was to participate in a reunion at the church that I was an associate pastor at. My friend George Shearer contacted me about providing photos for a retrospective slide show, and helping to obtain a musical performer to minister, a couple of months ago. So I didn’t intend to do any blog entries because of this fact. However, since this blog is a spiritual document, what I think doesn’t matter, because like the writers of the Bible, sometimes I am inspired by the events that take place, with the realization that they transcend normality.

Our old friends from Los Angeles, Denise and John lent us their second car to drive during our visit, so we didn’t have to rent a car. The day that we were leaving they were both unavailable, so we had to drop the car off at their apartment and take a taxi to the Amtrack station where we had to catch our Greyhound bus. I put in a time call with City Cab, for 1:10 PM, and when it didn’t show up by 1:18 PM, we were concerned so I decided to see if I could use the phone of one of the apartment residents, since we don’t have a cell phone. When I went into the apartment courtyard there was a man of about 60 with a grey haired pony tail exiting his apartment. I asked him if I could use his phone to call the taxi company to see when they were coming, since our bus left at 2:25 PM.

“I’ll give you a couple of bucks to use the phone,” I told him. He let me use the phone and I laid 2 dollars on his couch next to the table with the phone. The cab’s phone answerer told me that the cab was on the way, and I thanked the man who let me use his phone.

As I was leaving he handed me my 2 dollars and said, “here’s your money back. Pass it on to someone who needs it. I’m not a Republican.”

I pocketed the money, as I wondered why a rich Republican would want my $2.00, and as I exited Kathy my wife called out and said that the cab arrived. After we loaded our luggage, I told the driver our destination, and asked him if he knew how to get there? He had a GPS finder, but said that if I knew the way that I could tell him. So I told him to take York Blvd, until it turned into Adams and we were on our way. I asked him how long he had been driving a cab and he told me 4 months. I told him that I drove cab in Salem, Oregon for 7 years and we exchanged complaints about demanding passengers who latter made up stories about their driver, and accused them of taking the long way, when you went the short way. He expressed his apprehension about the danger in driving people. I told him about the guy who sucker punched me and broke my glasses, who later paid me $1,000.00 in reparation. When we got to the Amtrack station and unloaded our luggage the meter, which ran hot, read $20.90, and I asked Kathy to give him $25.00.

It was in the 90’s as the sun beat down on us, in spite of a dozen palm trees attempting to offer shade, until we hid in the shade of a roofed waiting area, with 8 other people who arrived after us. There was a Chinese couple going to San Francisco, an Arab couple, sending someone off and some Latinos. When the bus arrived 20 minutes late the driver announced that there were only 4 open seats, which caused an uproar. Since we were the only ones with printed out tickets, we were allowed to board. It was 2:54 PM when we started heading North to San Fernando, and then Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, Sacramento, where the bus was cleaned. Next was Redding, and then sleep, until Central Point, where we stopped at 8:00 for breakfast. I had two burritos from Taco Bell and a diet Pepsi, and then we headed to Grants Pass.

When we started loading in Grants Pass, the bus was swamped with passengers, who then took up every available seat. So I had to give up my empty seat, where I kept my back pack with the broken zipper, when a young woman asked me if it was alright for her to sit there. I immediately removed my back pack from the seat and put it carefully in the overhead compartment. I sat on the inside, since I wanted to try and sleep if I could, since I only got about 4 hours, thus far. I talked to my neighbor, and found out that she was going home to Spokane, but found out that she had lived all over the country while she was growing up, and she was only 20. I told her that we were from Detroit, and then lived in Los Angeles, until we moved to Oregon in the 1980’s. Then our conversation seemed to hit a wall, or maybe I was too fatigued to continue. Whatever the reason, we both became reticent and I fell asleep, until I was awakened by the driver announcing that we were now in Eugene.

After a couple of people exited and an equal amount entered to occupy the momentarily vacant seats, the driver announced that the next stop was Corvallis, as I asked my neighbor, whose name was Dominique what she was reading?

“Archeon,” she said, and continued, “it’s about mythology and immortal beings.”

“That reminds me of ‘The Boat of a Thousand Years,” which was a science fiction novel about immortal beings who could not die, except by suicide. It began in ancient Pheonicia in the second millennium BC. It was a love story about these two immortals who had a love hate relationship for 3,000 years until they were part of an immortal group on a spaceship traveling to colonize a new planet. Dominique then opened up to me and began to tell me about her life.

“I’ll be homeless when I return to Spokane,” she said. “I’ll be living with a girlfriend for a while, but don’t know how long that can continue. I broke up with my fiancĂ©e, who was my boyfriend for 6 years. We were living together, and I was working to pay all the bills, while he sat around and hung out with his friends. I told him to get a job or leave, and he left. Then I lost my job, because I had a baby with no babysitter, since my boyfriend who was the father left. My mother is a crack addicted prostitute and my dad is in prison. I lost the baby and then I couldn’t get a job, even at McDonald’s. When I went to some churches for help, even $20.00 for food, they wouldn’t give me anything.”

“Then you were going to the wrong churches,” I told her. “Churches are like people, they are all different. Some will show you the door, while others will give you the world. Take a directory of churches from the phone book, then look them up on the internet and find the ones that are concerned with their community and have some sort of a homeless or unwed mother outreach, I told her. Union Rescue Mission has a place in Salem that helps women get housing and jobs. There are actually people who care and will help you, but you have to search them out.

I then told her of my history. How I was drafted into the Army and became a hippie after my discharge, and eventually moved to Los Angeles with my girlfriend, where we found Jesus, and lived for Him for the next two decades, as we expanded our family from 2 to 9. How we lost all of our possessions and became homeless in 1984, after moving from Bakersfield, California, to Detroit, Michigan, during the Reagan recession. Then I told her how I lost everything again in 2003 and was still recovering from it. I told her about 39 years of marriage, full of good times and bad times and times that I wish that I were dead, and hated the world.

I reminded her about how when we left Eugene the driver warned passengers about drinking alcohol, as well as using drugs. “They included the drugs,” I told her, because Ken Kesey, the father of the hippie movement, was from Springfield/Eugene, and when he died a few years ago they had a big parade for him. The Oregon Country Fair in Veneeta is the longest running hippie festival, that began in 1969, the same year as Woodstock. She told me that she had attended it about 6 years ago. I told her that I attended it in 1999, with my 21 year old married daughter. We exchanged many other commonalities that could only be related to by an awareness of the streets, as they existed wherever there were people. I told her that I was a taxi driver and saw every strata of humanity pass through my doors, from the worst to the best. Then I told her about my 28 year old son with a degree in chemistry that he earned from Oregon State University, by working in a pizza parlor, while he attended school and worked as an assistant research chemist, until he was struck down by an infection that ate out his hip socket.

“He’s been crippled for over 3 years now, and has had two hip replacement surgeries,” I told her. “Both of them have gotten infected, and now he is on antibiotic treatment, again, which is draining all his energy. This is the thing that is ripping me up inside.”

Then I suddenly flashed back to the “Grateful Dead,” again, and told her, “as weird as it may seem, the ‘Grateful Dead’ were the transitory element for me to merge the secular with the sacred. When most people are pressed to explain the meaning of the “Dead’s” name they often list morbidity, yet the truth is quite the opposite. The name comes from a collection of stories by English born folklorist, Francis Childs, in the 19th century, although the original source is much more ancient, dating back to the 2nd millennium BC.”

I told her that every time that I told the myth, it would move me emotionally to shed tears. Then I proceeded to tell the tale, “as the story goes, there is a traveler passing through a village, where he comes upon a corpse rotting on the side of the road. When he asks why the body isn’t buried, he is told that the man owed money and, because his debt was unpaid, he didn’t deserve to be given the honor of a burial. The stranger then uses his last resources to pay the corpses debt, so that it can be buried. As the traveler continues his journey, he is joined by either an animal or another human, who is the embodiment of the spirit that he paid the debt for. Then the traveler encounters a travail or situation where his companion provides the solution, fulfilling his obligation as the ‘Grateful Dead.’”

I dried my eyes as we were pulling into the Salem, Oregon Greyhound bus station, as I finished my story. When the bus came to a stop, I got my backpack and pulled out a copy of the Wittenburg Door, with my address and telephone number stamped on it. “Here, I told her, take this and read it, it may help you, I interviewed a homeless man who through God’s intervention began working with an art dealer, and became his partner, after the art dealers wife died of a horrible cancer. She took it, but when I offered her $20.00 she refused it, with a determined look in her eyes.

It was a test for me, because I had a $100.00 dollar bill in my wallet next to the $20.00, but I offered her the lesser of the two. I failed the test.

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