I was giving my personal belongings their annual cleaning-out when I noticed it. The faded, crinkle-edged, black and white photo sitting on top of a stack of old pictures, including one of Johnny Cash standing in front of the old Stardust Casino in Las Vegas.
One particular picture showed my mom crouched in front of a large, gleaming Trailways bus. She was sandwiched between two bus hostesses wearing flight attendant-type hats, dressed in red outfits – all with wide smiles.
In 1956, Continental Trailways began luxury bus service complete with an airline style hostess, reserved seats, pillows, magazines, music, lavatory-equipped buses, and food service.
The picture reminded me of a summer night, long gone by, when our family was sitting in the side yard talking. Out of the blue, my mother, Ellen, announced she had decided she was going to visit her brother, Robert, and his wife, Mary, in California.
The year was 1960 and my dad, knowing my mother didn’t drive or fly in airplanes, asked her whimsically if she was going to drive out west. His smile soon faded when she said, “No, I am going to take the Trailways bus.”
“Bob, could we go to Columbus next week to the bus station to obtain information for the trip?” she asked my dad.
“Sure. How about next Wednesday evening?” he replied.
A week later, we piled into the old Plymouth and headed north on Gallimore Road, crossing over State Route 72, onto US Route 22 and 3. Interstate 71 was still years away. I had never been to Columbus before. I was excited to see the big city.
Spying the “interesting” people huddled in the corners and milling around the station, the large bus depot was a curious place for a small-town boy. One man was sitting on a large wooden bench in the middle of the station sleeping, snoring loudly, while another man was ransacking the snoring man’s suitcase.
Then, my dad did something he hadn’t done in years. He grabbed my hand and said, “Stay with me.”
My mom, dad, and I walked directly over to the ticket counter. There was a large man in front of us talking loudly to the ticket agent. It was apparent he was a good-humored man. The elderly ticket agent asked the man if he wanted one seat only. “Sure, do you have change for a hundred?” I heard him say with a laugh.
Unsmiling, the ticket agent nodded, and continued processing the man’s ticket.
A month later we were back in Columbus. My mom hugged us goodbye, boarded the grand Trailways bus heading west to Lancaster, California, located in the heart of the Death Valley
Desert. The trip would be long and grueling. Mom would travel alone for 1,959 miles, and spend almost four days on the bus before arriving in Los Angeles.
On the trip back home to Port William after dropping mom off that evening, I read the brochure she had given me. The menu included chilled fruit juices, assorted sandwiches, donuts, cookies, and various hot and cold beverages. The additional 5-Star service charge was only $2 and included all you cared to eat. The extra first-class fare was $9, coast-to-coast, which also included breakfast every morning off the bus!
My sister, Rita, had an old 8mm movie camera she loaned to our mom for the trip. When Mom returned, we promptly sent the film away to Kodak, and eagerly awaited the developed movie to arrive back.
Rita popped some popcorn, set-up the movie screen, and the family gathered around. The movie began, and our hearts sank. Instead of Johnny Cash in Las Vegas, or the mountains in Monument Valley, we saw a three-minute clip of a shoe worn by the man who had been sitting across the aisle from Mom, the gray metal strips at the top of the bridge as she crossed the Mississippi River in Saint Louis, and an Indian headdress in the dirt somewhere in New Mexico.
That was it. The rest of the film was black.
Well, a good friend told me last week his wife is planning a trip to London and Ireland, and that he had bought her a new camera. His comments instantly made me think of my mom’s bus trip to California.
I certainly hope her pictures are better than my mom’s turned out to be. It would be disappointing if all he gets to see is the shoestrings of a cabbie, stray fingers holding a mug of Guinness, or a half-smoked cigar on the rocks at Galway Bay.
Elliott Erwitt said, “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things.”
We hope it’s a quiet summer.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.