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Bus Story #2 No Furthur, by Chloe Scott
I was never a Prankster, Merry or otherwise. Pranksterism sprung up around me like a rank untidy growth when we all lived on Perry Lane in the late fIfties, early sixties. I moved to one of the small cottages built there after the First World War, with my seven-year-old daughter, Jennifer, after divorcing my husband and leavIng New York forever. A one-block street, its official name was actually Perry Avenue, but no one ever called it that. The little houses were surrounded by greenery, and an oak tree grew in the middle of the street. Perry Lane, pre-Kesey, was even then enclave of independent thinkers and intellectuals. I lived next door to one Robin White, who was, as was I, ten years older than the grab-bag collection of Stanford grad students clustered around in the other cottages. Robin lived there with his wife and three children and their house was open to everyone. He saw himself as the focus of social action on the Lane. The flavor of this free-spirited collection was old-time Bohemian with a tang of West Coast laissez-faire. Partying was frequent, low-key, and alcohol-based. Candles burned and dripped in the necks of wine bottles, everyone I wore sandals, and some of the guys grew beards.
When Kesey bombed onto the lane in 1958, the atmosphere changed both gradually and radIcally. He arrived one day with Faye, his high-school-sweetheart wife, and moved in next door to me .... His first words on meeting me were, "Hi, you look like Lizzie Borden" --said with a smirk and a slight chuckle.
This did not endear him to me. In fact I never did understand what made him say it. (The rhyme he referred to goes: “Lizzie Borden took an axe,/Gave her mother forty whacks, /And as soon as she was done,/Gave her father forty-one"-- an actual murder case in the nineteenth century.) Hardly a flattering reference, especially since Lizzie Borden was reputed to be a dried-up old maid. And, here I was, the Queen of Perry Lane. Unfortunately, it was typical of a kind of humor Ken favored.
Ken was at Stanford as part of what was to become one of the most famous and successful classes in the history of Wallace Stegner's creative writing program. Writers from the class began gathering at one or another of the cottages for regular, serious literary meetings and readings, Larry McMurtry, Peter Beagle, and Gurney Norman among them. And the flavor of the parties changed. two of the grad students introduced weed, still in those days a novelty. Smoking dope was exotic, and at first only one's musician friends did it, but soon everyone did. And the Bohemians morphed from bebop to hipster to cool to Beat. Perry Lane echoed to the rapping and banging of bongos, day and night. It was an eternal party. How did we have so much time? I was working, teaching dance. Presumably the students were studying, the writers writing, but my recollection is of one long party, and it never rained. Ken brought us psychedelics from the V A Hospital where he worked while he wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and again the intensity of the partying escalated.
But the partying, the dope, the crowds of strangers attracted to our little settlement began to be unpleasant, too much of a good thing .... After one weekend away, I returned to my cottage to find four totally unknown trespassers sleeping there. Enough, I said. Jenny was twelve years old it this point, and was being exposed to what I saw as unwholesome influences. Before the outsiders overran us, the carryings-on had been more in the nature of hijinks and fun and games. But now the cops were nosing I around, neighbors were complaining, there was on ominous sense of things being out of control.
And then with the suddenness of an avalanche it was over. The property on which all the houses stood was sold. Everyone was evicted. At a final monster farewell block party, Ken led an attack on an old upright piano, demolishing it with an axe, and amidst the twanging and springing of springs in their death throes, set it on fire. Then everyone was dispersed to the four winds. Which was when the Keseys moved to La Honda and another chapter began in which we saw the birth of hippiedom.
Their rustic house, set on the edge of the redwood forest park on the side of a stream, was reached by crossing a narrow, rickety wooden bridge, just wide enough for an automobile. “The scene” had moved with them, over the hill, and the spread was quickly thronged by ex-Perry Laners in other flavors of friends, fellow travelers, hangers on, freeloaders, and dopers of many stripes. Amongst them were a few serious artists of the caliber of Joe Lysowski, painting psychedelic fantasies, and Ron Bosie, who clanged away under the trees, creating his larger-than-life metal sculptures. Many of these folks stayed in the Kesey cottage, while others camped around in tents and trailers or went home to their lairs at night.
Somewhere along in this time, 1963 to 1964, the Great Cross Continental Bus Trip notion was born. The plan for the big trip began evolving on a drive George Walker and Ken took after the opening of the Cuckoos Nest in New York. They came up the idea of taking a group of friends from the west coast and driving to the projected Worlds Fair in New York the next year, recording the trip on 16mm film and audiotape to include pranking around at the fair itself and then the return journey. What a gas. What a novelty. What fun. The only problem: how too transport all of the folk who were sure to want to be included. After various possible solutions (a fleet of station wagons, VW buses) were discarded, the brilliant notion of a school bus occurred to someone. A retired school bus was acquired, one that had already been modified into sort of a camper with built-in bunks and refrigerator and sink.
The Pranksters sat upon it and modified it even further. A rack was fixed to the roof for people and equipment, with a ladder to the top. A sound system was installed. And day by day, the exterior was transformed by the streaks, stripes, strokes, and swashes of paint: Day-Glo, nightlight, rainbows of swirling color overlaid and overlapped on its capacious yellow sides.
It was somewhere along this time that Merry Prankster's got their name, and their mission, as Intrepid Travelers, was clarified: pranksters work Till Eulenspiegel on acid. Thumb your nose and authority. Show up the absurdities of modern life. Prick the pride-balloon of the squares and the uncool. But not just to make them look stupid. Leave disruption and confusion in your wake but also possible delight and amusement. Give them a fresh look at things, open up possibilities for liberation and enlightenment. Ken, the Chief, as swashbuckler and Ken Babbs, his second in command as Intrepid Traveler, along with Neil Cassidy as Sir Speed Limit, would lead these bold pilgrims on their quest…
The bus is ready. The first, the original, the prototype of a painted-up hippie bus stands before us with its glowing chaos of color, its sign on the front, FURTHER, and one in the back saying CAUTION: WEIRD LOAD. A motley crowd is gathered in the sun, gaping, admiring. Climbing on and off, checking this and that, the pioneer crew load baggage and stake claims on the space inside. Sleeping bags, backpacks, duffel bags, old suitcases, paper bags, plastic bags, any receptacle that could be stuffed with belongings is piled aboard and quickly swallowed up in the total chaos. Equipment-electrical cords, connections, plugs, cables, mikes, batteries, film, tapes- is collected and stowed inside and on top of the bus in untidy piles. Speakers blare Beatles. Ken oversees it all, trekking back and forth across the dusty sward in his old sneakers, checking the progress of the packing provisioning, carrying boxes and bags and belongings.
At last, after weeks of preparation, they are set to go. I stand with the other non-tripsters, saying goodbye and bon voyage. The adventurers climb aboard, spreading themselves around on the benches and seats, hanging out the windows.
"Keep in touch!" we call to each other. "Don't forget to write!"
Cassady takes the wheel, bobbing and bowing to the ones left behind, now standing forlornly in the dust. The engine growls to life and throbs steadily. With a grinding, of gears and a slight lurch, the bus inches forward, moving toward the bridge. The crowd cheers. Everyone is waving. Slowly, Cassady maneuvers the ponderous bus onto the creaking planks, rolls forward a few feet, then …
With a cough and a splutter, the engine dies. The bus stops. Repeated noise of engine being turned over, eheheheheh. Nothing. Again: eheheheheh. Nothing.
Someone turns off the music. Everyone looks at one another.
A shout from the driver. "OUT OF GAS!"
In the middle of the bridge, and that was the beginning, and a perfect metaphor for the whole bus trip.
by Chloe Scott
Reprinted from the University Park Temblor which reprinted the story with permission from Chloe Scott from Spit in the Ocean #7, a book of articles and remembrances of the famous Perry Lane resident and author (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), the late Ken Kesey. All About Kesey, ed. by McClanahan, Penguin