06 October 2012

A Bus Ride

I'm going to start out by asking you, no matter what your religious beliefs may be, to start this playlist while you read this post. I think you will understand the post a lot more if you do. I typed this through the tears of joy at remembering a seminal event in my life. One that solidified my religious beliefs and also contributed more to my movement from kid to adult than almost anything else ever in my life. And it revolved around a bus ride.

I used to be a very active religious kid. I was at church two or three nights a week. When I was in the sixth grade, I discovered youth choir. The music program at the church I attended had a very charismatic director, and he pulled us kids in right and left, and made learning music and performance fun. The next summer, between the seventh and eighth grades - 1972, we were encouraged to go to a Southern Baptist music camp. This camp was held at some neglected summer camp facility somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I didn't much like the camp. I am sure a lot of that was due to the fact that my voice picked that very week to crack for the first time. OH NO!!!! All the other boys were either not at that stage, or enough past it that it didn't matter. So I stuck out like a sore thumb. Other than that, it was a wonderful experience, and on Friday night, we performed the musical we had worked on all week for our families  then packed up and went home on Saturday morning. I decided I was going back the next year, come hell or high water, because I had something to prove - that my voice had settled down.
Of course, fate has a way of intervening in the best laid plans of mice and men. December 1972 saw my family moving from South Carolina to West-by-God-say-it-with-a-smile-Virginia. I was devastated in more ways than one. But I had no choice, and off to West Virginia I went. That's where I discovered the Fifth Avenue Baptist Singers, known as the FAB Singers (not "fab" but F-A-B). They also performed what were called folk musicals, and I fit right in.
Image being 14 and realizing you would be performing on this stage in
6 days!!! To a guaranteed full house!!!! Part of the pipe organ is
visible in the upper left. That's about a fourth of it.

When it was time to register for camp, I got mom on the job. By early spring, I was registered and looking for a way to get to South Carolina and back. What mom sort of neglected to tell me was that I wasn't going back to that awful summer camp facility, I was going to Furman University to the HIGH SCHOOL camp! Since I'd jumped from the 8th grade to the 9th grade because of the move, and the camp groups were based on school grade, not age. So  I was headed to a university to spend a week on campus, living in a dorm, and performing on Friday night in a 2000 seat auditorium with a HUGE pipe organ! Furman is located in the northwest corner of South Carolina in Greenville, and is a private Baptist school.

More interesting to me was that my mode of transportation was to be by Trailways bus! Excuse me? No roadtrip with mom and dad behind the wheel??? Oh. My. God. I was elated. And so scared I felt it in my balls.
I can remember surrendering my suitcase to the bottom
of this monstrosity, and having to manhandle my guitar
on board and overhead. 
Mom took me down to the bus station and we bought a roundtrip ticket from Huntington, WV to Greenville, SC. The trip down sucked. The bus was on a milk route. Meaning...it stopped at every damn crossroads between WV and SC. The 330-odd mile trip took nearly 24 hours. The worst part was that we didn't drive over the West Virginia Turnpike (back then the WV Turnpike was said to control the excess population of WV so maybe it was better we detoured around it). However, the "nearly parallel" road was far worse. Barely two lanes wide, and having no improvements like wide turns, it was a sea sick nightmare, though I did manage to avoid throwing up. Unlike several others on this train wreck of a bus ride. Most of them made it to the toilet located in the right rear of the coach. Note I said "most". Ugh. Route 16 in West Virginia should be demolished. Actually, now that the West Virginia Turnpike has been upgraded to almost-Interstate-grade, it is used by the few buses that traverse the state. It has to be easier riding. And driving. And far less sickness inducing.

Mom had arranged for a ride from the bus station to the university campus. I honestly don't remember how I got from the station to the campus, but I do remember having to drag my stuff what felt like halfway across the damn state to my dormitory. This stuff included clothes and my guitar. My roommate was a cool dude, and we hit it off immediately. Saturday night was an introduction to the week. We'd have various music classes in the mornings, then some lunchtime/early afternoon down time, then 3 to 5 hours of intensive rehearsal of the musical. (If you didn't start the YouTube playlist at the top, here it is again so you'll know what we were up against. We had a band, but in the recording the parts played by the orchestra were covered by the organ and band.) In the evenings there were social activities, more rehearsals, and bedtime. The next day, we'd get back at it. It was intense, to say the least, but I was loving every second of it. I had a classical guitar class. Totally awesome. Voice class. Music theory. Then the mass rehearsals. There were about 200 of us. Professional actors provided what you hear as the narration in the playlist. Soloists were selected from our midst. Our guitar class played our guitars for several pieces.

I just got to the Lord's Prayer part. Pardon me while I pray.
"Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Friday night arrived. Unfortunately mom and dad couldn't make the trip down. I had 3 siblings that needed tending, and dad was busy at work. But that was OK with me. I saw how so many of the others were stressing out because their parents would be there. I was just scared my voice would crack again (it had once in a while on particularly high or low notes), or that I'd forget the guitar chords, or that I'd pass out from fright or I'd just somehow screw up what was, up to now, the largest performance I'd ever been a part of. And as predicted, the house was full. Every seat. Our entrance was down the aisles, the guitars playing, everyone singing, the organ going full tilt. It was so emotional, but we managed to keep it together and the whole ensemble assembled onstage. Then it got intense.

It came off tremendously.

But now the week was over. As the postlude to this post, if you haven't listened to the whole thing, at least click on this link and listen to the postlude of Celebrate Life! We all hung out in and around the auditorium until we were chased away. It was a bittersweet time. I made my way back across the campus to my dorm room and sadly stuffed my clothes back into my suitcase, cased up my guitar, and undressed for bed. Sleep was fitful.

One reason I had trouble sleeping was that I had no idea how I was getting back to the bus station the next morning. I finally got a few minutes, or hours (maybe) of sleep. Saturday dawned much too early. I was up, dressed, and out of the dorm. I had breakfast and started pulling my stuff back towards the auditorium, still unsure how I'd get back to the bus station in Greenville. Imagine my surprise when a van pulled up beside me and asked if I needed a ride. It was obviously a church van, with 5 or 6 of my fellow campers already in it (none of whom I knew). I explained my situation, and within a couple of minutes we were headed towards the Continental Trailways bus station in Greenville. I waved goodbye to my new found friends as they pulled away, and went into the bus station. It was a rather depressing cinder block building with a parking area much too small for many buses, as far as I could tell. I went up to the counter with my (round trip) ticket that had been purchased at the Trailways bus station in Huntington. The clerk looked at it. Then he looked at me. Then he handed me my ticket and said "I don't know where you got this, but we don't have a bus to Huntington". I was stunned. I asked what the heck I was supposed to do. I explained that I had bought the ticket in Huntington, as a round trip. His response was that Continental Trailways did not have a bus traveling to Huntington, WV and that basically, I was shit-out-of-luck. I suppose that I teared up, and started to cry. I might have been 14 years old, but I was a scared kid, 300+ miles from home, and I had just been told that I wasn't getting home by the prescribed route set out a few weeks earlier. The man looked at me, and said "Greyhound runs a bus up there". I asked what I was supposed to do about that. He said "Greyhound will accept your ticket from us and get you there." My next question was "how the {fuck} was I supposed to get to the Greyhound bus terminal?" His response was "take a taxi". I didn't know much about travelling by taxi, but I knew I had about two or three dollars in my pocket. Maybe a bit more. Back then, spending money for teenagers was a lot less than it is these days, and I (as planned, I guess) had little need for money.

But I didn't care. I got into a taxi out front. Told him to take me to the Greyhound bus terminal. So he did. I paid him with whatever cash I had. Then I confronted the man at the counter. There was some argument, and probably a few adolescent tears, but soon I had a ticket to Huntington, WV! Via Charleston, WV (40 miles from Huntington), with a 4 hour layover there.

I called mom collect. For those of you who might not know what a collect telephone call is, go read this. She was pretty upset that things had changed, but my distress actually calmed her, and she said "OK, we'll see you when you get here". I got on the bus. It was another long trip, but nothing like the milk run I'd endured coming down. The bus, a Greyhound this time, arrived in Charleston, WV at 2:00AM.

I called home again (collect), waking everyone up (I'm not sure I cared at that point). The connection didn't leave until something like 7:45AM. I could get home in 3 hours instead of something like 8 hours. Mom sent dad to get me. He wasn't particularly pleased, but I got home a lot sooner!

I grew up a lot during this adventure. I learned that my parents trusted me a lot. I know that my God looked out for me a lot. I was on my own, and overcame a fair number of obstacles. And I know that my God loves me! Thank you, God.

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