Dad, Charlie, mother Connie, Vanraj, father Ed, and Koso in Boscawen, 1976. Vanraj and Koso met at the Montreal Olympics and rode this 360cc Honda from Montreal to Miami where Vanraj said “enough is enough” and Koso continued solo to Chicago, New Orleans, and California.
The Trailways Bus Line no longer stops in Boscawen N.H. For that matter, Trailways no longer stops anywhere, having been acquired by Greyhound many years ago, to the detriment of both companies. Back in the seventies, both lines stopped at Burgess’ Store in Boscawen, around 10 a.m. on most weekdays and usually for no more than a few minutes. I left from there on June 1st, 1976.
My sister Kathy had given me a thirty day Trailways pass, which was the nicer of the two lines, and seventy-five dollars in spending money. The pass would allow me to travel anywhere in the lower forty-eight for the entire month of June, and the seventy-five dollars was so I would have some money for mementos and food. I had vague plans to ride all the way to Los Angeles to see Kathy, who lived in Van Nuys with her husband John, and my other older siblings, Nancy and Betsy, who shared an apartment in an about-to-be torn down duplex in Santa Monica, and our older brother Tom and his wife Lynn, who lived in South Pasadena. I didn’t have an agenda for getting there, just the estimation it would take a little better than a week and the same amount of time to get home.
I had packed one suitcase of clothes and a good pair of shoes, and had a bicycle pannier pack slung over my shoulder loaded with toiletries, an old pair of glasses, and my pocket edition of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These were invaluable while traveling at night as the scenery disappeared, and not a few seatmates asked to borrow them. Traveling across the country at sixty miles an hour leaves you lots of free time.
Twelve miles south of Boscawen (and even so, a world away) is Concord, the capital of New Hampshire. It is pronounced in the local patois as “Conquered,” with a hard “C,” a hard “o,” and hard pretty much everything else. You can leave out the “r” while you’re at it, no one will notice. We didn’t stop long, and I had seen the place before, so I stayed on the bus and we went south to Boston. Boston I had seen before as well, but usually only the Sullivan Tunnel to Logan Airport, where we picked up my sisters from their frequent shoestring trips to Europe whenever they’d saved up a thousand dollars. I had a few hours to kill, so I checked my suitcase and carried my pack around downtown, checking out the high rises while trying to find the Old North Church. The buildings were impressive, as the highest place in Concord was maybe four stories tall and the highest place in Boscawen was the hill in back of the town park. Back at the station I checked the departure times and saw a bus leaving for New York, so I boarded and said good-bye to Boston.
We motored out south and west, starting on a heading that would remain more or less constant for ten days, and went through Hartford (third capitol) arriving at the New York Port Authority about midnight. We came in from the north, through Harlem, where I saw an immense billboard (maybe fifty feet tall) of a black man dressed in a three-piece suit advertising Marlborough cigarettes. This marked the first time I had seen a billboard so huge and an advertisement with a non-white model. Because it was 1976 after all, and I grew up in New Hampshire where everyone is translucent. Three state capitols, and four states, in one day. Heady stuff for a nineteen year old innocent who had only been far enough north to stick a toe into Quebec and no further south than my Grandmother’s house in Fall River, Massachusetts.
As I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I zeroed in on the little restaurant counter in the station. It was there that I ran into Koso Nishimura, a thirty year old Japanese National on a trip around the world. He had caught the traveling bug and sold all his possessions, started west from Osaka, traveling though Asia and Europe working as a mechanic when he needed funds. He’d made it from Ireland to New York working in the galley of a freighter and was taking the bus to Chicago to see his friend Rolando P. Hiso, who was from the Philippines; they were going to the Montreal Olympics together. They were both great cycling fans, and had raced against each other in the Pan Asian games a few years previously. He figured I liked bicycles, since I was carrying my stuff in panniers, so he asked if I wanted to go to Chicago with him. A few hours later we rolled across the bridge into New Jersey, then though Pennsylvania, which I remember as both very pretty, and long. In order to save money I was not getting hotel rooms, sleeping instead on the buses. Koso was used to sleeping in moving transportation by that time anyway, so we kept going through the night, through Ohio, (round on both ends and high in the middle, the word means something entirely different in Japanese, by the way) stopped briefly at the mistake-by-the-lake which is Cleveland and winding up in Chicago about noon the next day. Rolando took us to his parents house, (They had a rice cooker. I had no idea such a thing existed, honest to God) and we had lunch, then went out with a group of his friends and talked about bicycles for the rest of the afternoon, getting barbeque for dinner.
An interesting bunch of guys, one asked if I had ever had dog. I told him we had plenty of dogs at our house. One, Melissa the Poodle, was so smart she had figured out that when the family all left for the day she could jump up on the table and lift the top of the sugar bowl off with her teeth, happily sticking her snout into the bowl and licking away to her hearts delight. She was not smart enough to realize she should have put the lid back on the bowl. My mother wondered for months who was leaving the lid off the sugar bowl, only solving the mystery by forgetting something once and having to run back into the house, catching Melissa in the act. Rolando’s friend laughed, and then pointed to my hamburger and said, “No, no, have you ever had dog?” “Oh, really?” I asked. To this day I don’t know if he was joking or not.
We stayed the night at Rolando’s parents, and in the morning I took a bus back into town to catch the next leg west, saying good bye and leaving Koso with the same words my older siblings gave everyone they met anywhere, “Here’s how to get to my parent’s house in New Hampshire if you ever get there.” Because our house didn’t have an address, we just gave directions: “Go to the church and then down the hill, fourth house on the left.” My parents (and some unsuspecting neighbors) wound up welcoming people from Hungary, India, Canada, Germany, England, Australia, Japan, (Koso stopped in after going to Montreal) and all points in between. If they ever minded playing host to people their children met while traveling, they never said so.
While I was in college, my parents rented a room to a succession of my friends in need of housing that didn’t plunge them further into a trench of debt. Since I lived close to school, I “missed out” on the bulk of the residential drama though my mother still likes to point out, I “brought the dorm home anyway” with my grump and odd hours (and she’s right. Sorry, Mama B). So at least with a friend around, there was finally one more person rightly in my boat. Over a period of four years, 7 people lived with my family. They were all fellow art students and many were from Los Angeles though a few were from points (much) further. Dad always seemed so thrilled at the regular stream of people under his roof. I met them all in cinderblock classrooms, not on global odysseys, but I think he felt like history was repeating itself in some small way. Except we have an address.