Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) will be penned by the two of them.
1995: I-405: Victory Blvd exit
Dad shifted gears as his hatchback’s wheels caught in the freeway’s grooves. He swung his head to look at the retaining walls on each side just as they gave way to twisted palm trees and apartments with stucco tinged by car fumes.
He posed a question to us in the backseat – the kind he’d ask only because he had a smartass answer he wanted to share.
“Hey girls – you know what they call Van Nuys?”
Mom, knowing the answer, playfully rolled her eyes in faux-Valley native offense.
“Call what? Van Eyes?”
He grinned, enunciated “Van. Nuys.” and then proudly proclaimed it “the armpit of the world.”
I guess you can call places and people you love any rude nickname you want.
He’s been calling it that since 1976.
Dad arrived in Van Nuys on a Greyhound en route from New Hampshire when he was 19. My aunt (“arnt” in New Hampshirian) Kathy had gifted him a bus pass for his birthday and he immediately took it as far away as possible. He traded in Boscawen NH, “The Valley of Industry” for “The Valley, Period” and quickly settled, probably mostly because his father wasn’t there and it didn’t snow like a motherfucker.
At one point, all six of the Broughton children fled en masse to Los Angeles. All six desperate for an extended period of non-weather, a coastline longer than 13 miles, and a city that didn’t know every square inch of their business. The eldest, Tom, arrived first and was followed by the three sisters (Kathy, Nancy, and Betsy) who lived together in one of those quintessentially 1960’s walk-up Santa Monica apartments with molded stucco railings, a view of the Pacific, and a retro building sign warped by ocean mist. Or at least that sounds best. I’m not sure about the particulars.
Dad arrived fifth, leaving the youngest, Charlie, behind with their aging parents, the dalmatian, and the sugar-poaching poodle. Within a year, Charlie dropped out of high school and ran away to LA to attend city college. Safety in numbers.
Each left the farmhouse with the tombstone stepping stone behind to give Los Angeles a try. Dad was soon in the thick of it with his Ugly Duckling Ducati and four decades later, he’s the only one still in California.
He told us stories of his Los Angeles coming of age whenever he could, and his experiences peppered mine in unexpected ways. There was a recollection of a bar bet during a science experiment, a memory of an ex-girlfriend’s snake while driving down Devonshire, a decades’ old opinion on gin once Georgia and I identified it as our sister-drink, a floodgate of shop-talk when I delved into printmaking, and rough and tumble tales from every block I “discovered” thanks to art school and hipster gentrification. It’s difficult to picture your hardworking, sweet, quiet, bookish dad as a motorcycle riding, pranking, serial dater, bar fight instigator and mediator, and so I didn’t always treat his recollections with the patience they deserved or the genuine interest I felt. Recording and sharing them now – in the same age range as he was during these adventures – is an effort to redeem my teenaged exasperation. And also, I just miss my dad.