On the Bus

[26 September 2007]

By tjmHolden

*So, let’s say that your Mom and I asked you if we could smoke marijuana with you and your boyfriend.”
“Well—Nooo. I mean, that completely would not happen.”
“Well, why not?”
“Because . . . you don’t smoke marijuana . . . do you?”
“Yeah, but . . . if we did?”
“Well, then . . . no. . . “
“Because . . .


don’t smoke marijuana.”
“So, does that mean that


aren’t on the bus and we might be?”
“Well . . . “

This year my project is to help grow my kids. After a couple of years in which they toiled in a foreign country on their own (submerged in a different culture, trying to negotiate a radically different set of cultural rules, saddled with an alien set of meanings and expectations), we are together again. And, although, they have done an amazing job—adapting, expanding, persevering, diversifying, blossoming—they are eagerly welcoming my active participation in the next stages of the process.

A major part of that will be rounding out the rougher edges of their education. Yet, within the first few hours into it, I am realizing that this might not be as easy as, say, fielding a lazy fly ball in shallow left. After all, our first conversation has touched on shared marijuana tokes as exemplar, bus rides as metaphor, teens opening up about their private behavior. Life upside down and me adrift inside it.

Ha! This might be much harder lifting than I had anticipated.

Imagine that.

My (re)new(ed) American education begins with Modern U.S. Lit. It’s actually a course called “The Outsider in Literature” and, as the teacher points out the following day at “Back to School Night”, that title accounts for just about every writer who has ever hefted a pen or clicked keys. They are all denizens of the margins in some respect; all strangers, outsiders, aliens, misfits.

Synonym for moi, ecriteur.

The book that the ModLit class started with was The Wide Sargasso Sea, but the one that they are working on now is Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The essay question that my daughter brings to the dinner table to ponder is something like:

“What was Kesey’s drug of choice and how did this fit into his escapades as part of the ‘Merry Pranksters’? Further, who were Tom Wolfe and Neal Cassady and how does this all relate to the idea of being on or off the bus?”

Well, is


all? I thought contemporary education asked tougher questions like: “what do McMurphy and Nurse Ratched symbolize and what connection do these symbolizations have to American society, circa 1962?”

Thankful for small favors, I am nonetheless totally jazzed that I made this trip all the waaaaaaaaaaaay across the Pacific to volunteer my ego for honorary buffeting and battering, abraising and bruising.

After I prove of extraordinary help, my daughter turns to the Internet for the rest. Which is to say, almost all of it. In the end she gets most of the background that she requires from Wikipedia, determining that LSD was Kesey’s drug of choice, Neal Cassady was the character known as “Dean Moriarty” in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and became the driver of “the bus”, and Tom Wolfe was the journalist who chronicled them (and this) all in The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test; by this point, a book that is more known than it is read.

What we recall from the book—aside from the Acid Test—is the trip. Which is to say the journey. That woud be the physical trek from San Francisco to New York, as well as the intellectual voyage from “out there” into “deep in here”. This was all done—both bodily and metaphysically—through or in association with the bus.

Ah! The bus finally makes its foreordained (and much anticipated) appearance.


After the dinnertime conversation, above, and prior to the writing of this entry, I found this which explains a little more about the bus (whose name was “Further”). You can read it for your edification, but basically, it’s not much different than what I just explained. The bus (whatever it actually is or stands for) becomes the instrumentality (metaphor, game, situation, plan, etc.) that one is either “on” or “off”. More or less (you can take my word for it).

Which is basically what I was getting at with my daughter.

In Wolfe’s words, it is like this:


Being on the bus is the main idea. Being on the bus means doing one’s own thing. Apart from that, the meaning of the bus is rather elusive too.

It’s one of those convenient things. The notion of being on or off. Surely, it’s a test of one’s hipness, of one’s connectedness. But it may also be a test of one’s limits; their boundaries. Possibly even their fears. Certainly decisions and affiliations and allegiances and practices enter into it.

And inside of this there surely is room for folks who are marginal, who are outsiders. Like us writers. Or even visitors from other cultures. Like me now, and my kids before me.

What I know as writer and outsider and Todgie-come-late-comer is this. After my first exposure to this, my year of American reeducation, I discern that - surprise, surprise—I may qualify for the bus. Maybe not the 1960s version, and maybe not even the contemporary incarnation, since that is—like, changing every second in this collide-o-scope, multiply-like-mutant-metastasized-cell world of ours. Ideas and practices and what is considered trendy and valid and real (and what is not) all getting on and off the medium of cultural transmission every few pit stops. So, no, as for me, my bus ride may be something less ephemeral; something a bit more transcendent, more enduring and bridging. Maybe a little way-back-sometime-after-then to up-to-just-a-little-before-sometime-in-the-recent-now.


Well, that’s the good news. The even better news (for an anxious parent): my daughter may be off the dang thing entirely.

But then, saying it that way, I suppose, immediately disqualifies me for any further excursion on the bus.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/on-the-bus/