I was living on a hippie school bus with some people I had just met on Venice Beach, and my friend Adam who I had known for so many years that our brains were connected telepathically. We were on our way from Arizona to our first show, which was going to be the String Cheese Incident in St. Louis, Missouri, where we could sell jewelry and coffee on our way to the Rainbow Gathering. Even though it would make sense to cut East through Texas and then North, David needed to avoid Texas at all costs.
“It’s not my state, man, I don’t wanna set foot there ever again, man.” Whether he had warrants or just a hatred of how they dealt with hippies, I have no idea. Fact was, we were going to go out of our way, north to the panhandle of Oklahoma and through Kansas to get to Missouri. And that was fine by me.
As we went through Kansas, I couldn’t help but think of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Not because I was going to a rainbow or flying over one, but because I used to think I was her when I was little, and wondered if I was going to bring us a tornado just because it had gone through my head a million times as a child. The sky was dark like nightfall, but it was not far after noon.
“Does that mean there’s a hurricane?” I asked Johnny, who was well seasoned to the ways of the road. I had never seen a sky on the East become so rapidly heavy with no rain. The dark sagging bellies of the clouds were making a ceiling above us; I had never seen anything like it.
“No, no. We’re gonna be fine. Dark clouds are fine. You only want to worry when they get green.”
“Like that kind of green?” I asked, pointing out the window on the other side of the bus.
“Well, yeah, that kind of green. Maybe we should check the radio. It’s probably nothing,” he said. I was starting to wonder how I even ended up with such mellow people, I was so incessantly stressed about everything, and somehow they weren’t bothered by this. Hopefully I can let go of that tendency, it seems pretty useless, I thought. Of course the green cloud is nothing.
Sure enough, the radio wasn’t playing music, it was playing hurricane warnings.
“There are three, that’s right folks, three hurricanes on the loose right now,” the lady said unemotionally through the speakers. “We recommend that you stay off the roads, that’s right, off the roads, and seek cover immediately.”
We figured it was just a Kansas thing. The gas tank was nearly empty and we stopped in a little town to fix that. Problem was, most things were closed. Not little mom-and-pop stores, but the chains, the ones that you can count on being open 24/7 no matter where you are. I pictured all the people who worked at them huddling in the basements of their homes with cans of food and bottles of water, prepared. I looked at our thin, rattling windows, the shaky bus door, and tried to ignore the feeling of being so vulnerable. We finally found one that was open.
“Do you think we should be worried?” I asked the boy behind the counter. He was older than me but not an adult yet. I wanted to tell him so much, about how we had been living on a hippie bus finding free food everywhere and doing nothing but following our dreams, on our way to live in the woods and play drums and do trade circles, but I didn’t. It was good enough that I could ask him about hurricanes.
“Nah, usually its nothing. I mean, if it turns into a twister, then it can be bad, but it’s kinda like, it hits you or it doesn’t, you know? Once a twister went right by my house, destroyed most of the houses on my street but skipped over mine.” He was proud of his story, I was just terrified that I would be the neighbors.
“Are you gonna close the store?” I asked him, concerned for his lack of care about this matter.
“Nah, people need to get gas to get home, don’t they? There’s a basement here I can use if I need to. Your best bet is to just find a basement, I wouldn’t drive in it, that’s for sure,” he said, obviously not realizing that the bus was our house, and it didn’t come with a basement.
I wished him well and went back out to the bus, through winds that seemed to have a pent-up vendetta against anything standing upright. Tumbleweed danced across the road like those sing along dots under the words of Disney songs. This could not be happening. I realized I didn’t really want to be Dorothy.
“David, the guy in there said we should find a basement or something,” I said, realizing my voice was shaky. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to be at home with my mom.
“Yeah? Ain’t no way that’s gonna happen!” David declared maniacally, roaring the bus up. Luckily we had just painted some of that stuff on the windshield that repels rain, one of our wipers was broken. It had been sunny for the past few weeks and the rain was making up for lost time. I looked at Adam and Johnny, trying to find some sense of peace or reassurance. Johnny’s face said he didn’t care, but his hand clutching the pole by the door was a new addition to his usual position. Adam just looked at me with some sort of Cheshire-cat-on-crack smile. Oh right, I thought. You used to be suicidal. This probably qualifies as a fantasy for you. I looked at the straight road ahead, the land on the side of it dipped down a few feet right off the road, so even pulling over was impossible. And each road went on forever with no option to turn, what if we met a twister head on? I began writing a letter to my mom that she could find once my body was taken out of the wreckage of the bus after it would most certainly fly in the air like Dorothy’s house.
“Okay guys, hold on tight, we’re gonna drive right through it!” David’s voice was crazed, he had both hands on the steering wheel, the radio on loud. “Johnny, look at the map, when they say where those hurricanes are tell me, we’ll go through the middle and avoid ‘em.” Johnny seemed reluctant but he agreed, using a pencil and marking it down as they rambled off town names and highways, and David drove accordingly, and we managed to weave through those beasts of nature into the safety of Missouri.
When we were through the danger and put back on the Grateful Dead tape, I listened closer to the words, feeling more appreciative of the details of life as it happened.
Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you better, watch your speed. Trouble ahead, trouble behind, and you know that notion, just crossed my mind … Jerry sang through the crackles of the tape player.