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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

The Vacation Begins

(Author’s note: This is a verbatim transcript from a written journal I kept on a vacation {circa 1982-86}. Aside from a few punctuation changes, nothing has been altered. This is my earliest writing, at a time when I was heavily influenced by the musing of Hunter S. Thompson, a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, and the creator of Gonzo journalism. Explanatory comments in braces {} are for clarification of family names)

I knew I was in trouble right from the start. 4 1/2 hours to Los Angeles. Got stuck in traffic in Pomona. Turned off to get to Hwy 60 only to find myself knee deep in construction.

Finally got to Buddy’s {brother in law} house. The air conditioning is broken, the water tastes like a horse has been bathing in it. So I drink lots of Diet Coke. Get a real buzz on.

Dinner at Chan Dara's is great except the waiter spells a full flask of hot sake and my brand new pants.

And this is only the first day.

The trip

Something is odd about the other passengers on the plane. The guy across from me crosses himself as the plane taxis down the runway. He holds his rosary beads in front of his eyes, his gaze stuck on them.

The man behind him places a pillow on top of his head and holds onto it as the plane takes off. The guy next to me has red overalls and is wearing track shoes with cleats. I try not to notice any at this.

The flight itself is uneventful. As we are about to land, out pops the rosary beads, and the man behind him puts the pillow back on top of his head again. I've done several reality checks, but all are inconclusive.

I land at 6:30 PM and reach Yonkers by 10:00 PM.

I arranged for a “shared” limo with a black man and a 300 pound black woman. She sits next to me on our ride – she is lively and cheerful. First stop is the Bronx.

The Bronx is alive at night - cars parked in the middle of the street with people casually talking. A single business offers the following services:

1. car stereo installation

2. beepers.

3. income tax preparation.

We make it back to the highway and somehow I manage to get to Vera's {Phyllis’ aunt} house.

I'm offered a tomato sandwich and blueberry pie which I eagerly accept. I'm in bed at 11:00 PM and sleep till 8:30 AM. No shit.

Next day

I know I must go to New York City at once for cold sesame noodles and shrimp with black bean sauce. I board a train at 11:00 AM and I'm at Grand Central shortly thereafter. I walk from 42nd St down to Irving and 16th to a non descript little place called “Szechuan Restaurant”. They know why I'm here. They are very supportive. The waiter takes my picture twice. I eat my noodles and my shrimp. And then I am gone.

I head back Uptown, in search of the Good Humor Man. Men of good humor are rare in New York City, but I find one. His name is Eddie and he carefully inspects the $50 bill I give him to pay for my chocolate éclair ice cream sundae. I carefully inspect the 49 $1.00 bills he gives me for change. I take his picture. He asks me if he can have it - I tell him maybe it's better if I keep it. He agrees. I am gone again.

By now I have visited the Men’s room at Grand Central station 3 times. I am impressed. It Is the only part of the train station that is air conditioned, so I hang out there, in spite of the young black man with a paper cup who is acting as the ambassador to the men’s restroom.

I didn't fall asleep till past midnight. I was concerned about poor Luis Avila {customer of mine}. He wanted to order an upgrade {to my software} but couldn't remember his home address. Maybe I should send him an extra mailing label next time.

I dreamt that I was learning to play bridge with a bunch of bikers.

Slept till 8:45 AM. If this continues, I may miss my plane in 10 days or so. Felt at home here. They have a barking dog next door.

When Vera asked if I wanted pizza for lunch, well, I said “Spank my monkey , you bet!” I washed it down with another slice of blueberry pie and headed off to the train station to catch a bus to Pennsylvania.

Anxious to see my brother. See if he has any Valium before I go to visit my mother.

The Port Authority has been renovated. It is now a modern well architected spacious building with clean lines and a distinctive look. It is still filled with scum sucking vultures looking to hit up on any unsuspecting tourist as myself. Little do they know ...

So I called my brother Scott and tell him to pick me up at 6:30 he says “great, where are you staying?” And (long pause) I reply “with you of course.” he takes off work early to go home and clean up a bit, I guess.

Afterthought: if Dante were alive today, he'd love serious sick New York City.

I take refuge in a coffee shop near the bus platform. A black man sits down next to me and plays with his cup of coffee. He continues to place and remove the plastic lid on the Styrofoam Cup about a dozen times before he finally puts some sugar and cream in it. Then he carefully stirs it for about 5 minutes before taking a sip. A very meticulous person. Then this black Transit Authority worker walks in and eyeballs me. He stares at me like I had a white sheet over my head or something. The way things look it might not be a bad idea. I do another reality check. Still nothing conclusive. And I am a mere 120 miles from my mother. I start to wonder if maybe I should just hang out here at the Port Authority for a couple of days.

The bus is 45 minutes late leaving the terminal. Just as we hit the street, a big black woman realizes this is not the bus to Bridgeport CT and the driver must return to the terminal with her. On the way, we passed several black men standing in the middle of traffic with boxes of VCR's and video cameras. They are offering them for sale to motorists. The driver is offered a nice Panasonic camcorder but politely refuses. We need to get on our way and there is no room in the overhead compartment for a box as large as a VCR or camcorder.

An idea strikes me. I rummaged through my address book hoping to find Hunter's private number. He would want to be in on this. Just call it a feeling - - but I think things are going to get more interesting.

Aside: have you noticed how many times I've used the word “black” so far?

As we round the corner for a second time a young Oriental with about three dozen red roses appears in traffic behind the blacks with the VCRS. A confrontation erupts when the black men assume that the Oriental with the Flowers is trying to hoard in on the action.

Farther down the street, also in the middle of traffic is a hotdog salesman. I am tempted to offer the driver a $10 bill and have him go get us both a couple of dogs. It's past 4:00 PM now and that slice of pizza and blueberry pie are just history at this point.

Got into Scranton 90 minutes late. Dined on honey roasted peanuts and peanut butter crackers while waiting for my connecting bus, which fortunately, was equally late.

As we speak, the bus driver gets a radio dispatch over his CB radio inquiring of my whereabouts.

I assure him I'm OK and he relays this information ahead.

More black happenings: notice the black man sitting on his luggage eating fried chicken. I know what you're thinking. How could his luggage be eating fried chicken? Well, this is Scranton PA and well, it just sort of fits.

Signs of life

Finally. There is a strong pulse detectable in Pennsylvania. There is life here. Children playing. Sidewalks. Diners. Cheese Steaks. I ran into Mario at a local Kmart. He had a big smile. “No more goombas for now” he said. Somehow, I trusted him implicitly.

I saw other signs of life in my brother's apartment. Unfortunately, they were crawling up the wall. If John Belushi were alive today, he would live here. I went down to the local drug store for some surgical gloves. I wrapped up one glass and sent it to the Atlanta Center for Disease Control. I took a pair of my brother’s socks and Federal Expressed them to the Smithsonian.

Next day.

Most important things in my life begin with a “F”: family, friends, food, felines. It's all too easy to take these things for granted especially when you are swimming in them; although for the life of me, I have never swum in food or felines.

Francis Bacon once wrote an essay on friends, but he did it so long ago that I have forgotten what he said, and I'm not so sure it wasn't really written by Shakespeare.

Anyway, spending two solid days with old friends gave my batteries a well needed recharge and renewed my faith in all things worldly, especially the tasty cake butterscotch krimpets I found on a shelf in a convenience store. The hardest thing about rekindling old relationships is knowing that the party can't go on forever. But as Tinker {early college friend} pointed out to me over 20 years ago “never be sorry you are leaving, only happy that you came.”

Still in spite of these laudable notions it is painful to leave good friends, especially ones who pick up the tab at the bar.

The bus driver has issued a fair warning: “This stop is Scranton. We will be here approximately 10 minutes. If you would like to use the restroom, have a cigarette or have a drink, you may do so now. The bus will leave, with or without you at 8:50.”

I've seen some weird shit in my life but this one definitely ranks up there with the best. If you've ever tried to pee in a bus toilet, I mean, you're trying to hit a moving target. Well this toilet peed back at me. Something about the design of this particular commode caused a fountain of urine to shoot up about 18 inches in the air as I let loose. “Jump back Jack” I thought to myself, and I did. This spontaneous liquid eruption continued for a good 8 to 10 seconds after I retreated.

I am a bit spooked.


Walking towards campus I felt like I was being flung headfirst into a slow moving stream of memories. I would swim to one, grab onto for a few moments, then continue on downstream.

Entering Cosmos on Marshall street was as close to a religious experience that I have ever had in years. no disrespect intended, but I felt as if I had entered a holy place.

Feisty as ever and sharp as a tack, Dr. Richards greeted me with a warm smile. Out of the 25,000 students he's taught in the last 20 years, he remembered me and my work.

Over lunch we talked about gliding, skydiving, the new cabin in the woods he is building -- complete with elevator (for when he gets old) and urinal -- he says it's hard for him to find the toilet seat at night. We talk about the new breed of student attending Syracuse. With tuition at $18,000 per year, it has changed the shape and form of the average college student.

TR liked my work, he praised its content and its technical excellence. I celebrated our wonderful 2 hour meeting by returning to Cosmos for more French fries with gravy.

Bus stations draw an assortment of humanity heretofore only found in the famous Star Wars cabaret scene.

It is 8:30 AM and I'm waiting for a bus to Massachusetts. Behind me, a young man is alternating between playing video games and plunking quarters into the miniature TV's attached to the plastic chairs in the terminal. He doesn't watch anything. He just flips through the channels until his $0.25 worth of time expires. Then he plays more video games.

In front of me, another man talks frantically on a payphone, apparently trying to reconcile differences between him and a girlfriend who is constantly hanging up on him. Next to him the adjacent payphone has been ringing nonstop for five to six minutes, God only knows who is on the other end. I get up, walk over, remove the phone from its cradle and lay it down to calm the noise of its incessant ringing.

To my left, a long haired, slightly unkempt man with the eyes of a hungry wolf rummages through his possessions stored in green plastic trash bags in an unlocked storage compartment. He eyes me warily, but I don't make contact.

As I leave to board my bus, I replaced the phone on its hook. Almost at once it begins ringing again. Harmony and balance have been restored.

My fears of rapid weight gain on this trip have proven to been unfounded. For the past two days I have subsisted on little more than french fries with gravy, pizza, toasted honey buns with vanilla ice cream, Bass Ale, and of course Diet Coke. Thank God I had the foresight to have a little bran for breakfast yesterday.

We pulled into Utica NY and the bus fills up quickly. It gets dark inside, Africa dark. I think back to Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in an old comedy. Wilder paints his face black, dons an Afro wig and struts around this train station trying to look black.

I wonder what it would be like if all of the Blacks on board might want to try painting their faces white, and imitate me. In Albany we have a 45 second layover and I switch from Trailways to the Peter Pan bus line for the journey to Springfield MA. As I boarded the bus, I saluted the driver and said “Captain Hook I presume.” He just stared blankly at me and asked for my ticket. the bus smells, sort of moldy, like what a rug saturated with water would smell like on a warm day.

North Hampton Massachusetts

Northampton is where all the East Coast hippies live. It is a college town with lots of tie-dyed-liberal-left- wing-pinko-fascist-Nazi-lesbian hookers.

As I waited for Jeff and Dee {friends from Syracuse U} to finish a business meeting I toyed with the idea of putting on my “Ron and Nancy” button and walking around town pulling the earrings off of young men with half of their head shaved. Some woman in the bookstore asked me what my sign was and I nearly hauled off and smacked her with my camera bag.

The skies cleared in the afternoon but my head hasn't. I woke up yesterday with a slight head cold, just enough to make the vacation feel like an effort of sorts.

So I popped a Benadryl and my senses took leave of me for a few hours. It was like my sense of balance and depth perception went off on a vacation of their own.

I was overjoyed when they finally returned.

After wandering around downtown Northampton for several hours, I needed a break. Although the shops sport a high level of art, jewelry, and other crafts, each plays a distinctive kind of music which I have dubbed “hippie elevator music”. It sort of reminds me of the sound two doves would create if they were making love in a blender.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh though. I found a shady spot in a park nearby and fell into a light sleep. I woke to the pleasant sounds of two young ladies playing bluegrass banjos. They looked quite nice, sitting in the sun, playing away until I noticed their large Doberman relieving himself on one of the banjo cases.


Three days with Bruno has proven to be a brief respite from this Twilight Zone vacation. It is interesting to observe that after being with Jeff and Dee (2 children), and Bruno and Kathy (4 children) that one child is quite adequate for the time. It is if it is as if each additional family member increases the amount of attention required by a geometric progression. If one child requires about 8 hours a day of supervision Bruno's 4 need at least 32 hours of care each day. The ensuing zoo like atmosphere created a certain amount of unending tension. Both Bruno and Kathy were seriously exhausted by the end of the day.

Just when you thought it was safe to leave this soulless-rats-asshole-fucking-worthless-scum- sucking-piece-of-shit-city (New York).

I'm on the Carey Transportation bus to JFK and this young lady gets off at PanAm only to find that her luggage hasn't made the trip with her. She remembers putting the large red bag in the first of four luggage compartments, so the black bus driver sees no reason in opening the other three to see if it might be in there. A melee develops between the lady and the bus driver. She is in quite a state of despair. She is a courier heading to Europe and everything she had was in that big red bag.

The driver suggests that she ride along on the other stops, so when it becomes appropriate that he opens the other luggage bays, perhaps she will find her bag.

A well-dressed man in his mid-50s insists that he saw the big red bag loaded and asked the driver to open the other storage areas. The bus driver refuses, and a fight ensues. The bus driver wins and the lady reboards and the bus continues. She is almost in tears now. The bus driver will not give her any written acknowledgement of her plight and she refuses to leave the bus until she gets some receipt for her travel. She exclaims:

“I know you fucking New Yorkers. Tomorrow you will deny ever having known me.”

She is right. I give her my business card, as does another man on the bus. What little it will do. She gets off at PanAm, bewildered, alone, and without her possessions. Oh shit did you notice? I used the word black again...

My mind flashes back to the pretty young teenager from Ireland who sat next to me on the train from Boston to New York City.

She was about to visit New York for the first time. I warned her to watch her purse, her luggage. Not to take the subways, not to make eye contact with blacks or Hispanics. It wasn't enough. I should have told her not to come at all. A couple of strangers at an adjacent table are having coffee while waiting for their flight. They are discussing New York City horror stories. He is relating an account of a black man on a night train systematically entering sleeping compartments and spraying chloroform (an anesthetic used in hospitals) in people’s faces and then robbing them.

The plane, the plane, the plane

These weirdos are determined to get their money’s worth out of my vacation. The guy across the aisle from me is sitting with his leather jacket on his lap . One sleeve is extended, and the open part is wrapped around his nose and mouth sort of like an oxygen mask. But God only knows what he is breathing. He's using both hands to hold the sleeve in place. Why doesn't anyone else notice this? Should I call a stewardess? The captain? Should I talk to him personally about this? Should I ask for the other sleeve?

Yes, Hunter, it finally has gotten weird enough for me!

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