Last Bus To Jacksonville (Part 2)
On a summer morning in 1967 the man on the Philco radio announced the music group; The Monkees would be playing in Jacksonville, Fla. My friend George had lived there before moving to New Martinsville. If I remember, we began talking about the concert and how we would like to hear them perform. Since George knew the town, we hatched a plan to travel to Jacksonville and see the group on stage.
It was the summer before our junior year in high school. Life was passing us by and we realized this was an opportunity to see history-The Monkees live in concert. First thing we needed was to get permission to travel nearly 800 miles to the south alone. Our plan was to tell his mother we were going to stay with my relatives in Florida. We told my parents we were staying with his relatives. We both fabricated the truth a little to get permission.
Next was to find a way south. That was the easy part. Just down from the place we worked was the Quaker State gas station. It also was the Greyhound bus depot. We counted our money and purchased two tickets to Jacksonville. Our plan was coming together. Now all we had to do was wait for the day our trip was to begin.
Early morning a few days later we boarded the bus south to Jacksonville. For the first part of the trip George and I sat together. Somewhere along the way we ended up sitting with other people. The first person I sat with was a lady who had traveled north to see her grandchildren and now was returning home. She showed me pictures and told me of each person in the picture. Truth was I don’t remember much about the pictures or her grandchildren. What I still remember is her telling me of how she was glad they lived far away from her. Not that she didn’t love them. But where she came from it was difficult for her family to live. You see, the lady I shared time talking with was African-American. She came from a place that was still trying to find its way in a world of racism and riots. She felt some comfort that her grandchildren may not have to fight those battles she had at home.
A little later, I changed my seat again and this time I sat next to a young man who didn’t seem a lot older than me. He was a big feller with one of those flat top haircuts you could set a book on and it not fall off. He was heading south to Florida to try out for a new professional football team. I don’t know if he told me the team’s name. He was hopeful he could get an opportunity to play football. He had a big smile and warm personality that made the miles more passable with conversation.
Then somewhere in Georgia we stopped late at night at a bus station for a delay. We had some time to kill, so George and I walked outside of the station to look around. For the first time on the trip I realized I was not in West Virginia any longer. We returned to a brightly lit world inside the depot. After that stop I sat with a young soldier for awhile. He never seemed to stop talking, even being late at night. I believe he was nervous about where he was heading, Vietnam.
Eventually we made it to Jacksonville and purchased our tickets, and waited for the big day to arrive. We had some adventures in finding a place to stay while waiting for the day of the show. The place we first stayed, George and I figured we were lucky to have survived. Looking back over the years it must have been our active imagination of danger and we were wrong about the place we found to reside for a couple days.
Finally the night came and we made our way downtown to a concert hall and waited for the Monkees to come on stage. Like most concerts, warm up acts took the stage to get the crowd ready for the main group. The first group was a local band. I learned later Tom Petty was part of that group.
By now thousands of screaming girls had filled the audience making it hard to hear anything. But the next band was not what those girls had expected. I was surprised myself at the next group. The band came on stage and began their show. The music rocked and the stage show they performed while playing was great. I barely heard over the screaming girls the lead singer’s name; it was Jimi Hendrix.
I had traveled 800 miles to see the Monkees, but nothing could beat the show Hendrix put on that night. Later on the Monkees took the stage and the girls never stopped screaming. Davey Jones could have been singing Mary Had a Little Lamb and they would have not known it. But for George and me, it didn’t matter because we saw Hendrix.
Next morning, we boarded the bus to return back home. Somewhere along the way a man in the seat opposite us started talking to the bus driver. He was a man of faith who spoke in Bible passages for miles. The driver would point to a sign that said, ‘Please Do Not Talk to Driver’. The Bible man paid no attention to the sign or its meaning. Finally the driver looked at the man and asked, “Do you know the passages, ‘Silence is golden’ and ‘still waters run deep’?” The man spent the next few hours quietly searching for the passages.
Sometime that night we arrived home from our adventure out of the valley. We had started out to see a musical concert, but what I discovered was much more. I learned of the fear a grandmother had for her grandchildren in a time of riots and unrest because her skin was a different color. Each evening, I watched the TV reports of violent riots in the south, I wondered of her fate. The young man I met who had dreams of playing football in the big leagues; I wondered if he got that chance and became a Miami Dolphin. What of the fate of the young soldier going to Vietnam? I’ll never know. A few years later that young man was me leaving home in the valley to a distant air base in the southwest. Finally, I wondered about the Bible man? Perhaps he did find the passage that told him silence is golden, especially on a bus heading north.
George and I returned to our homes in New Martinsville with more than we went looking for. We believed we only wanted to see the Monkees on our big adventure. But instead we saw one of the great guitar players of those times. I also learned in life, if we take the time to look around and see the world and talk to new people, you can find adventures you never even knew existed. I still have that old Philco; perhaps I will turn it on and see if it plays “Silence is Golden” as I look Thru the Lens.