The summer of '78 approaching, Linda and I made an apparent choice to skip our assignment to spend the summer in Chicago basking in the heat and humidity with several hundred of our colleagues in a smoke-filled room. Actually, it was the only choice, after the year we'd had, work-wise and family-wise. We took our monthly stipend and the few dollars we had managed to save from our family budget and purchased a Greyhound Ameri-pass, two cheap backpacks, made arrangements for the kids, and took off for a summer adventure.
The month-long bus pass allowed us to travel on any Greyhound route. The buses were a mixed bag and still had smoking sections in the back, which was ok with me since I was still addicted, although because Linda was not, I tried to limit my smoke breaks. The tobacco odor permeated the interior constantly. Added to this often was the sickeningly sweet perfume that came from someone in the back sharing some of the "good stuff."
Our travel budget did not include much hotel money, so we planned our itinerary to travel at night, grabbing as much shut-eye as possible, then spending the day sightseeing and snoozing in a public park, not necessarily in that order. This made for interesting encounters with other travelers and challenges in locating restrooms for bathing, shaving, quick underwear changes and all other necessities. But we were having a glorious adventure with no one making demands on us. And besides, we had many years experience knowing how to be poor and "living off the land."
Our itinerary took us through Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee on our first night out, landing in downtown Memphis just after the sun came up. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits at a local greasy spoon cafe suggested by the bus driver, we asked where there was a park with grass within walking distance. Spreading our one blanket out under a big shade tree, we drifted off for a couple of hours, than explored as much of Memphis as we could before catching the Greyhound for a night-time ride to New Orleans. Linda and I were interested in local history and found that each city had museums and historic sites easily accessible to walkers. Had we been driving ourselves we would have passed over so much of the richness of culture that these southeastern states offered. One uniqueness of the culture of the south that it was difficult not to notice was the leftover signs of the Jim Crow days. The bathrooms, the drinking fountains, the segregated housing, even the looks of displeasure should a black person take a seat next to a white person on the bus. This was not so noticeable in the large cities, but at each of the smaller town bus stops the years of segregation and oppressive social structures were so evident you could smell and taste them.
Memphis, Tennessee – Beale Street
Our most memorable and pleasurable stay during our adventure was the three days we spent in New Orleans. We decided to spend our meagre hotel budget for two nights right on Bourbon Street. The weather was hot and the humidity steamy. Strolling through the French Quarter, stopping to watch the street performers, and best of all taking in the night life made us feel like rich tourists. A highlight was getting inside for an evening with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
New Orleans – Preservation Hall
The next leg of our bus tour took us through Mobile, Tallahassee, Tampa, Miami, all the way to Key West, where we decided to 'blow' the last two nights of our budget for lodging. The weather was hot but the ocean breezes made for balmy evenings, so we would walk along the beach in the mornings and evenings and take long naps in the afternoons. We soaked up the luxurious surroundings like drunken sailors, thinking we would probably never get the chance to be in Key West again.
The return trip went up the Florida coast through Jacksonville to Atlanta, then on through Chattanooga, Knoxville, and stopping for a couple of nights in Lexington, Kentucky, where we sponged off of Linda's sister Sandra. And we needed sponging off. We did not want to leave that bathtub.
All good things must end. We braced ourselves for the last leg back to Chicago to 'face the music'. We arrived at the end of July at 4750 North Sheridan, formerly known as the Kemper building, to be confronted with Justin Morrill's contemptuous look and brief but painful grilling.
"So we could have used you here where you were assigned to be, you know."
We knew we were going to be in for it, so we just lowered our heads and said we just needed the time away.
Now it was time to deal with next year's assignments. Would we be sent back to Boston? Overseas? Or?