And, I mean, there wasn’t an available inch in those busses that wasn’t used. Lunches and all kinds of stuff—stuff to sit on and fans for the sweat off your brow—hot!—oh boy!
Well, we started out—all I can say is that it was a fantasy in so many ways. There are a few occasions in your lifetime when you are reminded of the fact of how diverse humanity really is. On the one hand they are capable of the most incredible humanity. I hate to use such as word as “humanity” applied to human beings—but I say that probably a squirrel is capable of humanity towards people. But they are capable of things which you could not believe, after having lived in an urban world in the twentieth-century. And, of course, they’re capable of the other. You keep seeing the other superimposed in your own mind. The “other.” You know what I mean by the other.
To begin with, thinking about this thing for weeks in advance, I had talked with guys who were planning to go and arranging this thing. I had all kinds of ideas about the way it would be. Just like all of us have ideas in our head about how history is. I’m sure you have ideas about how it must have been to be in Germany in the 20s. Well, it wasn’t. Not the way you think it was. I’m sure you have ideas of how it must have been when Washington was crossing the Delaware. Forget it. It wasn’t. I was not there but I know one thing—it wasn’t the way you think it was. I’ve found that very few things are the way you think they are.
One of the great moments was to be riding along in this bus in the semi-darkness, everybody’s feeling tired, and there was a peculiar excitement of the unknown. No one knew quite what to expect. And what was, I thought, quite significant, no one even talked about the event to which we were going. Now that, I think, is interesting. I waited, I listened carefully. Nobody said a word about it. They talked about the bus, they talked about the lunch they were carrying, they talked about their shoes hurting, they talked about everything. It was as though nobody wanted to talk about where we were going and why. And particularly the people who were deeply involved in it, the negroes we had with us—I’m going to say right away, some of the greatest people I’ve ever known in my life. Well, that’s another story. It goes back to Nigeria and other areas of life and existence. We can’t go into that right now.
But driving along through the darkness, we were whistling along the Jersey Turnpike, and the bus had a governor on it as cross-town busses do. (The cross-town bus driver was hollering for transfers and he was ducking imaginary cabs all the way.) We weren’t out on the Turnpike more than five minutes when other busses started to pass us in the darkness. The particular rapport between the busses was insane. It’s obvious that you’re not going to see a cross-town bus out on the Jersey Turnpike heading south unless there’s something going on—this bus was just not a bus headed for Paramus. Well, we’re going along in the darkness, a bus would go past and instantly you’d see all these hands out the window waving at our bus. Our bus is waving at them. Great moment. And after awhile you got so it was just normal. When we got off the Turnpike past Philadelphia and on through Delaware, we were skirting a railroad track and a train went past us with about nine passenger cars loaded to the gunnels with people. And the whole train was waving at our bus! And we’re waving at the train and the crew was waving out of the front of the locomotive! I’m just describing to you what exactly happened.
We arrived on the outskirts of Washington. Now people began to talk about— “Wow, I bet we’re going to be late, boy what a traffic jam.” They never once talked about the event, even when we got there.
(More of Shep’s description to come.)