"Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”
Late May, 1970: My friend Barbara and I packed up her Plymouth Valiant with our entire record collections including the British version of the first Rolling Stones album. We were going North. Looking at the map laid out on the seat, we decided to go “here”—a spot on the map, the end of the road, the tip of the world, Provincetown. We were Florida beach girls and our homing devices were tuned to the sea and the sand.
Within a couple of days after arriving in town, Barbara and I met up with two other young women, Lynn and Dawn, to share a one-bedroom cottage like a tree house up a long flight of stairs while we supported ourselves as chambermaids, store clerks, and waitresses. The cottage was quite a find, just off the Provincetown main street with all the action, but hidden in the tree tops.
Our moldy front porch was the perfect place to kick back in one of those uncomfortable old-fashion metal porch chairs rusting under the peeling paint, and put our feet up on the railing while the sounds of town drifted up all through the night. We entertained quite a bit there. Ripple wine and weed were usually what we served, and Barbara made a mean macaroni casserole her mother always cooked with canned tomatoes and ground beef and melted cheese on top.
It was there we came up with our idea on an August night that had just the tiniest hint in the air that summer wasn’t going to last forever. It was even a bit quieter on the street. From inside on the record player we had brought with us in the Valiant, Jimi Hendrix sang about being experienced. Barbara passed me a joint that needed to be re-lit. I could tell it was a Lynn-rolled joint because it was so tight you could hardly get a draw.
“Those dudes with the van were really cool,” Barbara remembered.
“Yeahhh,” Dawn said in her usual drawn-out way. “And they really appreciated us letting them use our shower.”
We all giggled. There had been four of them and four of us in the tiny cottage, although one couple slipped out to the van.
Dawn sucked on the joint. “Goddamn it, Lynn. When are you going to learn how to roll a joint?”
From below, someone laughed a little too loud, and then a glass broke.
“You know,” I started. “We could get a van like that.”
“Why?” Lynn asked. “We scored big with this place, and we’ve got it the whole summer.”
“No, I mean, we could buy a van and travel around like those guys after the season. They were going all the way to California. We could do that.”
“What about our jobs?” Lynn asked. “I’m supposed to be saving my tips for college so my dad doesn’t have to give me an allowance.”
“A van would be expensive,” Barbara added. “Especially one with a rug and stuff like theirs had.”
“We could buy it together,” I said. “We could all chip in so it would be cheaper. Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”
“Actually, I think only one person owns ‘Further,’” Lynn mused.
“So?” I was starting to like this idea. “We could all get jobs this winter and save up our money and then chip in on a van for next summer and take off. It would be awesome.”
A car went by blasting Bette Midler on its radio. After it passed, you could almost hear the surf off in the distance, a call you knew was there even if you didn’t actually hear it.
“Yeahhh,” Dawn drawled.
After summer, Dawn and Lynn went back to school, and Barbara and I moved to Boston. In the spring, Dawn called to say she had found a Ford Econoline van with many, many miles on it at a telephone company used equipment sale. We had to act fast to get it, she told me, so I hitchhiked to New Haven to check it out with $200 worth of savings stuffed into my jeans pocket. Barbara wasn’t going; by then, she had decided to move to western Massachusetts to join an ashram.
The boxy van, a faded blue like an old police uniform, waited in the back lot of the phone company. On top were rusting matching roof racks for carrying phone equipment. The side door slid open to the empty back, bare except for grooved ridges running up the middle. “They took the radio out,” Dawn said, “but that’s cool. I hear you can get one installed.”
Two seats up front sat on either side of the engine well. Dawn unsnapped the clasps on the engine cover and opened it up. She and Lynn and I stared at the chunk of metal in the well.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Dawn asked, cracking her gum. We nodded. For six hundred dollars, it was ours, equal shares.