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Busman's Holiday
Peter King
November 26, 1990
Coast-to-coast commuter John Madden likes what he sees as he rolls across America in his suite on wheels
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November 26, 1990

Busman's Holiday

Coast-to-coast commuter John Madden likes what he sees as he rolls across America in his suite on wheels

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"How can people bet on this stuff?" Madden would say later. "Nobody knows how these games are going to go."

Elko County is wider than Connecticut, and the town of Elko is the only place for 100 miles in either direction that has anything resembling shopping or something to do. It was 9:30 p.m., and Madden wanted to walk before eating. A shopping center was nearby, but most of the stores had already closed. The doughnut shop was still abuzz, and in the beauty shop a woman in a white uniform painted one last set of nails. Madden laughed. "God, are these things popular or what?" he said. "Every town in America has a nail shop, and somebody is always in 'em."

After Madden made a run through the Red Lion salad bar, the bus headed off into the night, and he broke out the tape of the Dallas-Washington game from the previous week. At 2 a.m., somewhere in the Great Salt Lake Desert, he turned off the TV and went to bed.

DAY 2
GREAT SALT LAKE DESERT TO OMAHA

I discovered that I did not know my own country.... I knew the changes only from books and newspapers.
Travels with Charley

At 6 a.m., Madden was still sleeping, but the sun was coming up over southern Wyoming. We had slept through Utah. Now the eastern horizon was slightly pink with wispy clouds. It was as if the horizon were a stage and the curtain was opening an inch a minute, revealing a work of art. "We see those things," Hahn said from the driver's seat, "but unless you mention them to me and Willie, they kind of go right by us. Now that you mention it, it's incredible, isn't it?"

We were near Rawlins, Wyo., more than a mile high, traversing the Rocky Mountains. But aside from a truck stop every 40 miles or so, nothing was out here except hills and rocks and mountains, which is why the surroundings are so pretty and so desolate at the same time. Through Bitter Creek, Table Rock, Wamsutter. So wide open. We had just left Sweetwater County. Delaware and Rhode Island together could fit in Sweetwater County. Delaware and Rhode Island have a combined population of 1.7 million. Sweetwater County has 42,347.

In the morning light Hahn pointed to antelope, 50 yards from the road, eating brush. Soon we saw deer and jackrabbits. Yarbrough woke up—drivers and guests slept on fold-out beds and shelves with mattresses—and went to the front of the bus in time to see a pack of wild horses grazing half a mile off the side of the road. "I remember John bringing a producer from New York on the trip once," Yarbrough said. "He'd lived in New York all his life. He gets out in this part of the country, and he says, 'Man, there's sky all over the place' We got a good laugh out of that."

After a 9:15 a.m. stop in Laramie, Wyo., so Madden could use a pay phone to do his daily five-minute spot for KSFO radio in San Francisco, he took his seat on the padded bench as the bus passed through the southeastern edge of Wyoming and headed for Nebraska. "Have you ever heard of whiteout?" Madden said. "Whiteout happens around here in the winter. It snows, and it blows so hard you can't see. Everything is white. If it's too bad, you can't drive." The Madden Cruiser was caught in a whiteout once. Hahn drove two miles an hour until he got through it.

We passed some tepees on a hill by the side of the road. "We're coming up to Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, now," Madden said. "That's where the missile silos are. Once we were coming through and stopped at a 7-Eleven or something, and we see all these things—not cars, I don't know what you'd call 'em."

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