I once read an interview with Oliver Hardy where he revealed how his comic characterizations were based on the time he spent as a young boy in Georgia, watching people in hotel lobbies. He would just sit there for hours on end absorbing the interactions and character traits of perfect strangers. What was true back in the early part of the 20th century is just as true today, I think, as I sit in the lobby of the Adoba Eco Hotel in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota.
What I am looking at mostly are late summer tourists queuing up for the buses that will soon take them to Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Devils Tower and points beyond. These folks could very well be the sons and daughters of those we made fun of forty years ago in our young Park Service days. But the fact of the matter is that “they” is now “us” and the demographic has changed noticeably over the years.
What I am looking at, of course, are aging baby boomers so what I am seeing is different in many ways from the fat and fifty crowd of a generation ago. There are many more minorities getting on the bus…and interracial couples, and gays and lesbians. The very same people we marched in the streets with in the Vietnam era. Some of them still retain that youthful glow and glamor. Some have become disabled. And quite a few are still fat and fifty or older… but they represent a far broader cross section than was seen even a decade ago.
Last month at Yellowstone I accompanied a 73-year old woman to the Old Faithful Lodge where she had worked as a young lady over 50 years ago. Her face lit up when she found the old dorm room where she had lived that one summer. Another couple was returning to the place in the Tetons where they had spent their honeymoon. But many others were seeing these magnificent places for the very first time.
And even though the Firesign Theatre group claimed that “we are all bozos on this bus”, we are all still seeking a respite from our daily routines We are all getting on the bus, finding our seats, and heading off into the past and the future at the same time, united in age and experience, looking for adventure, human interaction, perhaps romance, or perhaps a lost chunk of our youth left somewhere out there on the American road so many years ago.