While attending Union College at U.B.C. I was invited to join an intramural curling league which was my introduction to that sport. On Bell Island, Newfoundland, I was a part of a team that curled weekly and then, in Ottawa, I joined a team that was sponsored by the local Ministerial Association.
At one of the league games - in Ottawa - one of the other clergy brought three young women with him who were a part of an organization called Covenant Players. I was intrigued and it wasn't long before I was asked to be their representative in Ottawa and became their 'booking agent' for that part of Ontario.
Covenant Players had been founded in 1963 by Charles M. Tanner - a screenwriter, producer and director (and a Christian) - who lived in Hollywood, California. The Covenant Players fanned out all over the North American continent putting on plays in churches, nursing homes, service clubs - and wherever else they may be invited to perform. Often I played host by giving the players room and board for a few days.
Early in January of each year there was a banquet at a location in Hollywood where awards were given out. I was invited to attend the January 1976 gathering and, as Dan Matheson gave his blessing, I went.
A young woman from the Westboro United Church congregation felt led to join the players and was given permission to do so by her parents.
A fleet of vans were leased by the organization and these were sent out in all directions. Joanne and I were to make our way to Indianapolis, Indiana to meet a young woman who would be bringing one of those vans from her home in St Louis, Missouri.
Now to get to Indianapolis.
We took an inter-city bus to Toronto and made our way to the neighborhood of the infant York University where Joanne's brother, Cam, and his bride lived. The following morning we went back into downtown Toronto to the Bus Depot and boarded a Greyhound for Detroit and Indianapolis.
I was quite naive and never thought about problems at the border - Windsor/Detroit - but trouble there was. Evidently the bus driver was expected to remove luggage belonging to any people who were suspected of being up to no good - and our luggage was among the few that had been removed from the bus! It looked like I was an older guy who was running away with a younger woman.
As our tickets were 'one way' we - and especially I - were suspect, we were denied entry and had to make our way back to Windsor on the 'Tunnel Bus'. On the other side there was a bank of pay telephones near where we were left so I put in a call to the Covenant Players' office in California. When I told the person answering the telephone my story she was astounded and asked us to remain right where we were situated and what was the number of that pay phone?
That same telephone rang a few minutes later and we were told to return to Detroit and to ask for the Head Immigration Officer by name. We did that, were greeted in a very surly manner, but were allowed to proceed.
Of course, our original Greyhound had long gone so we had to walk to the Bus Terminal. This was shortly after downtown Detroit was virtually destroyed by rioting so the walk of a number of blocks was awful - I imagined that it resembled how the bombed European cities looked at the end of World War II.
We had a three hour wait at the bus depot and then a ride of seven hours to Indianapolis where Linda was waiting with the van.
Except for meals, rest stops and pickups we drove non stop to Los Angeles.
Our first 'pickup' was in Des Moines, Iowa where we had lunch at the manse of a Presbyterian minister and picked up his daughter and a girl friend. Our last passenger was a young man from Yankton, South Dakota who had been driven by his Mom to meet us at Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Our most direct route to Los Angeles was by an interstate to Denver and up over the Rockie Mountains through Colorado. The skies had been cloudy most of the way from Toronto and we heard that a blizzard was sweeping over the mountains so it was decided that we turn south and then southwest. This route took us past St Joseph, Missouri where we stopped at a steak house for dinner.
The service in that place was not the best and Joanne loudly compared it unfavorably to the Ponderosa chain in Ontario. I admonished her for that saying that it was rude to complain when something was not done quite the same way as it was at home.
Continuing on we drove around Kansas City and then southwest across Kansas on US 54. It was snowing and blowing all night but not blizzard conditions. We stopped for gas at a small town where I woke up and then took over the wheel (all of us had driver's licenses so we took turns behind the wheel thereby making better time).
Morning found us in the Texas Panhandle town of Stafford where we stopped at a roadhouse/gas station and went in for breakfast. The establishment was plain but roomy and we found a table for six in the middle of the room. Behind us was another table with a group of middle-aged people from New Jersey. We were served first with all of us ordering eggs or pancakes. However, the first dishes to arrive were small bowls with white stuff looking like cream of wheat. We didn't know what to do with it but the others had heard me lecture Joanne about rudeness when faced by something unfamiliar so no one said a word. That is - until the New Jersey party received their little dishes and loudly asked, "What's this stuff? How do we eat it?": They were told that it contained grits and that it could be eaten with other condiments like butter, jam, syrup - or whatever. Then we felt free to dig into ours. I thought that it was good and, when in an American restaurant for breakfast, I always ask for grits.
We continued on to Tucumcari, New Mexico where there was a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) and we stopped for showers and to freshen up. From there US 54 joined Interstate 40 so it was freeway driving to Kingman, Arizona.
Linda wanted to stop in Las Vegas for breakfast so we drove down to the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, crossed over, and continued on to Vegas. It was the middle of a clear night but the dam was well lit and very beautiful to look at. This is desert country, the air is dry and we could see for miles. When we first noticed the lights of Las Vegas we thought that the city was only a couple of miles away but there were many miles yet before we arrived at The Strip.
1976 was the Bi-centennial year for the United States so breakfast at the casinos on The Strip were selling for 76 cents each! We ate our fill and then returned to the van for the last leg to Hollywood. I excused myself to use the washroom and, when I returned, I stopped at one of the slots and put in a coin. I didn't win anything but my fellow passengers saw me from the van and gave me quite a ribbing.
The office for the Covenant Players is in Reseda - a Los Angeles suburb. We were billeted and I was astonished to find myself in Chuck Tanner's home . As I expected, he is a very nice person indeed.
That evening we went to the hall of a huge Presbyterian church in Brentwood where the various troupers strutted their stuff. The following day - Friday - was given to resting and I must confess that I slept for much of the day.
In the evening we were back at the church for the Awards Banquet . The awards - and speeches - went on and on right through the night. It was midnight when my turn came to be 'Presenter'. There I was on the stage in front of that large audience (and one of the oldest people there) saying those immortal words "...and the winner is..." while thinking, "Burt Reynolds, eat your heart out!".
On Saturday were meetings and then dinner at a Mexican restaurant - my first.
On Sunday we all went to the service at St James Presbyterian Church in Tarzana where all we new folk - in the organization - were commissioned. After church we were divided into groups for tours and I was most dismayed to hear one of the fellows vociferously suggesting that we visit the site of the notorious Manson murders! No way, Jose!!! Instead we drove through Beverley Hills and along Hollywood Boulevard. I don't believe that we saw any famous movie stars.
On Tuesday we began the long drive back to the northeast using the same formula as we did on the outbound trip - take turns sleeping and driving. The chief driver of this van was from Jamestown, New York so our route was different - we drove east northeast passing through Amarillo, Texas; across Oklahoma to St. Louis; across Illinois and Ohio to Cleveland and through Erie, Pennsylvania to Jamestown.
From there I took a Greyhound to Buffalo, changed buses and on to Toronto and, finally, Ottawa.
That was the most bizarre trip that I have been on and I do not expect to experience another.
Before beginning this blog, I looked in Google for Covenant Players and the organization is still in existence.