The year was 1972. To the delight of many young men the Vietnam War finally ended; draft notices as well. Recent high school graduate Keith Stone wanted to be a tour bus driver. Seeing the country and getting paid sounded like a perfect career choice.
There came a day when he decided to go for it. Being a responsible employee, Keith gave his boss a one week notice. She proceeded to fire him. After Keith’s termination, the fast-food executive had a hard time filling empty shoes. Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado.
First thing on his agenda was get a commercial driver’s license. It took a year to pass the test. Keith had a problem making sharp turns without hitting the curb or driving over sidewalks. It was a depth perception issue. He never did get things right. The savvy Mr. Stone slipped his instructor twenty-bucks and immediately solved the dilemma.
Keith talked to a man from California named Charlie Cobb. Mr. Cobb formerly drove a tour bus before hitting it big in Amway. The guy said as a driver he sometimes made a hundred bucks in tips. That got Keith’s attention. Keith Stone’s wallet had never seen the likeness of Ben Franklin. Money literally burned a hole in his pocket.
Charlie told Keith that to be a good tour bus pilot, and get decent tips, you need an act of sorts. Keith wasn’t sure what he meant. Charlie went on to explain that a driver has to know the history of places along the route. He gave the young man an example:
“Folks, the river we’re about to cross was the location of a major gold rush. in 1860, over 200,000 ounces of the precious metal was taken from it.”
Mr. Cobb explained to Keith that tourists want to be educated plus entertained.
“Have a joke or two up your sleeve!”, he advised. “And always know your audience!”
Keith Stone was eventually hired by Lost Wages Tours. The outfit ran a fleet of derelict buses out of Denver to Las Vegas. Most of their clientele were older retired people. A young baggage handler informed Keith the tight geezers seldom tipped. That bummed him out before remembering what Charlie Cobb said.
“You need to entertain those people!”
Keith Stone’s maiden journey consisted of a group of seniors from Fort Collins. They were an eclectic bunch of retirees. One gal said she’d won a thousand bucks on her last gambling trip. Keith instinctively took to the bus microphone, telling everyone that he got 50% of all winnings. That had them cackling like geese. He believed he was on the path to an easy hundred bucks.
The fully loaded bus pulled out of the depot at 9:00 and was on I-70 within minutes. Spotting a closed and boarded up cafe on the right side of the highway, Keith informed his passengers that the owner had been murdered in a botched robbery attempt several months back.
“Shot him in the head! You know that place served the best darn chili in all of Colorado. A real shame it closed!”
The passengers were exceedingly quiet upon hearing such gruesome news. It took several minutes for them to rejoin former conversations.
After being on the road for two hours, Keith asked for a show of hands on those needing to use the restroom. Nearly everyone raised theirs.
“We’ll be stopping at Santa Fe in two hours.” he told them.
“Hope those really needing to go wore Depends.”
When unsavory language flew from back of the bus, and a full can of soda hit the windshield, Keith decided it best to tell them he was joking.
“There’s a rest stop straight ahead. We’ll be departing for a fifteen minute break.”
Keith planned well for his grand finale act. This would be the ultimate tip gathering stunt. Everything was perfectly aligned. Keith smirked while thinking about it. His mind flashed back in time.
Twenty years previous, Uncle Joe Stone played a prank on Keith’s mom and dad that relatives still talked about. It was considered the joke of all jokes:
Keith’s parents were riding with Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty to Salt Lake City for a Stone family reunion. Everyone loved Joe’s sense of humor. Uncle Joe was the one that couldn’t cut the cake, yet he could cut cheese with the best of them.
Uncle Joe was driving his 1952 Lincoln to Utah. He’d just picked the car up in Baton Rouge from a reputable car dealer. A salesman there told him the automobile had been purchased new by Elvis Presley. Later on Joe discovered that Mr. Presley didn’t make it big until 1954.
Joe’s version of the story quickly changed. He told anyone who’d listen that the stately vehicle once belonged to Hank Williams Sr. A few family and friends actually believed Joe; having their photos taken in front of the car.
During their trip to Utah, unbeknownst to Keith’s mom and dad, the burly Uncle Joe placed a bottle of Coke inside a brown-paper-sack and stuck it between his legs.
Several miles down the road with Keith’s folks in the back seat, Joe began taking nips. He’d look in the rearview mirror before placing bottle to his lips. Of course Keith’s mom instantly noticed. She quickly jumped to conclusions as most women do. Husband Rod was dozing and didn’t see what was happening.
When they stopped for a potty break, Maggie Stone insisted that her husband take the wheel.
“You need a rest Joe. Rod can drive for a while!”
That fit perfectly into Uncle Joe’s plan. Him and Aunt Betty happily swapped seats. They were able to sleep the remainder of the trip comfortably in back. Rod Stone drove all the way to Salt Lake City including the return leg to Louisiana. Rod and Maggie didn’t find out they’d been fooled until years later. The couple found it hilarious.
Tucked between Keith’s legs on the tour bus was a bottle of Pepsi purchased from a neighborhood 7-11. It was hidden inside a brown-paper-bag. Keith Stone emulated Uncle Joe’s act to perfection instantly seeing results.
The whispering got louder and louder. There came a point when a woman jumped up screaming for Keith to stop the bus.
“Let me off before you kill us all!”
Spotting a safe area to pull over, Keith Stone eased the big vehicle to a halt. Dust rose from all four tires. Opening the door, he started to inform the gal that she’d been punked. Before he could do so 41 passengers and a poodle abandoned ship. They refused to get back on.
These days Keith is back doing what he does best. The man’s old boss recently informed him,
“Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado. Keith Stone, I’m glad you’re finally home!”