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Remembering the Triple Bromide Bus Ride

May 17, 1987|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a Canoga Park free-lance writer .

On one of our first trips abroad, as my wife Joyce and I were waiting in line to board our plane, I remember being astonished at the remarkable number of joggers who seemed to be going to Europe.

About every fourth or fifth person in line was wearing a jogging suit.

It was when I caught sight of a 15- or 16-year-old "jogger" who was carrying a stuffed animal that I caught on.

"Good lord," I said to my wife, "These people aren't joggers!"

"Umm," she answered. My naivete is old stuff to Joyce.

"They've figured a way to wear pajamas on airplanes. Fantastic!"

Several of the pseudo-joggers took pills and were practically asleep before the plane left the runway.

I was on the verge of making some middle-aged observation about the younger generation and what it must be coming to when I remembered a time in my youth when I had tried to do approximately the same thing.

There had been a world war going on and I had tried to get into the Navy. They said I flunked my physical, but since they also failed to accept any of my friends, I think the Navy just figured it really didn't need any more 16-year-old sailors.

So, to get into some kind of uniform, I got a job at the National Broadcasting Company as a page. I'd been there, working after school, for a little more than a year when an NBC-affiliated station in Globe, Ariz., asked network headquarters for an announcer.

The station manager was told he could either go to the New York waterfront and wait for the real announcers to come back from the war, or he could have me. I got the job.

Greyhound was different then. Most of the mail moved on the big gray coaches. As a consequence, they stopped at virtually every crossroads and every town on the way to anywhere.

At 11 in the morning at the Hollywood Greyhound Station, I kissed my mom goodby and took off on my first real trip away from home . . . my great journey into adulthood.

Seven hours later I was in Desert Center, a little town on the California side of the Arizona border, still 11 hours from my destination. Because of all the excitement, I had not slept the night before and was a little more worn and rumpled than I should have been.

At the bus station I caught sight of myself in the mirror of a gum-ball machine. My clothes seemed to fit even worse than they had before. Neither the jacket nor the pants had been right for a couple of years, unless I pulled up my arms and walked a little stooped over. But no one can do that for seven hours.

A stubble was coming up through my teen-age complexion, and my eyes looked like they had each backed up an inch.

A fellow passenger, a woman who had said she was on her way home from San Diego for a rest (the fleet having sailed), stopped to look at me.

"Kid," she said, "if you're going home to mother, you'll scare her to death."'

I told her I was a radio announcer going to a new job.

"Well," she said, with a bit of a snicker, "You'd better have a heck of a voice, or take a shave and get some sleep, or trade in your head or something."

A Fateful Request

In the drugstore next to the bus station I bought a razor. Then I went to the pharmacist and asked for sleeping pills.

He looked down from his platform, buttoning his white jacket at the neck. "Kid, the only thing I can sell you across the counter is a triple bromide."

"Yes, sir," I said, "I'll take it."

He gave me a box with three pills in it. They were huge, each as big as a quarter and three times as thick.

I was a little nervous about going to the counter and asking for a glass of water without buying any food, so I went to the water fountain.

The pharmacist had said a "triple bromide." In the box were three pills. To my logic, each pill probably constituted one bromide, therefore a triple bromide had to be all three. One by one I washed the disks down. It took a great deal of water.

The heartburn was Homeric and the belching started almost immediately. It, too, was monumental. I sounded like the featured performer at a foghorn recital.

As the bus pulled away from Desert Center, my fellow passengers were giving me strange looks and keeping well back.

I tried to muffle the belches by keeping my mouth closed. That was worse; they would explode somewhere behind my face and the noise would come out through my nostrils with a kind of pipe-organ effect.

The driver, trying to watch me in his rear-view mirror, ground the bus's gears and cursed, making me feel even worse. Children from the front of the bus came back to stand by my seat and stare, in gleeful anticipation, like a crowd at a fireworks display.

"Hey, ma," one of them yelled, "you gotta see this; he's getting fat, too." I was. My stomach was swelling as I watched.

The woman from San Diego looked over the seat at me. "Geeze, kid, you look like you're pregnant. Wha'd you do to yourself?"

"Oh," I stammered, "just a little something to help me sleep."

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