"You’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place— then it won’t make a damn.” – Ken Kesey, original prankster
On New Year’s Eve 1963, a sixteen-year-old Robert Weir wandered down Bryant Street in downtown Palo Alto, California. With nearby Stanford on holiday break, a quiet calm spread over the college town. Remnant Christmas lights cast a lonely glow in the afternoon twilight.
Bob heard the faint sound of a banjo picking a familiar bluegrass tune and followed the notes into Dana Morgan’s Music Shop. Bob knew the shop. He played guitar, and felt more at home with one in his hands than at any of the high schools that had expelled him.
So Bob heeded the banjo’s call, and popped his head through the open door to meet its player. Pausing to take in the scene, Bob saw the shock of coal black hair and the neat goatee that framed a sly smile. Banjo in hand and head in the stratosphere, Jerome Garcia, known locally as “Jerry the guitar teacher,” scarcely took notice of his curious new listener.
Weir picked up a guitar, and the two got to talking. Jerry, who was five years Bob’s senior, sized up the skinny wide-eyed kid.
“Know any chords?”
“Far out,” Garcia said. “Play ‘em over and over. I’ll jam on top.”
And with that, they forged one of the most durable partnerships in rock 'n' roll history. Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia formed a band, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Soon after, a technicolor bus called Furthur came by, with Ken Kesey at the helm and Neal Casady at the wheel. Bob, Jerry, and the rest of the Jug Champions hopped on and became the Warlocks. (I can’t confirm that Bob inspired Timothy Leary’s 1966 quip: “Turn on, tune in, drop out," but he never did make it back to high school.) A few acid tests later, The Warlocks became the Grateful Dead. Bob Weir was off to never ever land.
Did Bob know there was something special in those fortuitous banjo notes? Was it fate? Serendipity?
There are times when something big, something beyond description comes along with the potential to sweep you up. If your internal transistor is tuned correctly, you’ll receive the transmission directly in your soul. Momentum will grip you and draw you closer. And you’ll face that same question: do I get on the bus?
“Everybody is going to be what they are, and whatever they are, there's not going to be anything to apologize about. What we are, we're going to wail with on this whole trip.” – Ken Kesey, from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
When fate’s vehicle comes your way, know that, with or without you, it will keep on rolling. It’s up to you to buy the ticket, and take the ride. You can become a passenger, a driver, or a part of the rhythm section of the band. Or you can check Insta once again, keep your feet safely on the sidewalk, and feel the warm breeze of destiny as it blasts past.
The bus came for me not long after I collected my USC diploma. I suppose I played the part of the mechanic – checking the engine, kicking the tires, and changing a few spark plugs. Then I helped gather some old high school friends to start a sports website. Our new vehicle, Bleacher Report, started chugging along.
Plenty of times early on our journey, we could have pulled the emergency brakes and disembarked to tread a more conventional path. But we were already on the bus. Momentum was on our side. Green signals lit the road ahead. How were we to know how many flashing reds might block our path? Stop and proceed with caution? Not us! The first and most important step, getting on the bus, took a leap of faith.
If reading this story dredges up the sour taste of regret, you’re not alone. If you’re thinking about that moment in time when your bus stopped in front of you with an open door, and you let it pass you by, don’t beat yourself up.
The bus depot of fate sends out coaches all the time. To all corners. You only have to catch one. “Once in a lifetime” is misdirection. Destiny isn’t a one-shot deal. You only have to seize fate once to alter your life forever.
And here’s the thing: get on that bus, punch fortune’s ticket, and you’ll gain enough speed to catch the next big opportunity that comes along. Once in a lifetime happens all the time.
Spend enough time on Twitter, and you’ll see various “thought leaders” share endless riffs on this advice:
“When you’re just starting out, say yes to everything. Once you’ve made it, learn to say no.”
I’ll join the chorus. Unless you’re reading this from a yacht anchored off Monaco, start with yes.
Get on the bus!