Watching the world end from my Davenport

The following is an excerpt from Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and life in 1974, Copyright 2011 Ken Bilderback.

As I looked at my map for the long ride to Michigan, I decided I wanted to stop in Davenport. Not in the same way I had wanted to see San Antonio or Santa Fe or San Francisco, but nonetheless I wanted to see Davenport.

'Wheels on the Bus' by Ken Bilderback

‘Wheels on the Bus’ by Ken Bilderback

Back in Michigan my friends all had sofas or couches in their living rooms. We had a davenport. That was, as far as I knew, the correct term for such a piece of furniture and it would make me mad as a child when people called it something else or didn’t know what I meant by the term. One day I was behind the davenport playing hide and seek or something and saw a tag on the back that said our davenport had been manufactured in Davenport, Iowa. When I informed my mother of this most-amazing fact she explained that it was called a davenport precisely because so many were made in Davenport.

The davenport in my parents’ house was a musty old beast, a relic of the past. It was overstuffed with thread-bare fabric upholstery. The davenport was in front of the picture window in the living room. When it snowed I would sit on my knees facing outward, petting Bandit and watching the icicles slowly drip from the eaves. On holidays I would assume the same pose, eagerly awaiting my grandparents’ arrival.

From my perch on the davenport I watched the old vacuum-tube black and white TV as images of Tigers games flickered and as Walter Cronkite delivered the news of JFK’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s assassination, then Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. I watched the grainy footage of soldiers jumping into rice paddies from helicopters, and of helicopters airlifting bloody comrades out of those same rice paddies, cringing in pain. I watched as police beat people in the streets of the South, apparently for being black and wanting equality, and of police beating people in the streets of Chicago or killing college students in Ohio, apparently for having long hair and wanting a better society.

Sometimes Walter Cronkite’s reports hit closer to home, as during the riots on the streets of Detroit, just a few miles away. There were times when frightened neighbors would call to say that rioting blacks were near our neighborhood, and I would take my position on the musty davenport to watch for the hordes to descend upon us. The hordes never made it to within many miles of our street, but I watched anyway. The occasional column of black smoke from torched buildings miles away made the threat seem imminent enough. Sitting on the davenport watching Walter Cronkite, the world looked like a very scary place, but still I wanted desperately to explore it. After all, he also showed film of hippies dancing joyously in the fields of Woodstock and in the streets of San Francisco.