In Act IV of “Birding”, I spent a good deal of time describing Pedro’s bus trips with Chinese tourists to Yellowstone and many other national parks of the West in the summer of 2001. I’ve always wondered whether readers would assume this was one of the fictionalized elements of the novel, with a workload that pushed upwards of 110 hours and over 3,000 miles per week. But with one exception,* every aspect of that part of the story was completely accurate. JP really did do those insanely illegal trips, and brought home around three grand per week, depending on how full the buses were. (He lucked out and drove a full bus each time)
Known as “Eldorado Stages” in the novel, Silverado Stages was a small privately-owned fleet back in 2001 with a single terminal in San Luis Obispo, but has since been bought out by a corporation and grown into the largest motorcoach company in California with nine bases in three states. That year, they contracted with a Bay Area travel agency that worked with Chinese and Chinese-American tourists to provide charter services for several tours of the American West. The Yellowstone tour –a bit of a misnomer as it hit four other national parks as well, but it was the highlight, as they spent a full day touring the titular attraction, and as little as 20 minutes at the others– was the longest and most labor-intensive, and Silverado’s veteran drivers started to shun it as the season wore on, so JP was given his shot as a rookie. He said they were the three hardest work weeks he had ever put in anywhere, and perhaps the most rewarding as well.
JP did not own a camera then, though he wished he had thought to bring Aubray’s (Nadia’s). But he did have my picture taken by passengers (dozens, if not over a hundred times) and some of them offered to send him copies once they were developed. To his great delight, he did receive two letters –one from Palo Alto, the other from Beijing– with photos included. So, these are actual images of “Pedro,” during events described in Birding –I can guarantee this is the only place you’ll ever find such a thing! 😉
* In reality, all three of the Landmark trips were on this Yellowstone route. For the sake of making the narrative more interesting, I concocted the third Grand Canyon/ Four Corners trip to Arizona and New Mexico mostly from a previous roadtrip he had taken with a friend living in Albuquerque.