We had been on the road for 8 days, in 100 degree south eastern american humidity, a summer road trip in a black school bus, a 25 year old diesel guzzling, fire breathing monster that belched blue clouds of smoke from it’s exhaust. With the windows down, the heat was almost bearable, as we went for miles and miles down back roads with a site radio on full blast, almost keeping up with the decibal count of the winding motor and loud pipes.
On the evening of the last day, closing within 30 miles of home, the bus quit chugging. The first time it seemed to get tired out and just want to stop going. I felt very much the same, on the side of Interstate 95 in post DC traffic, scoping for any leads on why we lost all juice. We were stuck, so close to home, with a giant black school bus on the highway at dusk.
13 hours into this adventure, Billy Dexter pulls over to the side of the road, I hadn’t seen Billy in 10 years, He doesn’t live anywhere nearby, and wastes no time starting to wrench on the bus. No luck, and he and his English friend Andy, wander on down the Interstate.
It took 15 hours for a tow truck to show up, getting us back at my place at noon, luckily some good friends drove out to rescue the precious cargo from the side of the road.
Once parked, I started troubleshooting, on the Phone with the “Chief” (my father) asking for advice or suggestions on this big diesel powerhouse, when Karl Beers shows up in a rattle can flat black 1963 Mercury Meteor, with a front seat filled with tools, including a test light. His back seat was stacked with bags of quickcrete, a shovel and beer cans. He very well may have a appeared of of my Fathers stream of consciousness, from another time, back to the future, to save the day.
Within moments the list of possible problems had been deduced just a few, when Karl was sitting on an upside down milk crate, back towards an overgrown weed tree separating the neighbors yard and the bus’ parking space. While talking shop and brainstorming, I saw a woman crouching down behind the bush behind Karl, and thought maybe he had someone with him, and I hadn’t noticed. She gave me a ‘SHHH’ gesture with her index finger over her lips, I kind of guessed she was sneaking up on him, but I was wrong.
There is a Grateful Dead themed bar 3 doors down, and sometimes its wayward patrons wander towards the bus in a haze, or a daze, or a generally confused stumble, as was the case with this woman, who I soon realized was taking a piss 3 feet from the bus, Karl, and the neighbors window. I thought she was with Karl, but it turns out she was hammered at 3 in the afternoon, and decided that was a good spot to squat. About the sound time, all the indicators on the bus started buzzing. Whoa. A few more tests, some jimmying of some wires, and woman was gone.
‘was she with you?’
‘no man, I thought she was with you…’
About this time I walked around the bus, hopped in the drivers seat, was about to turn the key to try and start it when I noticed the woman asleep in the back of the bus.
‘Karl, get her out of the bus so I can start it..’
She Stumbled out of site, I was too preoccupied with the bus to acknowledge how out of place she was in all of this.
I still thought she was with him, and he thought I was messing with him. At the moment the drunk lady stepped from the bus, the bus roared back to life. It was a bizarre 22 hour adventure after an 8 day voyage though southern pine forests, the Blue Ride Parkway and an alley way now filled with blue smoke, and triumphant shouts from lo-fi alley way back street mechanic vagabonds.
After the smoke cleared, the meteor returned to outer space, and I collected myself, buzzing with relief while the bus idled, I wondered if Karl an the strange woman were real or some alleyway apparitions from another dimension.