Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Man on the Bus

I met a man who lives in a bus. His bus is parked in a campground near Binghamton, New York. It is a classic 35 year old Silver Eagle, which for years was the trademark coach of Continental Trailways. Trailways had been the chief competitor to Greyhound until Greyhound purchased it in 1987.

The man in the bus used to travel all around the country with his partner who passed away ten years ago. However he is not alone. There is a very lucky cat named Murphy who lives in the bus as well. Murphy is fond of lying on the dashboard, basking in the sun, and watching the world through the huge picture window.

Eagle coaches are still manufactured, primarily for conversion to motorhomes. They are especially popular with country music singers, perhaps because Willie Nelson tours in one. Bus conversions can be quite luxurious. They are often custom fitted with satellite TV systems, high tech lighting effects, leather furniture, and all the usual comforts of home such as showers, dishwashers, laundry and air conditioning. New conversions begin at about a half million dollars.

The bus I camped next to was not so luxurious. It looked like it hadn’t been driven for a long time. I assumed that it no longer could be driven. I was wrong. It’s owner makes candles and for many years travelled the country selling his goods. He bought it 20 years ago and did the conversion himself. He is handy with carpentry. He took me for a tour of his home on wheels. You enter through the single front door, as in any bus. The driver’s seat was serving as a catchall for empty boxes and old magazines. He had a living room in front: sleep sofa, recliner, and a make shift desk for his computer. Yes, he has telephone, internet, and cable TV.

Next is the kitchen. It is serviceable although he hadn’t used the stove in several years. I wouldn’t trust it myself. It was the kind of kitchen that they describe as “dated” on HGTV. The bathroom was pretty decent. Several years ago he had replaced the Jacuzzi tub with a glass walled shower. The bedroom was at the back of the coach, big enough for a queen size bed. The walls were covered with an odd assortment of unfortunate paneling.

The candle maker then took me for a tour along the outside of the bus. He showed me the enormous storage space in the “basement”, what you and I would think of as the luggage compartments. There was air conditioning equipment down there, a generator, and two enormous tanks – one for fresh water and one for waste water. He was very proud of the fact that it could hold two months worth of waste. That’s a lot of shit.

He opened the doors across the back of his bus to show me the engine. He didn’t know how many miles were on his bus – many millions, he estimated – but it was not the original engine. Over the years he had replaced many of the running components. The manual transmission was a source of constant trouble. But it still ran well, he said.

In a few weeks he will be heading down to Virginia for the winter. When he fires up the engine, Murphy will get nervous and hide under the couch, but unlike my cat, Murphy never leaves home. It goes with him.

I wonder what it would be like to live on a bus. Anytime I got bored with the view, I could just drive somewhere else. If my neighbors became tiresome, I could get new ones. When it got too cold, I could go somewhere warmer and when it got too hot, I could head north again. No packing required. I could live life on the run without leaving home. Just like Murphy.

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