21 March 2014

The Bus Story

Every bus has a story.  Our story is just getting started, but it's already been an adventure. 
Here's how our bus story begins.

Kyle found The Bus in a Craigslist ad - Milkwaukee.  A bit of a drive from here, but so far everything we've wanted to look at has been.  There were all of two photos on the ad, definitely not enough to warrant a 6+ hour drive.  We had been discussing a Chicago trip anyway, because I've always wanted to go see the river dyed green for St. Patty's Day, but we couldn't find anyone to go with us so I was kinda 'meh' about the whole thing.  So the seller sent Kyle a couple more photos on Tuesday - just of the engine and exterior though, still no decent interior shots.  I was about to put my foot down.
Thursday night, he got about 40 photos - via text message! - showing lots of details.  We finally saw more of the inside than just this:
So by 7pm Thursday night, we turned our weekend upside down and decided to split at noon on Friday for Milwaukee.  I came home at noon and tried to make a big lunch for us, because neither of us is very good about eating whilst traveling.  Kyle was so nervous he could hardly eat.  I've never seen him so giddy - he couldn't stop smiling!  He always tells me "be prepared to walk away from the sale" rather than get too emotional about it and buy something that's not a good deal.  On the way down I asked him if he was prepared to walk away.  He hemmed and hawed, but basically told me he wasn't walking away from this one.  I started mentally preparing for bringing this bus home.  Did I mention the trailer?
Thursday night was when we decided that we'd go look at the bus.  So in the space between Thursday night and Friday noon, we had to somehow find a truck and trailer capable of towing home a derelict vehicle.  After asking my dad, we found out that he and his neighbor spent Thursday night uncovering a trailer that was buried deeply in the snow.  Both of us have fairly small vehicles, but when we hit the road Friday we were in a giant truck (it's a normal-sized truck, it just felt giant) and pulling a borrowed 15-ft trailer.  Is my family great or what?

Enter Chicago traffic.  We headed into town with four axles, so we avoided the toll road.  As we drove in, I watched the highways turn red with traffic on my phone GPS.  I told Kyle "The Dan Ryan is for people with more time than money."  And we sat.  For. Two. Hours.  By the time we hit Milwaukee, we were an hour later than we planned on - but Dustin, the seller, said that was okay. 
I was shaking five minutes after leaving the car.  Forty degrees sounded like a heatwave after the polar vortex, but not in my light spring jacket.  I took one look at the bus and asked Dustin "Where's the middle seat?"  "Shit.  It's...uh...at my girlfriends house, in the back of my car."  Crap.  Other than that, Kyle liked just about everything he saw.  No real surprises, a dead battery, a hole in the exhaust system.  Oh, and the brakes.  Too sketchy for a test drive.  Double crap.

An hour later, I was cold down to my very bones, but the bus was ours.  Next problem: logistics.  We had a trailer.  We had ramps.  We had a bus that we could not drive, because the brakes were too soft.
Kyle put the trailer on level ground, so that once the bus was on it, we wouldn't have to worry about it rolling in either direction.  We managed to get the bus lined up behind it.  Now we just had to get it on the trailer.  Have I mentioned that it's pitch black out?  And I've never driven a VW bus in my life, but I'm the only logical person to steer while Kyle and Dustin push the bus onto the trailer.  So in I jump, trying to figure out where my hands and feet should be, more nervous than I've ever been in my life.  The guys push.  The bus slides up...then rolls back down.  No good.  The guys push again.  When they lose strength, I stand on the brake with all my might and pull the e-brake.  I'm suspended in the air, halfway up the ramps.
We work out a system - they push until they can't anymore, then I brake and e-brake.  We get the front tires onto the trailer.  Tiny victory!  They rock the bus forward, and the driver's side ramp falls off the trailer.  Victory cheers become nervous laughter.  Have I mentioned that Dustin let the insurance lapse on the bus because he can't drive it in the winter?  Getting the second half of the bus onto the trailer is much harder.  The guys are tired and probably about to give themselves hernias.  I'm freezing, I can't see anything, and I'm trying to drive a 38 year old vehicle for the first time in my life.  But we get there.

Next problem: strapping it down.  We had lots of straps and chain, but we still had to figure out the where and the how.  Dustin gives us some bad news:  his girlfriend has dinner plans, and he really didn't think this would take so long.  But we still don't have our middle seat.  He asks if he can give us the address, then leave a set of keys on the tire and let us pick up the seat ourselves.  In a strange city, after dark, 30 minutes away.  Whatever.  Fine.  I'm too cold to even care.
We get the bus strapped down.  I haven't been able to feel my fingers for days.  We drove for seven straight hours and still haven't had any food or a bathroom break.  It's now 9pm.  We are DONE.  But the night's not over.  We found Dustin's car, no problem.  Grabbed the seat, threw it in the bus.  Input our airbnb address into the GPS and hit the road for the Chicago suburbs.  Freak out when we hit a pothole and the tiny corner of the bus that I can just barely see in the side mirror tilts alarming.  Backroads - really slow, but we're not exactly speed demons towing this precious cargo.  We finally get to the end of our GPS directions at 11:30, and look for the house we're supposed to be staying at.  We're in a completely commercial area, there is not a single house around.  Triple crap.
The GPS took us to an address on the correct road, but in the wrong town.  Half an hour away from where we were supposed to be.  Is this even real life right now?  I called up Megan, our airbnb hostess, and let her know.  I feel super awful because I know she didn't sign up for this.  But at least it's a straight shot to her house.

Midnight, we finally arrive.  We've been talking about grabbing some food or maybe a sixpack of celebratory beer to commemorate our big purchase, but by the time we arrive we are both ready to pass out.  I apologize profusely for how late we are.  We chat with Megan for a minute about what time we need to leave to take the Metra downtown for the St. Patty's festivities, get directions to the station, then we're dead to the world for six hours.

The hard work is over!  Now for the fun stuff.  We make it to the Metra in plenty of time, but even this far out of town there's only standing room.  It's 8am and there are already college kids running to the train bathroom to expel the remnants of last night's party...or this morning's shots.  Green is everywhere!  We arrived downtown and started making our way to the river.  We kept an eye out for cafes, having not eaten since noon the day before, but we also want to get to the river early enough to get a good vantage point.
We're there in plenty of time, which is good, because the boat starts dropping dye half an hour earlier than we expected.  It's neon!  It's fantastic.  First there's a dye boat, and that is followed by a dispersion boat to help spread out the color.  We hang around until the cold and hunger win out, then start looking for somewhere to stop.  Nothing looks good, so finally we go to an old standby:  Caribou.  A couple breakfast sliders, coffee for him, mocha for her.  Our first meal in almost 24 hours, it felt like my first meal in days.  Best mocha I've ever had.  Espresso, however, does nothing to combat the sleepiness that follows warmth and satiety.  We both could have napped right there.
Parade time!  We start by heading toward the Bean, because what Chicago trip would be complete without it?  But it's completely blocked off until the afternoon.  What this does, however, is funnel us into the same lanes as a thousand other people trying to make their way to the parade.  We get pinned into a huge mass of people (mostly drunk kids).  It takes about 20 minutes just to cross a street.  Enough is enough - we pushed our way out and got away as fast as we could.
We cross through Grant Park, trying to get to the parade route.  There is a girl squatting and peeing in the middle of the park.  Classy.  We're at the crowded end of the route and can't see anything, so we meander along the edge, looking for a decent place to hang out.  We stop a couple times, but it's not a particularly exciting parade (although a woman at Caribou said this was just a preview, the real parade happens on the south side of Chicago and is more aggressive.  Aggressive.).

Okay, it's pizza time.  We look up the closest Lou Malnati's - it's finally our turn to have some St. Patty's day beers.  Along with the best deep dish pizza I've ever had.  Food is wonderful, especially when you haven't had much lately.  We sat in the restaurant until Kyle decided to check out the Metra schedule to see when our train left.  We had half an hour to walk a mile and a half...on a very full stomach.
We missed the train by five minutes.  Dangit.  Now we've both started to consider the trip home, what time we'll arrive if we leave by 4 - nope, can't do that anymore - now 5pm, Chicago time.  I start to get nervous about the drive home.  So many potholes, and they're harder to see in the dark.  We make it back to the airbnb (many thanks to Megan for letting us stash our bus in her driveway for the day), find everything as it should be, and start heading home.

Barely any traffic downtown, and we decide that we're going to make an effort to stop and stretch on the way home - and eat when we're hungry!  The trip home is surprisingly uneventful, but that night I dreamt of deer standing by the side of the dark freeway and woke up in a panic.
It's a bus!  It's ours, and it runs (it just doesn't stop).  It's a 1976 Transporter with all the original seats, a fairly new paint job, and not too much rust.  We have a few things we want to get done before we can drive it home, so right now it's at my parents house.  Our eventual goal is to turn it into a camper, but before we do that, a couple winery tours are in order.  So far, it's been turning heads, slowing down cars, and even garnering a few comments.  Tollbooth collector:  "A VMW*?  That's awesome!  Is it old?"  Guy pumping gas:  "What year is it?"  "1976."  "That's the year I was born."

*Not a typo.  She really called it a VMW.
 We have a bus!  Let the story begin.


  1. Congratulations! It wd not have been nearly so memorable if everything had gone smoothly. Yes, the stories begin.

    1. I know - I was just happy nothing went too wrong with the bus. Although we did find out that there's no muffler at all. That explains why it's so loud!

  2. The comment above is so true, all our bugs & buses come with stories. Can't wait to see both yours and Taylor's bus together camping.

    1. Yeah! We're really looking forward to some trips this summer :)