by Tony Floriani
After an overwhelming, but nonetheless awe inspiring couple of days in Madison fixing the bus, we picked up our first two passengers, and hit the road. While Donjon took the wheel and I navigated and watched our considerable blind spot, I can only imagine what was going through the minds of our Swiss friends’ heads. Over a thousand miles from home, in an unimaginably large vehicle that had failed to even start up only days before, with a cowboy bohemian at the helm and a wild haired ex businessman explaining to them that we’d drag the bus on our backs if we had to…
Just a few hours into the trip, a little after 11pm, we put that theory to the test. We all jumped and there was a moment of confusion as one of the tires blew out with a loud bang that jangled my already fraying nerves. DJ handled the situation like a master, though, and a few seconds later we had the bus steady enough to guide her onto the shoulder. I’d been worried since we began the journey that the bus simply wouldn’t make it through the 6,000 mile journey we had in store for it, and suddenly that sickening reality settled in. But despite my period of pessimism, by no means were we without hope. I’d said we’d carry the bus on our backs if we had to, but before we reached that eventuality, we were damn well going to do everything in our power to get her rolling again.
After setting up the emergency triangles and messing around with the disordered rewiring that the previous owner had applied to the exterior lighting, we all gathered around to have a look at the blown tire. We discovered that it was one of the starboard tires, just in front of the articulation. I marveled at how badly the tire had shredded, which unbeknownst to me at the time was pretty much what happens when large tires go boom. Even knowing that now, the sight was impressive. The treads had separated, peeled away from the rim as if raked by the claws of a terrifyingly large animal. Perhaps a polar bear or a T-Rex.
The Swiss just rolled with it, didn’t seem perturbed much. Perhaps they had the mistaken impression that we knew what we were doing, or perhaps it didn’t matter. I couldn’t say. Meanwhile, if DJ was frustrated, he nonetheless took it in stride, and Randy, our mechanic who more or less single handedly got the bus rolling out of its barn-turned-mausoleum just a few hours back, set to work contacting local tire shops. I stewed a bit, realizing that we’d certainly get rolling again, but now facing a related worry, that which pertained to our shoestring budget.
It was about that time that I looked up and across the length of the bus to notice how our position on the shoulder had, in removing us from the traffic flow of the highway, placed us on a good fifteen or twenty degree tilt, which the blown tire was directly under. I’m sure my shoulders must’ve slumped heavily when I saw that, and seeing that we’d have to wait for a mechanic in any event, we retreated back onto the bus. I kept the Swiss company as we prepared for the possibility of a long night while Randy and DJ used what little charge our phones had left to make there calls. It took about an hour, during which we’d begun telling stories and listening to music on a cheap portable speaker, to determine that we wouldn’t be getting any help until morning. The tire we’d lost had a bizarre configuration that the mechanics later referred to as “suicide rims.” Aside from being wickedly unusual and hard to replace, these rims apparently had a tendency to separate from the axle mid-drive. Not the most comforting revelation, to say the least, but by that measure it would seem our situation was actually fortuitous. It revealed a potentially dangerous design faux pas without killing us. Sometimes, it’s all about that silver lining.
Given our situation, DJ felt, correctly, that a little booze was just the thing we needed to keep our spirits up. So he and Randy took our chase car down the road and bought us a few six packs and some snacks. We spent the rest of the night drinking, and getting to know the Swiss. They were a couple, Simon and Karen, and they’d seemed perfectly comfortable with our outlandish situation from the start, when we found them outside a gas station and I’d leapt out of a still moving car shouting “I come from the MoBus!” Turns out, Simon had done an exchange program in school years ago and had been coming to visit his host family in Madison, every year since. He therefor spoke excellent English. Karen didn’t speak much English at all, or at least, she didn’t choose to at the time. So when something came up that was mutually incomprehensible, she’d speak to Simon in what I think was German, and he’d translate. Finally, after getting good and tipsy, and revealing Karen’s extreme dislike of U2, we called it a night and tried restlessly to find decent places to sleep in our new, tilted home. And so ended our first night on the MoBus. Things would only get weirder from there, and that’s the way we like it.