Busing 39


1994 found Jack and I living in our converted school bus in the wilds of San Francisco. Well, maybe “wilds” isn’t exactly right, but it was definitely “on the other side of the tracks”, literally, residing as we were at China Basin. We’d driven by the area many times in Jack’s old 1963 Buick Skylark which he lovingly called “Beulah the Wonder Car.”

She was a beaut! Dented everywhere but on my door, he’d gotten her for $25. shortly before meeting me. Beulah couldn’t go backwards, but that never stopped us. Jack just used what I called “reverse footology” to get us parked and what not.

He tried to teach me how to drive in that car…more than once.
The first time was on Clarendon heading up toward Twin Peaks. I know that because I saw the street sign while getting into the driver’s seat. Once seated was another matter. I saw the steering wheel and dash board just fine, but at 4’10” dripping wet I wasn’t seeing much more than that! But there I was, steering this huge Buick boat up a very busy, rather windy street.

Petrified? What do you think? My life probably would have flashed before my eyes if I wasn’t busy using them to try seeing through the steering wheel! I somehow got us pulled over…sort of, I guess…out of traffic at any rate.

Anyway, from what we’d seen in our cruises, China Basin was the perfect place to be vehicularly housed. It was flat, near enough public transportation and even had a million dollar view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco Skyline.

Our first bit of Wheel Estate was a 1959 Ford cab-over camper, but soon we spotted our first bus and bought it for a song. Perhaps it’s name, “Rust Bucket,” should have been a clue. But we were young, in love and in the mood for a building project. So we sanded and hammered and peeled and pulled, hunting down every bit of rust until at last there was nothing left of the thing but the driver’s seat and flatbed! Ah yes, the Invisible Bus!

Midway through this project we ran across Cloud Bus, a raised roof 1958 GMC school bus known as the Coffee Bus from the Grateful Dead tours. She was a wonderful thing, but needed LOTS of work, and Jack did it all; from rebuilding the engine to designing and building all the interiors. He took that bus and turned it into a real live one bedroom house with a computer lab and full living quarters.

We learned the ropes of living in a parking space; how to get fresh water and where to dump waste, how often to move to avoid tickets and most important how to avoid getting towed.

That was the most frightening thing about living vehicularly, having your house/vehicle towed or impounded. Once in that system, there’s very little chance of recovery; and remember it’s not just a car, it’s everything.

We somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the tow yard, and even joined a movement to get a place for the vehiclarly housed to park and form a community. We met several times, got an architect interested, made our pitch to the San Francisco powers-that-be and were turned down flatly.

Shortly after that, we were all told to move off China Basin and they built the new ball park.
Such is progress….and is a nice ball park.

But in 1994, that move was still a year away. I was 39, living the pioneer dream in an urban setting, and watching the world through our windshield. Life was good.

For today, Fifty Five feels like the New 39 because it feels good to be a Pioneer!

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