She arrived on a Monday from Alabama, smiling, splendid and surreal. We looked up at her suspended on the bed of the semi with stars in our eyes, as if we were seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time like a couple of deprived immigrants, hungry for a new life. And we are hungry, and she is definitely patriotic. The red and white paint was cleaner and brighter than we imagined and the motor more rambunctious, although it could have barely come alive and we would have found a way to adore it.
This is a beautiful machine. And it’s funny how a machine can feel like a living organism- its pulse a hopeful echo of electricity, its mind an impressive reaction of circuits. And truthfully, it is alive because we give life to it. When we occupy these static objects with our feelings and intentions they become extensions of ourselves, for better or for worse. This machine holds a lot of meaning for us, and a lot of other people as well. It represents the past and our place in the future, a time when people wanted to be held together by something “real” and not the flimsy deceptions of the government and authority. It became the locomotive for a movement, the physical embodiment of transition from one place to another. And it could hold lots of things.
By her very nature she is a storyteller because people always share their stories when they see her. The first hour we had her the woman next to us at the gas station told us she loved the bus, and went on to tell us about a Volkswagen Beetle she used to own. People can’t help but smile when they see her, remembering a different time, their different time, moments when they felt freer perhaps, or just enjoying the ride.
We took her for a sunset drive along Grizzly Peak, the last breaths of Indian Summer exhaling through the bay, coming in through the windows and filling us with even more excitement. She seriously could not have arrived on a better evening. Every few miles someone else would acknowledge us with “Sweet bus!” or “Nice bus!” and even a group of high school kids saying “Where’s Shaggy?!?”. Oh, Shaggy is here. And maybe this sounds embellished and heavy with fairy dust, but truthfully, it was even more perfect than we could possibly describe.
In between these moments of unfettered bliss were some brief feelings of panic- is this real? Do we deserve this? Can we handle this? And all at once we felt the true pressure and burden of the pursuit of happiness- that living a dream means consuming it fully and revealing a core of impermanence and fragility. What if we lose her? What if we crash and burn? And yet, staring at the black silhouette of this bus against a terrifyingly gorgeous sunset, the truth was there. It’s already happened. She has seen tragedies and miracles and so have we. She was the desecration of the American Dream and it’s reincarnation. Is this too much to put on a machine? Of course. But human beings can’t take as much either, and we die just as gracefully as we lived. And so, we drove home in the dark, mucking our way through the gears of the old transmission, smelling gasoline and wondering why, stalling out a couple times and hitting the door on the curb after parking it at home. She was actually quite messy inside, a world of issues slowly revealing themselves to us as we picked up the door handle that had fallen off inside and spent 15 minutes learning how to lock the doors. But none of this detracted from the beauty of that day, of her arrival. And before we slept we looked outside to admire her parked in the front of the house, and she came in through our bedroom window, a vision unknowing or all knowing of what would be in the morning.