It’s cool and dark in our room, and we are wrapped up in blankets, fast asleep.
Except that I’m not fast asleep all of a sudden because someone is saying something outside of our room.
“Addison,” the man’s voice says. “Addison? Addison.”
We are subletting a house in Fort Collins from a writing professor who is away for four months doing Semester At Sea. We are sleeping in her bed, which fits in the room in a strange way because of all the bookshelves and because we wanted the door to be able to close.
“Addison,” I say. He breathes the deep breath of sleep. “Addison,” I say again. “Your dad is calling you.”
Why is Addison’s dad up in the middle of the night calling for Addison? It sounds like he’s faraway. Maybe he’s standing in the hallway outside of the guest room he and Melissa are staying in. I imagine bare feet on cool, wooden floor boards.
Addison stirs finally. “What?”
“Your dad is calling you.”
He wrenches the covers off of him and we both realize he’s naked. “What Daddy?” he calls.
“It’s time to get up,” his dad says.
The wheels in my head turn and click. It must be 3:30 a.m. It must be time to get up and drive Russell and Melissa to the airport.
“Okay,” Addison says. “We’re getting up.”
“My alarm must’ve not gone off,” I say, sitting up and checking my phone. “It’s 3:37 a.m.”
“Huh.” Addison crawls out of bed and fumbles for light switches and clothes.
Today is the day. Yes, it’s the day we drive my in-laws to back to the Denver airport after their 10 day visit, but it’s also the day we hand Charlie a big wad of cash and finish buying our future home: a 1991 Bluebird school bus.
We went to a credit union yesterday, one that we knew is affiliated with our Texas credit union, and asked to withdraw $3,020.00—the remainder of the cash we needed to add to our $980 in cash at home; plus the $1100 deposit we already gave to Charlie.
The girl at the bank counter typed up our account info and then looked around for her manager. “I need my manager’s permission to go into the vault,” she explained. She was slender and small, with long black hair and red nails that clacked first on the keyboard and then on the counter top.
We made small talk while we waited for the manager. “That’s such a cool design,” she said, looking at our Love Sprockets koozie that was snugged around my Spindrift sparkling cucumber water.
“Yeah, that’s our band actually,” I told her.
“Ha ha, cool!” She looked around for her manager again. Still no sign of her. She looked back at us. “You guys drink wine, don’t you.”
We blinked in unison and then shrugged. “Sure,” Addison said.
“What wine do you recommend? I have to buy some later for my friend and I.”
Addison listed off the brand name of the last wine we’d purchased since we couldn’t remember any others. We told her where she could buy it nearby.
“I just moved here,” she explained.
I almost said, “We just moved here too,” but we seemed to have enough local knowledge acquired during our short foray here to satisfy her further inquiries. So I didn’t mention it.
“I think my manager is in the bathroom,” she said finally.
Fine time for her to take a bathroom break. I do enjoy sitting in the bathroom alone though, it’s a nice hiatus from work. A meditative zone of sorts. I imagined her manager sitting on the toilet in a dress skirt with black high heels, scrolling through Facebook on her phone. Or sending texts back and forth to her on-the-rocks boyfriend.
The counter receptionist finally decided to just give us three grand out of her cash register. “It’s going to be a lot of tens,” she said. “Is that okay?”
“Sure!” Addison said.
“We’re giving it to someone else anyways,” I laughed.
She double and triple counted the bills for us and then stuffed them into a bank envelope. They barely fit, and stuck out the top.
“Sorry about that guys. Have a great day,” she chirped with a smile and wave.
So before we walk out to the car in the predawn light, I double check for our cash wad and then shove it into the depths of my purse.
We all pile into the car, including Zoso the dog, and have a sleepover-like talk while I drive us through the dark. We talk about coming-of-age awkwardness and stigmas and parenting regrets and what Melissa and Russell enjoyed about their visit.
After we drop the parents at the airport, we look up a 24 hour Denver diner.
“Charlie isn’t going to be at the shop at 5:30 a.m.,” I note studiously.
“Nope,” Addison agrees. “He says he’ll be in at 8:30.”
Our bus has been living at the Art Builder’s Guild where Charlie runs his bus conversion operation. It’s a bus that Charlie picked out and bought at an auction, and then is selling to us.
At the diner we get tea and omelets and hash browns. I can’t eat so early in the morning but I try. We also try to get some computer and writing work done, both of us rubbing our eyes and yawning and stretching.
I take Zoso for a walk around the block while Addison keeps working.
So this is Denver. I pass a church declaring the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, alongside a sign announcing “Spiritual Movement Yoga Classes”.
I come around a corner and see a sleepy man picking through a trash can outside of Family Dollar. He finds something and puts it in his mouth, chewing while he continues sorting through discarded takeout containers and soda cups. I imagine myself looking through that trash can and being hungry enough to eat its contents. Sadness wells up in my throat. But I’m too shy to approach the man.
A skinny man with a black lab on a leash is standing on the corner, fumbling for keys to the door of the school bus parked there. The dog is pulling at the leash, wanting to say hello to Zoso.
“Come here! Come here!” the man yells, yanking at the leash. He doesn’t look up to see us.
I decide to not approach him either, though I am curious what the inside of his bus home looks like. If Addison were with me he would have already given the homeless man some money. And maybe he would have talked to the school bus guy. I just don’t trust people who are mean to their dogs. And men seem to be more likely to see me as a “pretty girl” instead of a human being. Oh well.
When Zoso and I get back to the diner, Addison is ready to roll. It’s 8:30 a.m., so we hop in the car and head over to the Art Builder’s Guild.
When we arrive, we walk up to the shop entrance where there are sawhorses, trashcans filled with sawdust, and tools hanging on the walls. A partially converted school bus is parked inside.
Four of Charlie’s crew are standing around, clearly waiting for “the boss” to show up.
“Is Charlie in?” Addison says.
“Not yet,” a fellow with dark hair, a beanie and glasses says. “But he’ll be here soon.”
“You guys are the prison bus people right?” another fellow asks. He has dirty blond hair and a beard.
We laugh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right!”
The big shop dog greets us and we slip inside past his makeshift doggy gate. We shake hands with Ben, the dirty blond- haired guy and Tim, the guy with the glasses.
“So you guys are the bus elves huh?” I ask.
“Yep!” they say, and I even get a cracked smile from the stern looking girl in the crew.
“What are y’all working on today?”
“Still working on that bus over there,” Ben says.
“Mind if we look inside?” Addison asks.
“Sure, go ahead!” Addison steps into the bus and Ben turns to me. “Man, I’m jealous of y’alls bus.”
“Aw, did we steal it from you?”
“Nah, I’m not really ready to buy a bus right now.”
“What do you like about the bus?” I ask. It’s always nerve-wracking making a decision on something like one’s future home, so I’m eager to hear positive feedback from someone who’s seen and converted a lot of school buses.
“Oh man, I like everything about it. I love that engine, the 8.3 Cummins, that thing is so beastly. And I like it’s age. I mean, the thing is indestructible.”
“I’m glad to hear that!”
When Charlie arrives I tell him, “We have a big ol’ wad of cash for you!”
“Sweet,” he says, leading us upstairs to their loft office. Everything is covered in sawdust, but in turn it all smells great too.
“There’s going to be lots of 10s,” I tell him.
“Really? They didn’t have enough 100s at a bank?”
“Well, their manager was in the bathroom so the girl helping us had to empty out her cash drawer.”
“Well that’s awkward.”
We hand him the wad. “You’d better count that to be sure.”
He spreads the bills out and counts them, than signs the Bluebird’s title and hands it to us. “It’s your bus now!”
I want to squeal and do a jig but I don’t.
We walk over to our bus and run our hands over the front of its off-white, speckled face.
“Here it is!” Addison says. “It’s a big ‘un!”
We climb up the stairs and go inside.
“It’s so sexy!” I cry, finally doing my squealing jig.
“Well, not yet,” Addison says. “Give it some time.”
“No, it’s sexy right now. It’s got soul!”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
The bus is filled with double brown seats, leaving a walking aisle in the center. There’s a metal cage in the back, which Charlie assured us was used for transporting gardening equipment, not prisoners. We choose to believe him.
The bus was used for transporting prisoners to do community work around Colorado. Kinda makes me happy, thinking of those fellas or ladies going and doing good work in their communities. I try not to imagine the guys hocking loogies on the floor as I kneel down to examine the bolts holding the seats in place.
Before Charlie and his school bus elves can get started with our conversion, we have to pull all of the seats out, gut them and recycle their metal interior, and strip out any extra metal pieces, bars or strips in the interior.
Shouldn’t be too difficult, what with this sexy new drill we bought ’n’ all.
I find the biggest hexagonal drill bit in our pack and test it on one of the bolt heads.
“Um…” I say to Addison, who walks over. “The biggest drill head is too small for these bolts.”
“Well they lent us these pry chisel thingies and that hammer, right?”
“So maybe they’ll lend us a drill-head bit thing one size bigger.”
“Here,” I hand him the one that’s too small. “Ask if we can borrow the next size up.”
I work on getting some screws out of the metal strips that line the rubber walkway. None of them will budge. I finally pry one out with the back of a hammer. It’s so rusty you can’t even tell it’s supposed to be a screw.
Addison returns with a bit that seems to fit the bolts.
“Alright!” I watch as he fits it into the drill and then tries to unscrew the first bolt. It spins and whirs but makes no move to pull free.
“What the…?” Addison stares at the offending bolt and tries to twist it with his fingers. “It fits, why isn’t it coming out?”
“Oh lord. Try a different bolt.”
That one also spins in place.
“WD-40,” Addison says. “Maybe they’re stuck because they’re so rusted.” He starts spritzing the bolts down with WD-40.
I try the drill out on some of the other bolts with no success. Addison tests out his greased up bolts, but they are just as unwilling as the others.
I grab the sledgehammer and chisel and starting wailing away at one of the bolts. I try to wedge it out from below, and then we both take turns trying to smash it’s stubborn little head off.
“Well this is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,” I say to Addison.
“Yeah, I’ll say. WTF.”
I go back to the bus elves and tell them their first drill bit isn’t working. Ben finds me another one. We test it out and the bolts continue to spin in place, like rusty, metal, stubborn, whirling dervishes.
“Ok, shall we go to a hardware store then?” Addison says.
“Yep. Let’s go.”
At the hardware store an old timer helps us find the right drill bit, as well as a wrench and a screwdriver with eight pieces. I ask for a bathroom and they send me to the store next door, a Latino clothing shop. The shop girl tells me the public can’t use their bathroom. I notice that she is wearing the exact same outfit that the gray, eyeless mannequin she just dressed is wearing.
As we’re walking back to the door, we see a little fridge filled with Topo Chicos (a Mexican mineral water drink). We haven’t seen Topo Chicos since Austin!
“You want a Topo Chico?” Addison asks me.
“Sure, why not.”
He grabs the fridge handle to open the door and we see that the handle is chained and padlocked.
“Forget that,” I say.
“Yeah, forget that.”
We get back to our bus, armed with our new tools and drill bit.
Believe it or not, the bolts continue to spin in place. While Addison consults with the school bus elves yet again, I work on prying more rusty screws out of the floor with the hammer and chisel.
Addison returns and announces that we’ll have to drill the bolt heads off with a big drill bit that we need to buy.
“Tim says if they’re not coming out than we have to drill their heads off.”
“Yeah, should we call it quits for today?” Addison looks hopeful.
“No, I want to leave here knowing that we at least have a sure way to get these seats out. I feel like we haven’t accomplished anything yet!”
“Ok, ok… do you want me to go buy a drill bit at the hardware store or do you want to go?”
“You go,” I say, kneeling back down on the floor and trying not to think about prisoner loogies. “I’ll keep ripping screws out.”
“Okeydoke. See you soon.”
As I hammer and pry and my hands get covered in rust and grime, I feel good. I feel empowered. We are not just talking about this anymore, we are doing it! People are so afraid of spending money, but I feel great spending money on this project! And the money is going to Charlie and his bus elves who all seem like wholesome human beings.
And now I’m sweating and getting dirty and maybe we’ll have pulled one seat out by the time we go home today.
If anyone ever sees us in our awesome gypsy home a year form now and says, “You guys are so lucky,” I am going to laugh—most likely—and I’m going to point to the floor and the walls of the bus and say, “You know what this bus is covered in? Our blood, sweat and tears, honey.” Hopefully not prisoner loogies too. “This bus is covered in our hopes and dreams. Our deepest longings and aspirations. Our determination to never give up, to live the life we’ve always wanted. This, my friend, is not the product of luck.”
Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Addison gets back with a giant drill bit and starts trying to drill the head off one of the bolts. The drill is slipping as the bolt head turns, and little shards of metal are sliding out and piling around the mangled bolt.
Suddenly Tim appears, standing in the bus. “Hey guys, how’s it going?”
“Good!” I say.
“Yeah, we’re just trying to drill the bolt heads off like you said,” Addison says. “They keep spinning so it’s hard to really get in there. But I think it’s working.”
“Yeah,” Tim says. “You know, Charlie just mentioned something—there very well may be nuts screwed to the other end of the bolts, like, underneath the bus.”
“What?” I say.
“Oh man,” Addison says.
“Lemme see,” Tim says. I follow him outside. He sticks his head under the wheel-well. “Yep,” he says. “There are nuts on the other end of these bolts. That’s why they’re not coming out.”
“No way.” I laugh. “I would’ve never thought to check that in a millions years.”
We both crawl under the bus. I lay on my side and look to see the bolt ends that Tim is pointing at. Each one has a nut on the end, holding it in place.
“Yeah, one of you will have to hold the nut on this end,” Tim says, “While the other one unscrews it from above.”
“Wow. Thanks. This is going to take a while.”
Tim leaves and I grab a wrench and crawl back under the bus. I lay down and army crawl to where I can see some bolt nuts. Then I carefully sit up, wiping gravel off of my arms, and make sure I don’t hit my head on something metal and protruding.
I am in the belly of the beast now. Wow, getting run over by a bus is really not as simple of a matter as I had perhaps previously considered. I mean, there are a lot of things under here to get caught in, or on, or to get hit by as you’re being run over! It’s really quite uncomfortable!
I feel a surge of hope that the bus will remain completely still while my head is wedged between its axles.
This is really quite intimate. Me and my bus are getting to know one another for sure.
Zoso crawls under to join me, and to escape from the hot sun above. Well, he seems to say. Dis is pretty kewl.
I reach up and tap tap tap next to two bolts, asking Addison if he can find the place I’m at from above. I tap tap and clang clang and eventually Addison’s footsteps stop above me.
“Got it,” he says. I hear the drill and then one of the bolts moves.
“Okay,” I say. I grab the nut with my wrench and hold on. “Go for it!”
The drill whirs.
“Wrong way! Other way!”
“Really? But… okay.”
The drill goes again and the bolt spins and lifts out, leaving me with a lone nut balanced on my wrench.
“Yes!” I yell. “It worked!”
“Woo hoo!” I hear Addison’s muffled victory cry from above.
Slowly but surely, a small pile of bolt nuts gather on the ground next to me.
There are some nuts I can’t reach because of pipes and tubing. And some nuts are rusted onto the ends of the bolts. Those will have to be beheaded.
We work until about noon and then I pocket the nuts and crawl out.
“Success!”Addison says when I come back inside the bus. “We got a bunch of bolts out. And we own our bus now!”
“Yay.” I’m tired and happy. “From now on we have a home no matter what.”
We don’t want to live in the bus the way it is right now, but we could if we had to. We are now proud home owners.
On Sunday we’ll come back and I’ll get thrown under the bus again, to hold nuts in place while Addison pulls them out from above. But I don’t mind.