Chris Brown and John Frank of Vanture
Chris Brown and John Frank of Vanture
On a cold, dreary Sunday in January 2002, Tim dragged me to an RV show in Denver. Even though he had already been tainted by Bus Conversions, he was still thinking we should just buy some sort of trailer to live in. So, we trekked for hours and hours, up and down, in and out, through the various rigs. Class As, Bs and Cs, fifth wheels, pop-ups and, Lord help me, camper vans. I suspected he started with the latter, just to get me to the point where I’d be begging to live on a bigger rig. The very last booth of the day, the one we nearly skipped (my Manolos were killing me) was that of Vanture Coach Manufacturing. The owner, Chris Brown and his associate, John Frank, jovially entertained prospective clients, proudly displaying examples of their craft -- the conversion of various types of vehicles, which unfortunately, included buses, into motorhomes.
While Chris took another poor deluded man aside, John explained to us why converting a bus was a much better idea than buying a ready-made RV.
“For about the same price as buying one new, you can get a bus made to your very own specifications!” John enthused. Tim nodded, transfixed by the wall of pictures lining the Vanture booth. John continued, “and they’re so much safer than an RV, which is basically nothing more than a plywood box on wheels.” Tim licked his lips. Images of converted school buses, double-decker buses, flexible buses all paving a one-way road to my misery deep into his psyche. I needed to find a detour. Fast.
“A bus, on the other hand,” John confidently intoned, “is made to carry the most precious and expensive cargo in the world. People.” Drool dribbled down the side of Tim’s mouth. As I sized up the rapidly deteriorating situation, John sensed he had to win me over. I was just about to sink to the depths of desperation with a demure, “honey, let’s go. I have cramps,” when John seemed to figure he had me figured out.
“With a bus,” he eagerly turned my way, “you can have exactly the kind of kitchen you want…” I cut him off with a withering look. What was I worried about? This was going to be too easy.
“I don’t cook.” Undaunted, he narrowed his eyes, studying me.
“In a bus,” he said evenly, hands on his hips, “you can design a washer dryer combina…” I nodded toward my husband, who was by now studying the pictures with the same rapt attention he’d used preparing for his medical board exams.
“He does the laundry,” I said, challenging John to up the ante. He took a deep breath, pursed his lips and dropped his eyes to the floor. Slowly, his gaze rose as he took in my designer shoes, stuffed with swollen feet unaccustomed to a full day of walking, their twin cousins, Righty and Lefty Love Handles flowing over my jeans and finally, the trace of an afternoon bonbon lingering on my lips. A smile crept over his face. He folded his hands on his chest and looked me right in the eyes with all the confidence of Ahab if he had ever been able to harpoon that obstinate whale.
“In motion satellite TV,” was all he said.
“I …” My hesitation sealed my fate. While most people would assume the man is the vide-it in the family, in ours, Tim hardly ever watches TV. He’s too busy outside, doing stuff. Me, on the other hand… John continued with a rush of words, circling in for the road kill.
“Your husband can be up front doin’ all the driving, while you lay in bed, all nice and cozy… in your pajamas… snuggling with your…” he noted the trace of white fluffy hair stuck to my black Gucci purse.
“…Cat?” He shot me a questioning look. My eyes widened. John stepped back and beamed at me, triumphant.
“Tim,” I let out a weak cry. He seemed not to hear me, as he stood before the display of buses in various stages of being stripped down to their skins. All that was missing were the front-end pasties, fishnet hubcaps and tantalizing glimpses under the hoods. This called for my favorite whine: full-bodied, sassy, with more than a hint of provocation.
“Ti-im!” Still nothing. Forget the finesse.
“TIM!” He, and the rest of humanity, turned toward me. He could see how shaken I was, but still had trouble peeling his eyes from the bus porn before coming over.
“Take me away from the bad man,” I whimpered. He gave John a quizzical look. John gave him a barely perceptible wink and a nod. Tim steered me away, as he slipped a Vanture card into his pocket.
People often wonder how Tim and I ended up together. We count ourselves among them. Other than our occupations, I doubt you could find a more disparate pair: Tim loves the outdoors, treats everyone he meets with kindness and has an intense need to keep busy, to accomplish things. I’m more of a misanthropic couch potato. When it came time for Tim to give up his practice, which included being Medical Director of a psychiatric hospital, his patients cried. The staff cried. I even detected tears in the eyes of the janitors, for Tim is a kindred spirit to Everyman.
Although we’ve been together fifteen years and I am a psychiatrist, after all, the one thing I still cannot understand about my husband is this: Why a man who has spent twelve long years of his life pursuing higher education, would aspire to be a manual laborer. If that’s what you want to do, why not just skip all that expensive, time consuming schooling? The truth is, since the moment I met him, Tim dreamed of giving up the whole psychiatry gig to pursue his ideal job: railroad engineer.
Since that would be way too much freedom for the consort of a Princess, instead, on weekends, this mild mannered psychiatrist sheds his suit and tie, slaps on his safety goggles and assumes the guise of… Project Nerd, Domestic Superhero. Tim tackles everything around the house: faster than a speeding motorist on work-release at the jail, he installs landscaping (complete with drip irrigation), more powerful than the locomotive he craves beneath his feet, he sweeps, cleans and repairs the gutters, and is able to fell sick trees in a single blow (chopping them into firewood for the winter). Look! Up in the rafters! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Project Nerd installing an attic fan. By 9 am on a Sunday, my husband has done more than I’ll even think about doing the entire week. (I never did understand that Army commercial. Is getting up before dawn to work your butt off really supposed to be a selling point?) I call it Tim’s pesky Protestant work ethic, and give thanks every day that I have not been saddled with one myself.
I don’t want to give the impression that Tim is an angel. Far from it. He takes full advantage of his knowledge of, well, everything and uses my slothfulness against me every chance he gets. For example: I’m always too hot. Unless it’s winter, then, I’m always too cold. Yes, part of the problem during that latter time of year is that I don’t move around much, but still, regulating my body heat is not one of my strong suits and I don’t think I should be penalized for having a disability. Tim thinks I should get bundled up in the winter. He says I should walk around in a sweater - in my own house! To me, that smacks too much of getting dressed. I maintain I should be able to wear only my pajamas to keep comfortable and I’m more than willing to make the concession of switching to flannels, but Tim thinks it wasteful to keep the heat up as high as I’d like.
When we first lived together, he noticed the temperature on the thermostat was always higher when he got home after work. But, superheroes don’t argue, they swing effortlessly between buildings, fly around the earth to change the course of time, thwart armed divisions without any artillery of their own. A domestic superhero simply waits out his wife out until she finally has to leave the house. Then, he installs a fancy, new, totally incomprehensible to her, thermostat. It took me months to even figure out where the “override” button was. By then, he had brought home a newer, even more incomprehensible gadget.
Thus began the Thermostat Wars which continue to this day. Just when I seem to have finally bested my enemy, Tim escalates the conflict by procuring even newer technology, and the skirmishes begin all over again with my small arms desperately trying to defuse the situation. Détente does not work with my husband. He simply refuses to negotiate, even when I force him to bear witness to my pathetic attempts at staying warm by snatching up an unsuspecting cat and sucking the heat out of my unhuman shield. But, I am no match for Tim’s superior superpowers, so am forever consigned to a state of perpetual nonthermeostasis.
Although, I did achieve a small victory after a deliciously satisfying escalation in hostilities the time we visited his father in Arkansas several years ago.
Maybe that’s where Tim gets his crazy ideas. Bob worked his entire life as a mail carrier, finally got to retire, and what does he do? Buys a small farm in a small town in Arkansas, running it by himself, so he can work harder than he ever has. The first time we visited him was in July. July. In Arkansas. In fairness to Bob, he did have the air conditioning turned on. Just not nearly high enough. Tim was quick to point out the irony of the fact that the number that would have made me positively ecstatic in winter was reducing me to abject misery in summer.
“Oh, PULEASE,” I cried. Everyone knows that 76 degrees in winter, is not equivalent to 76 degrees in summer.” Project Nerd was unmoved. Fortunately for me, farm life requires that one go to bed right after dinner. So, after Bob retired that first evening, I lowered his pitiful thermostat, a relic from a pre-Industrial past I had no difficulty whatsoever decoding after years of on-the-job training living with his son. Unfortunately for me, however, farm life also requires getting up much earlier than I could possibly consider and the luxuriating in bed I so looked forward to on vacations was marred by rolling around in my own sweat by morning. Bob had already been awake for hours and had raised the temperature to a post-nuclear level. At least I had those few dark hours before dawn, which was more than I ever got in my own house.
The morning dawned bright and sunny. Tim and I were well rested as we finally left Boulder for our three week “shakedown cruise,” first stop, Reno, Nevada.
At least that’s the way it was supposed to have been.
We awoke in the morning to pouring rain. Rather than the early start we had planned, we still had packing to do and finally left the house at 3 pm. The electronics guy was still fiddling with the bus the night before, so we hadn’t been able to pack much. At 12:30 am, when he showed us the not yet completely working system, I finally whispered to Tim, “I can live without TV for three weeks. He can fix it when we get back.” Tim looked at me as if an alien had taken over my body.
“Are you sure? That’s like normal folk going without food or water.” I gave him the evilest eye I could pry open that time of night and we went to bed.
Since ours was a narrow, one way street on a cul-de-sac, I had to guide Tim as he backed down the hill, then make sure no traffic was coming, as he swung the rear end of the bus into an intersection. No problem, I thought. I’ve flown many a time and studied those jump-suited gentlemen on the tarmac, effortlessly guiding pilots into the jet way.
Things were going smoothly until I discovered why those guys are all uniformly dressed and why their uniforms never seem to include sandals: I walked backwards, easing Tim down the hill, my arms perpendicular to the ground, forearms in unison alternating perpendicular, vertical, perpendicular, vertical… until one little floppy sandal slipped off. I quickly made the universal signal for “stop” or what should be the universal signal -- wildly flailing arms -- as I stepped behind the descending 40,040 pounds of Prevost, reached down and retrieved my shoe, not even flinching as the sound of air brakes hissed in my ear. (Perhaps if I had known that’s what the sound was, I would have at least half-flinched.) I then helped Tim complete the rest of the back up maneuver and climbed into the bus. I felt pretty proud of myself, until Tim, white as the cute little camper van I would, by the end of the day, wish we had have gotten instead, gave me a horrified look.
“NEVER stop behind the bus while I’m backing up,” he said with a shrillness I hadn’t heard from him before.
“But, sweetie,” I replied, “you were going to run over my favorite sandal!”
“NEVER stop behind the bus while I’m backing up,” he repeated, his new mantra. This was not the last time he would raise his voice fearing for my life that day.
We got safely on the road, until we hit the highway. At which point, the bus door flew open. I, of course, was in the passenger seat, immediately to its left.
“SHIT!” Tim screamed. “You’re belted in, right?” Indeed, I was. Did he think I was crazy? He’d only learned to drive the thing a few weeks ago.
“I can get it,” I calmly replied, not wanting to distract the driver. After all, there must be a reason for the sign up front that says, “FOR PASSENGER SAFETY FEDERAL LAW PROHIBITS OPERATION OF THIS BUS WHILE ANYONE IS STANDING FORWARD OF THIS WHITE LINE.” I quickly unbuckled my seat belt, climbed down and stood both in front of the door and the white line, grabbing the door handle with my right hand. One. Two. Three. As I swung it in toward me, the force of the wind pulled it open even wider, this time with me attached, being sucked out.
“SWEETIE! NO! STOP!” Tim screamed. It wasn’t so much the castrato-like octave of his voice as the slap of the cold, wet rain on my face that shocked me into Sandra Bullock mode. I grabbed the handrail along the entry stairs with my left hand, my right still on the door handle. My slide to a 70 mile an hour certain death, (or at the very least, vast array of new prosthetic devices), ceased.
“LET GO OF THE DOOR!” Tim barked, as he tried to wrestle the bus into the emergency lane.
“No,” I cried, “I think I can do it!” Reasoning that Sandra Bullock had been able to do all those stunts in Speed wearing a simple sundress, while I was in a brand new, designer track suit and all I had to do was close a door, I kept my left hand on the rail, braced myself and tried again. And, again. I just could not achieve my goal until Tim managed to stop the bus. At that point, he pressed a button on the dash that actuates the door’s airlock, bolting it shut.
“I am so sorry, sweetie,” he said, as white as the line on the shoulder of the road we were now straddling. “It won’t happen again,” he promised.
“Better not,” I snapped, “or I’ll have to invoke the ‘two strikes and you’re a dimwit rule.’” Tim nodded, his face solemn. That would be the second to last thing he’d ever want me to do, right behind fly out the bus door.
The “two strikes and you’re a dimwit rule” was decreed one night when Tim left his wallet at home and couldn’t pay for dinner. When we go out, if I carry a purse at all, (what are husbands for, anyway) it’s to make a fashion statement, not necessarily to carry anything practical, like money or credit cards. For weeks afterward, every time we’d leave the house, I’d ask, “do you have your wallet?” Finally, Tim begged in exasperation, “if I only forget something once, do you really have to remind me every time?” Hence, the “two strikes and you’re a dimwit rule.” Came in really handy the second time he left the ignition on in my car over night, draining the battery.
Things started looking up when we crossed the border into Wyoming. The rain was now merely a drizzle and I was beginning to enjoy my perch up high, along with the waves and stares of passing motorists.
“Look! They think we’re celebrities!” Tim exclaimed.
“No,” I corrected him. “They think I’m a celebrity. They think you’re the bus driver.”
“At least I get to drive a celebrity,” he mumbled under his breath. By the time we reached a truck stop in Laramie to gas up, the rain had started in again, hard. As he stood out in the downpour, Tim realized he didn’t know how to operate the diesel fuel. He called over to the driver of a big rig next to us.
“So, is this pay at the pump?” The trucker gave him a condescending look. “No,” he said, “push the intercom and tell ‘em which pump you’re on.” Two hundred twenty dollars later, our 179 gallon tank filled, Tim climbed back in with a bleeding hand.
“What happened?” I asked, alarmed, thinking perhaps he’d come to blows with the trucker over the not so subtle slight to his manhood.
“Oh, I noticed the tow cable for the Jeep was frayed. It’s been dragging on the ground. I had to shorten it,” he said. I gave him a worried look, my brow furrowed. “I don’t think I remembered to pack bandaides.”
“I did,” he replied, ripping up a piece of paper towel. “They’re in the bay.” He wrapped his hand as best he could and we headed back on the highway. As soon as we hit the speed limit, the door flew open, again. After the previous incident, Tim, who always likes to lord it over me that I took physics for non-majors, had explained the concept of “camber,” by which the angle of the door away from the bus creates lift, thus precluding any hope of my being able to close it.
So, this time, I let Tim ease the bus to a stop before I attempted to shut the door. We must have both had a flashback to my near death experience of only a couple of hours earlier. We looked deep into each others’ eyes.
“Two strikes and you’re a dimwit rule,” we chimed in unison.
Night fell. So did the hale. Tons of it, the size of the tassels on my last season Cole Hahn loafers. Tim’s face was as white as the paper towel on his hand had been for the first split second of its use. Even the truckers were pulling over on the shoulder. So did we. The sound of the hale pounding into the steel skin of our bus was deafening. I was certain the windshield would crack. Or worse. The storm let up after five interminable minutes, resuming the pelting rain we were suddenly pining for. Our dog, Miles and our male cat, Morty, who had been snuggling on the sofa like the best buddies they are, now sat up at attention. Before Tim started the bus again, I dashed into the back to check on Shula, our female cat, who had spent the entire trip thus far cowering under the bed covers.
“I bet this scared the pee out of her,” I mused. It had. Right through to the mattress.
Neither of us wanted to venture outside to inspect the damage. While Tim struggled to remember if we had coverage for hail under our new RV policy, I wondered how in the world we could ever break the news to Manny, Vanture’s paint and body work man who had painstakingly detailed the bus at our house only the day before. Miraculously, we didn’t have to do either, as the hail had not left even one tiny dent.
Our plan had been to make it to West Wendover, Nevada, just across the Utah border for our first night. There was a very convenient truck stop we had spotted many times on our car trips to Reno. Tim’s mother, Dorothy, lived there and was turning 80 in two days. We had organized a surprise party breakfast at her favorite restaurant, so we really could not be late. West Wendover was a twelve hour drive from Boulder, very doable if we had gotten an early start. But, as we headed into Rock Springs, Wyoming, it was already 11:30 pm (a normally six hour drive had taken us eight) and we were both drained. We decided to stop for the night at another landmark we’d taken note of, The Flying J truck Stop, just off Interstate 80. There it was. And, there it went. We took the next exit intending to turn right back around, but ended up in the deserted parking lot of a college campus. Tim stopped the bus so we could catch our breaths, make a plan and wait for some improved visibility.
“I think we should just stay here for the night,” I said, my voice shaky.
“I don’t want to. A deserted parking lot isn’t safe.” Tim had made up his mind and besides, I always deferred to him for safety issues. Since the electronics guy also had not hooked up the security cameras, it really didn’t seem like a good idea to stay, anyway. We ate a quick snack and headed back to the Flying J.
You might think a truck stop would be easily marked, but there was construction going on, the rain was still going strong and somehow we missed the turn, again. As we barreled down the wrong street, trying to find a place to turn around, the bus door flew open for the third time.
“SHIT!” Tim exclaimed, his face turning as white as the cotton atop the new Tylenol bottle he’d popped open after the second door incident. This time, I couldn’t help but laugh as he stopped the bus to airlock the door.
“You know, honey,” I said, “the only bad thing left to happen is to get the bus stuck somewhere we have to back out of, so we have to unhook the Jeep in this weather.” And, that’s exactly what happened a few minutes later, with the Jeep sticking out into a four lane road.
We finally made it to the Flying J, Tim driving the bus and me following behind in the Jeep. It had been bad enough unhooking it in the storm while watching for traffic, so we decided not to bother rehooking it just then. Unfortunately, the only spaces available at the truck stop involved Tim backing up the bus. The side view mirrors were so fogged up from the rain that he just could not see to do it. We got out of our respective vehicles and conferred in the downpour. Well, maybe conferred isn’t exactly the right word. I admit it. I begged.
“PLEASE, honey. Let’s go back to that school.” And, so we did, finally parking for our first night at 1:30 am. God bless you, West Wyoming Community College.
As we turned the mattress and hand-rinsed the pee-soaked linens in the sink (we didn’t’ know how to use the combination washer-dryer, yet) I had my darkest moment of the day, as I spied a still traumatized Shula, huddled in a corner.
“She’s not going to adapt to this bus thing,” I thought. “Maybe we should just leave her with Tim’s mother in Reno… and maybe Dorothy’ll agree to take me in, too.”
Our bus has three temperature zones, one for the main living area, one for the bathroom and one for the bedroom. We cranked the heat in zone three and climbed into a sheetless bed. We awoke an hour later, shivering.
“Something’s wrong with the heating system,” Tim said. “I’m freezing.”
“Me, too,” I answered, teeth chattering. We grabbed an extra blanket (mercifully not left in the bay) and somehow managed to sleep a few more hours. It was only sometime the next day, after I kept turning up the air conditioning in zone one (not that Tim minded this time, he was sweltering by the windshield), went back to the bedroom to check on Shula (still in full cower mode) and noticed how much cooler it was in there, that we realized zone one, not zone three, was actually the bedroom.
Surely the Karma Gods had intended that we get all the bad luck out of the way the first day.
Manny Rivera painstakingly detailing the bus the day before we leave
Project Nerd doing one final wash before the first trip
Miles, Morty and Shula (resplendent in white fur)
after a grueling first day