Tales from the past

I may have mentioned that one of Gus’s previous owners found me on Facebook. He is the one that painted him like a bull. He shared some hilarious tales with me from Gus’s past – it’s worth the read. He has a gift for storytelling….and he should, as he is related to one of America’s most famous storytellers…(I’ve kind of edited our correspondence together)

Well, in the fall of 1993 I traded my Grandma’s old Ford Topaz and a few hundred bucks for that VW bus. So, I sold it to my buddy in… mmmm… 2004? I think? So I guess 11 or so years I had her. I got it from a thirty-something, scraggly-looking, half-baked Californian who had traveled north to Stanwood, Washington with his German Shepard and stopped to fill up at the gas station I was working at. That’s about all I know about that guy.

The fuel system was often the source of the many breakdowns… well, the major breakdowns – I had with the bus. I was never bright enough to do anything about it and would end up promising my first-born children to whichever of the few-and-far-between VW mechanics could fix it. But you are on the path to reliability if you’re fixing up the fuel system.

The most fun and challenging automotive failing with that vehicle, however, was with the starting. I became a master of the one-man clutch pop. I would seek out those perfect slopes to park upon… not too steep (cuz the parking break never provided any assurance) and not too short (cuz it was always better to have a little extra rolling distance.) Of course, there were many times when I would call upon the kindness of strangers to push that bull bus to clutch-popping speed, and that was sometimes a nice way to connect with my fellow humans.

Well, that bull bus was my best artistic creation. After the spots and the brand, I mounted a pair of Texas Longhorns to the top. Then – don’t ask me how – a couple of rodeo cowgirls somehow broke the horns and I deemed them too fragile for highway travel. So, I acted upon another artistic vision. I found an old plastic roping head, my grandma’s old wig, some paints and VOILA! she was reborn.

Incidentally, my lovely wife is the reason that I’m sans-bus today. She is from Switzerland and, as the Swiss are, she’s all about function and practicality. So my sentimental pleas to retain my old rambling friend ultimately had to submit to her voice of reason. Truth be told, that bus has NEVER been what one would call “reliable.” In fact, we have some photos of us on our wedding day trying to pop the clutch to get her started: She’s pushing and I’m steering and working the ignition. So, you can see just from that image why she was willing to say goodbye to that bull bus. Even though I did kinda model the cowhead hairdo after her…

I once made a summer’s month long trip around the Pacific Northwest… from SLC to Reno to SF … up the coast to Seattle and Vancouver BC.. then back across to Montana and down through Yellowstone with two foreign exchange students… a girl named Corrine from Holland and a girl named Laeticia from France… and nary a working starter. How the cars would honk at these two girls pushing a VW cow along as I tried to pop the clutch! Oh, that bus was full of roll-yer-own cigarette smoke, the scent of salami and brie sandwiches, the sounds of Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits, and your choice of three different nationalities of B.O.

That was the trip where I had the run in with the buffalo. Now THIS is quite a story: There in Yellowstone, the buffalo were all over the roadways making themselves more of a fur covered roadblock than wildlife wonder. But when we rolled in to the parking lot at the Old Faithful Lodge, we discovered that buffalo were indeed wild animals. See, there was one bull buffalo way off at the far end of the lot and something about the bull bus caught his attention. Maybe it was the sound of the sputtery old muffler or the sight of a big, orange rectangle with texas longhorns atop… but whatever it was, it soon became obvious that he did not approve of our being there. A series of screams went up as tourists grabbed their children up and gave that buffalo a wide berth, and in the next moment, he began charging across the lot towards us! Well, I was frozen! I didn’t know what to do. NOBODY knew what to do. The only thing I recall was some guy in khaki shorts pointing and yelling “BUFFALO! BUFFALO!” in case we weren’t aware what sort of animal was on its way to stampede us.

Then… as that bull closed in, a woman on the wooden walkway caught his eye and he turned his charge toward her! Well he shot past her as she skittered behind this thin Aspen tree alongside the walkway. The buffalo got his bearings then returned for the woman, chasing her around the tree, matching her step for step! Then he bowed his head and began to butt that tree, the fearful woman shouting for help!

Well… I was stunned. But, being the owner of the bull bus, the instigator of this wildlife ruckus, I was responsible too. And no one was doing anything. No park rangers, no militia men, no anti-buffalo tanks of any kind. So I shifted her into neutral, yelled at Corinne, “put your foot on the brake!” and I jumped out of the bus and started toward that buffalo. I got about three steps before I was hit with that realization, “i don’t have anything to fight a buffalo with!” So I ran back to the bull bus, and grabbed my lasso which happened to be right there behind my front seat. (See, i’d learned to rope a bit growning up, but was never very good at it. I’m still not very good at it, but I’d been practicing for a part in a play and had taken the rope with me for that.)

So now I’m back on the run toward that tree-butting buffalo… and I get my rope together, and I’m building a loop, and in the next moment I’m swinging a lasso over my head.

And that buffalo stopped. And looked at me swinging this lasso. And just kind of casually trotted away. I don’t know if he’d just gotten his fill of tree-butting/human intimidation for the day, if he was spooked by the sight of a swinging lasso, or if he just couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the herd about his adventure. But, that was it. I walked the woman back up to the hotel to her waiting family, and then got back in the bull bus where Corinne and Laeticia sat in silence staring at one another for a few minutes til finally Corinne said, “What the hell were you gonna do with a ROPE?”

I said I didn’t know, i hadn’t thought that far ahead, but was just glad that whatever happened had worked.

So THAT is the bull-bus and buffalo story. Hope it wasn’t too long.

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