Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Get in the Bus

Hola amigos. What's going down up in your neck of the woods? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but we've been driving in the fast lane, running on empty, and looking for an off-ramp. First off, we drove back up to Eugene, Oregon after the family wedding in Sacramento, CA and the big Election Day party in Nevada City, CA.

Next day, we were on the road early eating up the miles and blasting some tasty tunes. Sure, we were going back to Eugene. Sure we'd seen all these roads before. But after a year of seeing nothing but unfamiliar places, driving familiar roads was sort of nice. The nice didn't last long, though. No sooner did we pull into town when the bus went all haywire.

The other morning we got in the bus to do some errands. The sun was bright and warm. The sky was blue, not a single cloud in the sky. The bus started just fine and we drove all around town doing our thing. That is until our last stop. When I went to start the bus, I discovered that I couldn't twist the ignition key. With a lot of jiggling and a little sleight of hand I got it to work. But then we got home and I shut it off. And here, amigos, is where our troubles began.

Now old Van Man here ain't an expert mechanic or anything but he does know his way around a monkey wrench, and he does know when something is wrong. If you can't turn the ignition key you can't turn on your bus. And if you can't start your bus you aren't going anywhere. So I pulled out my trusty VW bus manual and read through the chapter dealing with ignition stuff. Then I got online and found even more info. And then I got to work and called an expert. In this case, the expert was a friend of a friend who rides around town on his bicycle with a tow-trailer making housecalls on sick old VWs. Welcome to Eugene.

After some fussing and sussing and power tool rustling, my traveling mechanic had the lock guts out. I could start the bus, hotwire style, no key needed. Now, this old bus of ours may be a highly-modified contraption. It has its eccentricities. But it is also a thing of elegant utility. So I did the right thing and drove to a full-serivce VW mechanic and had a keyed ignition reinstalled.

At this point, the Van Man is feeling pretty good about himself. We've been all over America in our bus. We've driven over 25,000 miles so far. Sure, we've had a few problems--but if you want a '71 VW microbus to treat you good, you got to treat it good. We might have been knocked down, but hadn't been knocked out.

Then came the famous rains of the Pacific Northwest. And with the rains came a flat tire. For the record this is the third flat we've had this trip. We were in a giant parking lot, so we didn't have to deal with dodging traffic or panic stopping or any of that. I calmly busted out the jack and swapped out the spare. No problemo. But when I went around town, looking for a fix, I spied this giant rainbow-colored trail following behind me wherever I went. Normally, a rainbow following a microbus around Eugene, Oregon is no big deal. But this kind of rainbow--the oily kind, all spewing and spattering; the kind that's so big and dirty that everyone shoots you dirty looks--was some serious trouble.

Back at the mechanic's garage I got the bad news--blown gaskets and seals. Sometimes a problem is as simple as that. And sometimes you got to figure things happen for a reason. Here we were, in our home town--a town where there's a microbus parked on almost every corner; the only town in America where I know these mechanics and they know me and this bus. If it hadn't been for the rains I might never have known the size of the oil leaks until it was too late. A few days later, those old nagging oil leaks were fixed.

I've got to be honest with you. I took one look at the repair bill and almost fainted. Then I remembered driving through the wild wastelands of the desert southwest--Indian country at that--totally alone. Nothing but sand and rocks and sun and a never-ending ribbon of road ahead of us and behind us. Then, I imagined the oil pressure light starting to blink... And I paid right up.

But the problems didn't end there. I was driving around the next day and discovered that I had a hard time shifing gears. It quickly went from hard to horrible. It got so bad that I had to shut off the engine--using my new ignition key--at stoplights to shift into first. I tell you, it's hard to treat your bus good when it's treating you bad. I managed to nurse the bus home and I immedately called Big R., the only mechianc I really trust (besides Miles at the No Name Garage, that is). Like Rasputin to the Romanovs, he diagnosed the problem by wire and told me the clutch was burning out. I didn't want to believe him, but the very next time Diane and I got back in the bus and my clutch foot shot down to the floor and nothing happened, I believed.

Stuck in second gear and driving without a clutch, Diane and I somehow managed to beeline it back to the garage without stopping.

And there it sits. Big R. was right, the clutch indeed had burned out.

It's tough to write a travel blog when you can't travel anywhere. After a new clutch disk and pressure plate, that'll change. And just because we don't have our trusty yellow microbus to push us around right now doesn't mean our style's been cramped in any way. We've been getting around just fine. All we had to do was get into another sort of bus.

And we'll drink to that...

... because we know there's nothing else that can possibly go wrong with our bus now.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Guys:

    Ben here from Sacramento. while you have the clutch and tranny being serviced, do a check and replaced of all fuel hoses, especially the TOP VENT HOSE on the fuel tank. Happy bussing and I look forward to more journeys. My see you in my sage green '78 Westy.