Stop for Flashing Lights

IMG_3848When I tell people I want to live in a school bus after I retire, reactions run the gamut. But it’s OK. I’ve already driven a bus – The bus I was riding home from school one Spring day in 1972, in 9th Grade, supervised. Actually, I wasn’t supervised at all, but only watched by the licensed bus driver who gave me her seat so that I could drive my bus down my street.

One of the best – and worst – things in the past 10 years of my life happened in July 2008 when I bought a run-down house in a delightfully diverse urban neighborhood. I was armed with an annual salary approaching $60,000 and had great plans for turning the house into a picturesque homestead. Small and inexpensive home, plenty of money for rehab, and ideas that filled half a drawer in my file cabinet. Slam-dunk.

The neighborhood has sustained, even to this day, its delightful diversity – racial, cultural, national, linguistic, behavioral, and socioeconomic – but three weeks after I took ownership of the house in 2008, I was laid off, along with about 150 of my newspaper colleagues.

Enter Plan B, which involved unemployment payments from the state, which covered the very modest mortgage, insurance, and taxes, plus a cash severance that paid for a brand new furnace, and miscellaneous subsidies for heating oil.

I returned to school, first to catch up on state requirements in case I was Hoovered up by a teacher training program (I was not), and then to earn the Master’s for which I had pined since 1990, when my first daughter was born. Meanwhile, I rode the wave of the recession-fueled enrollment boom and started working at colleges – first in other teachers’ classrooms, and finally in my own.

Never mind that my newly modest income would not fund even my simplest rehab plans. Life still rocked.

But the longtime confluence of too little money and too many obligations have slowly turned me against stationary dwellings. I might buy a boat to live aboard, but the maintenance demands are high and I have no confidence my two cats would ever venture up from below.

Clearly, the solution is a school bus – inexpensive to buy, renovation options that range from very easy (and very basic) to painstaking (and intricate), and entirely portable – and parkable. I’m tempted to call this Plan C, but I think I’ve burned through half the alphabet in the past 10 years – so perhaps Plan M, for Mobile.

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My immediate future actually does not involve a bus at all (although by virtue of my scarily advanced age, I qualify for a bus that would pick me up at my home and take me shopping or to the Senior Center). My immediate future involves a condo where I will live with my two parents. Someday, though, I will buy and (in the “Skoolie” parlance) begin to “build out” the bus. Basic needs, but with an elevated measure of diverse urban chic – right about in the middle of that range of renovation. No hand-rubbed finishes, but neither will I use rollers and house paint to cover the outside of the bus.

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Plan M may turn out to be a moving target. My goal is to visit as many National Parks as I can manage. One variation has me setting up the basic bus, growing impatient, and thus traveling and renovating all at the same time. I have a floor plan for a 27’6” flat-nose front-engine rig – but there is enough time before I deliver a cashier’s check to whomever, that I may change everything. (I revise every week.) But the seeds are planted, the sun is out, and rain is on the horizon – so the plan has every chance of putting down some manner of roots.

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Aside from my goal of being mobile so as to be able to visit the parks I have never seen (and visit Acadia again, which I have seen before and adore), I like the promise of variety and new routine – boondocking in Beaufort, S.C., so that Neville, Eleanor, and I can watch herons roost in waterside trees (my two cats have never seen a heron, so I would be broadening their horizons), stealing mountain views in Colorado and California (my cats have never seen mountains, either), visiting family I have and have not seen much, and sharing stories with new and old friends.

Another practical goal is to visit places in the U.S. and Canada where I believe my ancestors lived, and digging through old town records for 150-year-old hand-written records that might teach me something about their lives – at the same time I am learning about my own.

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