Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

April 17, 2004. Among the Vanagoners.


Iím at Everybus, a gathering of the welcoming cult of VW bus and van owners. For four days weíre all camping together in an open field at Hagen-Stone Regional Park, south of Greensboro. I had no idea what to expect, but it seemed right to attend this event, now that Iíve become a part of this group by virtue of my choice of vehicle.


It was a lucky choice Ė not because the vehicles are so great, which (sorry, Matilda) they are not. But because the people who choose them love them, and love the way of life they allow, and love to meet each other. There are one hundred and sixty buses and vans here, twice as many adults, children of all ages, and at least one hundred and fifty dogs large and small. I could amble into any campsite here, settle myself in a chair, play with the dog, and chat with the people, and everyone would be happy about it. Everyone has been very generous Ė and seeking to borrow tools is a great way to meet them. I took an hour and a half looking for a caulking

gun. Each time I stopped to ask a group if anyone had one, I got sidetracked in conversation about everything but caulking guns. I eventually found one with the owner of the one huge RV that was parked in our area Ė far from feeling squeezed out by us, he was a former VW owner and was delighted to find himself in the middle of our gathering. When I wandered off in search of a skylight so I could check how to install mine, the couple I asked turned out to be people Iíd exchanged email with, so we settled into their van and talked for an hour about work, politics, Virginia, Iraq, and dozens of other things. I returned to find that someone had taken the seat out of my van and pulled the battery out Ė heíd offered to help me install it, and finding I wasnít there he just got to work without me.

A few local celebrities Ė of the vanagon community, that is Ė were there. Larry Chase, who has been traveling in his van for fourteen months and is something of an institution. Frank Condelli, who works on vans up in Canada and posts

to the vanagon.com list with animated and opinionated technical advice. Karl Mullendore, mechanic from western Maryland of whose skills others speak far more highly than he speaks for himself. Ben Huot, a French Canadian with a bilingual website filled with photos and excited stories about his travels in the US and Mexico. Ben and Frank volunteered lots of their time and knowledge on my van, as did Craig, George, and others whom I didnít know from email. Their attitude was delightful Ė ďoh, a van with a problem, what fun, letís go tinker!Ē Some folk felt that Everybus was vacation and they shouldnít be doing mechanical work there, but for me it was perfect. Where else could I install my skylight or my battery, or investigate my leaky water tank, with three hundred people who

could answer my questions when I got stumped? The tank still leaks and the battery still isnít connected, but now I know what needs doing and which parts to buy, so thanks to Frank, Ben, George, Craig, and a few others, I can actually do it myself. Thank you, guys!!!

The spirit in the Everybus field was joyous. Children bounded everywhere. A blonde toddler on a pink and lavender Barbie tricycle planted herself in the middle of the loop road that circled the field, where the older kids swerved around her as they raced on their bikes. Several teen-aged girls were helping with activities for the younger ones; I wanted a photo of a lithe blonde girl of 15 or as she announced that she was going to keep the smiling two-year-old in her arms. I donít remember seeing any teen-aged boys Ė had there been any, I hope they

would have helped run the kidís activities as well. One particularly hot afternoon these seemed to mostly involve dunking each other in tubs of icy water straight from the pumps, as one girl told me in excitement. Every place I looked there were parents with toddlers, long-haired men in tie-dyed Jerry Garcia t-shirts cuddling little children wrapped in blankets against the morning chill. At eleven one night a group of girls purposefully did crafts projects at the picnic table near my van, while the teen-agers hung out under the registration tent and the adults milled around talking, their beers carefully out of sight in coffee mugs.

The oldest vehicle there dated back to the 1950s, the newest to 2003. I canít really tell you about their history or their mechanical wonders. Unlike the true believers, I don't know which vehicle Iím seeing based on the shape of its windows or the color of its bumpers. If you want technical details, check out the eventís website.


But I love the old vehicles (not mine, I must point out!) because I find them aesthetically pleasing. The faces on those 1960s buses, with their v-shaped noses and sweet round eyes, their bodies painted bright red or pale blue or yellow with white on top, their 23 windows clean and gleaming Ė they delight me. By comparison Matilda looks a bit hostile, with her rectangular eyes, pug nose, and glaring gridded teeth. Alas, I canít pick my vehicles for their looks, but itís nice to be able to visit among them at Everybus.

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