Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

January 16, 2006. Buses by the Bridge: meeting up with my family

Buses by the Bridge is one of the big VW bus gatherings, an annual event held in the shadow (well, almost) of the transplanted London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It was a bit like a reunion, in a lovely way. I’ve met lots of Vanagon people over the past two years – and if you’ve been reading this website for a while, you’ve met a lot of them through me - and many of them were there. My friend Phil Zimmerman from Campbell River in British Columbia, with whom I exchanged long and personal emails for a year before I finally met him last summer on the Olympic Peninsula. Larry Chase of roadhaus fame, for the moment tethered in Tucson by the

need to make some money before he hits the road again. Bev Beam from Portland, and many others of the WetWesties crew from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Barb Cotton, whom I met a year and a half ago at the county fair in Michigan, now finally on the road, with Max the WonderDog (her name for him, but he is a pretty nice dog). Plus some people you haven’t met through me –

Frank Condelli, one of the crazy Canadians (well actually, like Phil, a transplanted American, in Frank’s case a draft dodger) and his delightful wife Rita and their equally delightful dog Hunter, Loren Busch from the Seattle area, Mark Drillock from San Diego, Gary Gibson, who organized the VW BusCamp at Burning Man (though he didn’t camp with the rest of us, and didn’t even meet any of our crew until I got him together with Larry a few weeks later in Tucson).

I’ve met lots of people in my travels, some of whom have stayed with me because they were so interesting, or so different from me. But the Vanagon folks have become my community on the road. We all want to live on the road, even some who, like Phil and Bev, can’t do it full time. Which means in a way we are all loners, we don’t want to be tied down by partners

or spouses, and some not even by dogs. We’re not on vacation, nor on a trip running away from chaos that drove us away from where we started. We don’t experience our travel in terms of when we are going back home – we are home. Or as Barb says, “home is where I park it.” We wouldn’t want to travel with

each other for more than a few days. Yet it seems to me that we are each other’s travel community, a circling, moving community that stays in touch through email, and meets up from time to time when some of us manage to be in the same place at the same time.

The Vanagon events provide a pretext for meeting. Convince your friends that they should come to Buses by the Bridge, or EveryBus (North Carolina in April – the first event I went to), or Buses by the Beach (Michigan in May, where Brian and Billy replaced my blown engine), or Bus Fusion (Ottawa in June – I’m hoping to get there this year), or Buses in the Corn (Ontario in July) or the WetWesty Reunion (Oregon in September). Then the community gathers. We catch up on where each other has been, and

where we are going next. We meet folks whom we knew from email but hadn’t met in person yet – Barb met lots of the crew for the first time in Lake Havasu City, though they all already knew about her. We sit around a fire in folding chairs, telling jokes and drinking

coffee in the morning or beer in the evening. We admire each other’s vans, play with each other’s dogs. Those who like to do repairs team up with those who need repairs, and things get fixed. Those who like to cook in their vans make pancakes or bacon or pots of coffee, and we all pull out food to contribute to shared meals. We talk about common concerns – internet access, making money, porta-potties, nice places to camp for free, cell phones, how to fill your water tank without getting drenched when the water sprays back at you. Larry holds court in front of his van all day and most of the night, talking to everyone who comes by. Barb and Bev and I get overloaded from time to time, and retreat to our vans to check our email or read a book, then resurface refreshed a few hours later. Phil is always interested in looking at engines, as are Frank and Mark, both professional mechanics.

Larry looks, but he’ll be the first to say he’s not a mechanic – though by now he has learned enough that sometimes he can help people fix things.

In a way we’re like family. We don’t discuss our innermost feelings, but we’re all in touch, and we want to see each other when we can. None of us is looking for a partner, though most of us are single – we value our independence and freedom. But having some family who are like us, whom we can stay in touch with, and meet up with from time to time, is nice.

So Buses by the Bridge wasn’t very exciting, but it was comfortable. When the event ended, we didn’t want to split up, so half a dozen of us – five who already knew each other, plus one new-to-us person - moved to a campground down the road, and spent another night camping together. In the morning we reluctantly went our separate ways – Jasan back home to Seattle, me to Las Vegas to check out the strip, the others down the lake to meet up with another group who had headed south the night before. And since then the emails go back and forth – Bev is back in Oregon and might go to Burning Man this summer, Phil is back in Campbell River but making plans to head east for his daughter’s wedding in August, Barb is picking up some money waitressing in Joshua Tree so she can go up Alaska for the summer, Larry’s camps at night in the desert outside Tucson and works days at his consulting

job in town. And as I write this I’m in Malawi working, and trying to catch up on my website in the evenings, so I'll be ready to start fresh when I finally get home to my van in April.

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