Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bus Blog 27: The Drive 1

A sprint across the icy parking lot, children in arms, we ducked into the lobby to see the final seconds as the teams both crouched, ready to attack, then suddenly let their straight backs soften, go lax.  They stood up, some smiling, others not.  It was done.

How I came to miss the Superbowl was simple.  I had been piloting the bus, across Alberta on the Highway 1.  I was comfortable driving the massive bulk of the bus and didn't want to stop.  There was so much going on over the past week that I simply forgot about football all together.  We wouldn't have stopped at all, if the lights hadn't started going dim 50 kilometers from Medicine Hat.

The bus was getting easier to pilot.  A few miles into the journey, the snow legs kicked in and it became almost as simple as driving any other vehicle on questionable roads: correct slowly, brake well ahead of time, check your mirrors, take wide turns.  The roar of the engine as we accelerated beyond 100 km/h, had grown comfortable, part of the architecture of the space.  I was alone in my cockpit separated, from Kirstin and the boys.  We drove forward making fast tracks on the snowy asphalt.

The bus is equipped with clearance lights that shine like periodic yellow stars down its lengthy frame.  The way is illuminated by 2 high-powered halogen bulbs, bright when set on normal, blinding when kicked up to full blast.  To deal with the combination of frost and over-sized windows I ran both front defrosters, to kick a little heat to the kids, the fan to the back of the bus was set on high.  When I flipped on the built-in mirror defrosters things started to get a bit dim.

I didn't notice it right away, but after a while my eyes felt strained, like they had to work harder than normal to see.  I blinked and rubbed them repeatedly.  I was starting to squint a bit.  Then more.


I was losing visibility by the minute but made up my mind not to stop until we made it to a big town.

I squinted hard and put the pedal down.

By the time we made to Medicine Hat, my eyes were beat and there was a hollow feeling in the bottom of my stomach.  The bus was running fine, healthy, hearty but I couldn't see the road ahead, couldn't read the dials, and every time a truck passed in the other direction, it took me a few seconds to see anything other than stars.  I was relieved when we made it to town, and after a short drive through a few side streets and several flashes from other drivers, my teeth finally began to unclench and feeling started to return to my hands, which didn't quite leave impressions in the steering wheel but should have.

A cursory look under the hood didn't yield any answers.  So we pulled the bus into the first hotel we saw, where drunken rig hands stood smoking in their super bowl attire just outside a wall of tiny hotel rooms.

"Fuckin' Pack's up.  We got time, we're gonna come back."  One of the hands, drunk and swaying in an over sized curly wig, shouted.  I had just finished plugging the battery charger into one of the winter outlets that surrounded the parking lot, poking up from the drifts of snow like skinny tombstones.

"How long's left?"  I shouted back.

"Couple minutes," a sober companion chimed in.

"Aaaalllll the time in the wwwooorrld," the drunk added.

I ran an extra cord from the back of the bus to an outlet and brought an arm load of firewood to the front.  I climbed the stairs.  Kirstin had head the exchange, and when I opened the door, she had both boys in coats, ready to make a run for it.  I smiled, "Sure, we'll get this thing figured tomorrow," I thought.  The four of us exited the bus, Kirstin and I each carrying a boy.  Then she started to run.


The next day after inspecting the alternator and discovering a loose wire, we were back on the road with full power.  We left Saskatchewan heading across the frozen world.