BACK ON THE BUS
By Matty Zemel
“The bus is back!!”
An excited Dylan Freechild screamed like a girl on Christmas day. After a week in rental cars we were back on the bus Spirit of Aaron Bell—now a twice broken and twice fixed bus.
Had we ever even rented cars? The bus had been absent from our driveway, but The Spirit remained parked in our hearts. During our four tour stops without her, B-U-S cheers remained plentiful and whether we were traveling together or not, the NexGen team was still “on the bus” together.
We reunited, when after an 18-hour round-trip to return cars and pick up the bus, the NexGen staff and Cody pulled her up to our secluded West Virginia vacation home at 7 AM on Saturday and let fly a riff off the air horn. The sound pierced the quiet morning air and reached our ears like the wake-up call of a long lost love and it was like she had never gone.
A short three-hour drive including a hitchhiker and a peek at the engine oil and we’re in the heart of Pittsburgh—the city of steel. We’ve taken a wrong turn on our way to PNC Park and a night at the big leagues and we’re slowly maneuvering our way through the crowded downtown streets.
“It’s always sunny in Philadelphia… and it’s always raining in Pittsburgh,” Kevin smugly notes over the bus P.A. as it begins to rain on a sidewalk of damp and now irked Pirate fans.
The rain must have scared off the Chicago Cubs fans because the roads were, in Wiz fashion, black and yellow. We parked the bus and made our way to grab some food before the game. Lucky scalper Randy of Top Ten Tickets sees us coming and flies into action. Nineteen NexGen-ers ready to see some ball and no tickets. It’s a dream come true.
“Yes, I do have 19 seats and they’re all together. They’re gonna charge you twice that at the gate.”
“Just don’t go telling the preacher where you got ‘em.”
It’s hard to know who to root for as none of us are from Pittsburgh nor care much about the Pirates. We’re wearing no consistent color other than teal (which means nothing in Pennsylvania) and a mixture of cheers for the bus, Tulowitzki, and various mascots are heard from section 130. Kevin is by far the most animated of the group:
“Simon! Where were you!? Off you’re ass and go get that foul ball.”
“Give him a yellow card ump!”
Down two runs late, Kiera Knightley makes a rousing appearance as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End just before the bottom of the 9th in attempt to rally the home crew. It’s to no avail as the Pirates go 0 for 3 at bat and the Cubs take the road game 5-3.
Uptight British videographer and editor extraordinaire Josh described Kiera’s appearance as “the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen.”
The Pitt Girls
Here we go again. Time to find parking on another tightly packed and over-congested network of one-way streets in another random city with our 35-foot bus and 19 tired, sweaty NexGen-ers. A quick, unsuccessful tour of the surrounding streets and Kevin was ready to just drop everybody off and find bus parking on his own.
Kevin leaves us at the end of Meyran Avenue in Pittsburgh’s collegiate neighborhood to make our way towards tonight’s housing option. We have the choice between trying to snag one of the six bunks on the bus or sleeping on the floor of a college party house and taking our chances on the amenities.
Apartment and duplexes crowd the neighborhood’s already narrow streets, made even narrower today by the mounds of trash left behind by the exodus of thousands of college students whose leases have all just ended. Jackson takes the lead and is quickly waved down by a few locals on a porch.
“Hey sir, why did you just get off that bus? What’s your deal? Where are you from?”
Jackson understands the subtle line of questioning. “Oh! We’re from all over. We’re a group of college all-stars traveling across the country. Do you live here?” A masterful play.
The next thing we knew Rebecca and Leah are opening their door and inviting us to share their humble, air-conditioned apartment for the night. Four of their roommates are out of town, which means open beds and shark week. Shark week doesn’t actually have anything to do with the roommates being out of town but we are damn excited about it and the beds.
“You guys won’t steal anything, right? Please don’t.”
Our initially nervous hosts are calmed by our independence. It’s as if we had been doing this nomad thing for weeks…“Do you guys need blankets or anything?”
“No. We’ve got everything we need. We have plenty of sleeping bags.”
“Got those too.”
“Do you need anything to eat?”
“Actually we brought our own food.”
“The only thing we don’t have is toilet paper in case you guys need to use the bathroom.”
“Actually we’ve got that too.” (Extra from West Virginia.)
“Our ceiling fan is broken, you might want to sleep in a different room or at least not on the futon beneath the fan,” Rebecca warns. We think she means it because the fan is literally dangling from the ceiling by wires.
“Lance’ll take care of that for you.”
He was already busy fixing the TV, so Kevin takes the initiative and surveys the fan mount.
We haggle a quick deal for the nights stay. We promise to make them breakfast in the morning, clean their kitchen and not to steal anything. Before we make our beds for the night the eggs, bacon and OJ have been purchased, Kevin has “fixed” the ceiling fan, the TP is stocked and the kitchen looks spotless.
Would it be awkward in the morning? Would the girls realize they’d made an awful decision letting NexGen take over their small apartment? Breakfast the next morning is full of jokes, eggs and a monster game of Catch Phrase.
Girls, we thank you. Pittsburgh ultimate, you can thank us later for the two new converts.
Matty Zemel is a member of the NexGen Ultimate Tour and was driving the bus when it overheated.