Archive for the ‘Bus diaries’ Category
Watch all the games from the 2013 NexGen Ultimate Tour on NGN (www.ngnultimate.com).
Will Driscoll sets the trend for NexGen with a teal stud from Claire’s.
Join us for the first of what we hope to be a series of video blogs capturing some of the experiences of the NexGen Tour.
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.
A BUMP IN THE ROAD
By Matty Zemel
“Everybody off the bus… it’s smoking”
“Matty, what happened?”
“…she’s running a bit hot.”
Rewind twelve hours to a quiet Atlanta morning in the Stubbs’ kitchen. The sun has been up only two hours and already it was over 80 degrees outside as we enjoyed a meal in A/C. Dozens of store bought muffins from neighbor Mr. Lindsley, freshly baked blueberry pancakes from sister India Stubbs, and of course Georgia peaches galore. And why not savor some breakfast before our relatively short drive up to Carolina? We had plenty of time…
Kevin woke up early that morning to have the bus inspected to make sure the engine cooling system would not act up anymore. And can you blame him by now? Two new belts were installed on the engine fan and she was back in the Stubbs’ driveway before breakfast was through. Chapel Hill here we come!
One-and-a-half driving shifts and a viewing of Harry Potter 7 part 1 later we find Matty captaining the ole’ girl when the engine temperature alarm goes off not forty minutes north of Charlotte.
“What’s my next move Kev?” Matty asked patiently. This was not the first, nor even the second time that this alarm had gone off since Seattle.
“STOP!” As Kevin emerged from the business end of the bus his dramatic tone was met with concern.
“Everybody off the bus… it’s smoking”
How had we made it 6 hours into our drive with no engine problems? Did the light rain cool the engine? Did Harry P bless the bus with a cooling stag patronous? Kevin, the bus-guru on the trip, raced to open the engine compartment only to find the two brand new fan belts both absent! Had they gotten too hot and broken, slipped off, were they ever even there from the start? Either way the diagnosis was clear. The belts somehow disappeared rendering the fan useless thus not allowing the engine to cool itself which superheated the radiator hose which then exploded spreading coolant over the engine which started to “smoke” with massive amounts of evaporating coolant.
The bus needed new parts, fan belts and coolant casing, not to mention nearly 12 gallons of coolant which was long gone by now. Nick Lance’s wizard phone showed an AutoZone 3 miles away and a party was assembled to hike from the highway to the store for parts before they closed for the night, leaving the rest of the NexGen crew working on a “mack” line, playing Settlers of Catan, and praying that as is grew darker cars on the highway wouldn’t clip the bus. Greg Arenson pulled out his iPad to capture the potentially final thoughts and emotions of the NexGen tour.
“The tour’s still on.” Kevin assured everybody. But would we make it through the night abandoned on the highway? It was only a few hours until dark.
The rescue party took off up the highway towards the overpass literally at a jog. We had to get to this AutoZone before close. As the party passed a neighborhood, the Patterson’s, a local family asked what the rush was all about. We explained our predicament and thank the lord for Southern Hospitality. Not only did the mother-in-law offer some much needed water and half the party a ride to the two different auto stores required by our parts list, but the father drove the rest of the party back to the bus to let the awaited know what was going on.
“Ya’ll ain’t from around here, there’s gonna be a North Carolina rainstorm like you ain’t never seen before,” Adam Patterson warned us.
Although it never rained, we were scared enough to pull the bus under the overpass a few football fields away (in the time it took to drive the bus that far, you guessed it, it was overheated again). Still, with the local help and the cool breeze provided by passing semis, bus chatter turned from bleak theories of where in Carolina the Patterson’s were taking Kevin and Nick back to excitement for the upcoming Ring of Fire game. And wouldn’t you believe it, Kevin shows up not an hour later with parts, coolant, pizza, and orange soda for all! Could we have planned this day any better?
Give Kevin and Adam an hour in front of the engine, a few trips back to the Patterson’s for water to mix in with the coolant, and Kevin’s supreme confidence (described by Adam as the “hugest nutsack he’s seen in a while”) to forge on and we’re back on the road not 4 hours after we pulled off!
Kevin’s back behind the wheel, mash ups are blaring through the speakers, and plans are being made to swim and play Superlame in Noah’s pool once we get in to Chapel Hill. Without warning, Kevin pulls off the road three exits into the 100 mile home stretch, coolant is leaking. Will Nick be able to fix the leaky pipes with nothing but his Camelback and some scotch tape? Will Phil just give up now and buy a ticket home from Charlotte? Will Jimmy finally text his true lover how he feels about her before it’s too late?
Stay tuned for more NexGen bus adventures!
Matty Zemel is a member of the NexGen Ultimate Tour and was driving the bus when it overheated.
Less than two weeks into the tour and two facts about bus travel has come to our attention.
Fact 1: The bus is not fast.
Last February when we planned a day for the drive from San Francisco to Boulder, it never occurred to us this might not be possible. An hour after our loss to Revolver we sat in an In-N-Out Burger putting downing a couple 2x2s animal style and wondering whether we might have made a mistake.
Google Maps says the drive from San Francisco to Boulder is something like 20 hours. This is for a car travelling the speed limit. The bus is not a car, nor does it travel the speed limit.
The bus is mechanically governed to go no faster than roughly 57.5 mph, so even if it were capable of going the speed limit (and we’re pretty sure it’s not), it straight up can’t.
George Stubbs claims to have gotten it up to 75 mph during one of his five-hour shifts at the wheel. The supposed record occurred on a long straight downhill section of highway sometime between the hours of 6 and 7 am while everyone else slept.
Sleeping on the bus means using every surface available to find whatever comfort we can. The five bunks are occupied pretty much 24-hours a day during our long drives and by the time the early morning hours arrive sleeping bags and pads litter the aisle and we’re curled up and hoping not to fall of bus seats made to seat small children, not adult athletes.
When we’re not riding the governor at 57.5 mph, it’s because we’re going up a hill at a respectable 40 mph. The 1169 miles stretch we drove on I-80 from San Francisco to Boulder gains more than 5,000 feet in elevation.
It’s 5 am and Jimmy Mickle is at the wheel for the first time. “I just drove through hell,” he says.
He and co-pilot Phil Murray just finished navigating hours of construction-riddled, 6-10% graded, uphill highway squeezed between endless lines of bright orange traffic cones and shoulderless concrete barriers.
They don’t realize how lucky they are as the road from then onward opens up onto the endless expanses of the American Midwest.
“I honestly thought about just taking out a few hundred cones for variety,” Stubbs recalled of his drive through Utah’s beautiful but enduring plains.
Total time from San Francisco to Boulder: 31 hours.
Fact 2: The bus gets hot.
We’re in the middle of driving the ever so slightly longer stretch of highway from Boulder to Atlanta and while it’s flatter, it’s much, much hotter. It’s nearly 11 pm and the outside temperature is still breaking 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This isn’t a problem if you’re sitting pretty in two luxury, air-conditioned coaches like the Christian youth group we just encountered at a truck stop Wendy’s in Salinas, Kansas.
Heat is a bit more of a problem when you’re on The Spirit of Aaron Bell. Inside the NexGen bus, air temperatures exceeds ambient levels and our only relief comes from the hot air swirling in through open windows and evaporating the sweat that’s sticking to our bodies.
Sleeping is more difficult than ever now and we’ve shed not only our sleeping bags and blankets but also our shirts in an effort to stave off the sweltering heat. None of it works however and only after we resign ourselves to the situation and the night gets late and cool enough do people start to fall asleep.
In addition to disturbing our comfort, the heat has started to tax the limits of The Spirit of Aaron Bell. It’s midday and just after crossing the border from Colorado into Kansas the red Engine Alert button on the dashboard begins to light up and buzz in alarm.
We stop the bus on the side of the highway, hop out and go around back to look at the engine. Looking at the engine is about all we’re qualified to do, as we still don’t know what we’re doing. We check the engine oil and it’s bone dry. We have a gallon of extra oil on the bus, but we’re not quite sure how to add it to the engine. After some discussion we pull a cap and decide it’s the right one.
We’ve successfully topped off the engine oil, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of our dangerously high engine temperatures. We’re good on coolant, so without any further ideas we board the bus and are back on the road.
The engine warning goes off several more times and an equal number of stops later we finally decide that we’re going to have to drive slower than we already are — 50 mph seems to be doing the trick.
With the bus under control it’s only another 24 hours until we reach Atlanta. Nothing like a little shared misery to bring people together.
The common theme with our bus seems to be how little we know about everything that needs to be done to it. We left off last time with a badass 3D model courtesy of our good friend Alex Misar at Misar Design. But alas, a badass 3D model does not a blueprint make.
When NexGen first approached carpenter Bob Nicholls less than two weeks ago about helping us build out the bus he appeared somewhat incredulous that we were asking to be on the road in less than 15 days.
“What’s the problem?” we asked responding to the look of concern on Carpenter Bob’s face. “Don’t we just cut some stuff and screw it together?” The concern deepened.
The first day on the job found us without tools or a bus. The bus was being serviced for an unusually high engine temperature and us being the urban dilettantes that we are here at NexGen own MacBook Pros, not impact drivers and chop saws.
Undaunted, we pushed forward and Bob introduced us to Mike. Now, Mike is a pretty cool guy. He sells wood to the public for wholesale prices and we dug the minimalist décor of his wood filled warehouse. It reminded us fondly of our bus.
We loaded our gigantic orange metal cart with several sheets of the cheapest ½” plywood we could buy and a couple dozen stud grade 2x4s. Bob—being the good sport that he is—never asked where exactly we were going to be taking them.
“So, where exactly are we taking these?” Bob asked.
“Oh… uh… yeah… one sec,” we replied before slowly drifting away from where Bob was loading the 2x4s into the back of his gold to light brownish 2005 Ford Ranger. Several phone calls and subdued whispers later we resumed lending a hand.
“We’ve got a place. It’s not too far away,” we said casually.
We were fortunate enough to be able to set up shop in the driveway of the parents of one of our staff members. We were on a budget and this was the Bellagio.
“So what do we do?” we asked Bob.
“I’ve got a good idea for building you guys some tables and shelves,” he said.
“What are we waiting for?” we asked.
“The bus,” said Bob.
“It’s in the shop.”
“What about measurements?”
“Eh. Don’t worry about them.”
“Don’t worry about them?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about them. Just cut and screw.”
Thus began Bob’s introduction to Cut and Screw carpentry. Without a doubt he knows a thing or two about finally crafted custom built cabinets and furnishings, but we needed a functional interior and we needed it fast. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” had to go. We were cut once and use it.
By the end of day one we’d purchased our materials, framed out two tabletops and built a couple of bookshelves. There was a great debate over the height of the bookshelves as no one was quite sure exactly how tall the sides of the bus were. This was quickly settled by compromising on just above Bob’s shoulder as “about right.” All in all it wasn’t a bad for a few hours labor and no bus.
“We’re going to have the bus tomorrow, right?” Bob asked as we parted ways.
“Definitely,” we assured him.
Day two and still no bus. There were unhappy rumors circling that they might have to replace the radiator, which would pretty much wipe out the bus budget and leave us riding prison style on a couple of 35’ benches. We reassured Bob that everything was going as planned and that we’d for sure have the bus tomorrow.
The day’s work was significantly more hampered by the lack of bus than the previous. We framed out four wood beds, but quickly found ourselves stuck without a key measurement. The plan called for the bunks to be built over wheel wells with one side mounted on a metal flange that runs the length of the bus.
The flange protrudes about an inch from the wall and was used to support the old bus seats, which have legs only on one side. Why this is we don’t know. A quick Google search revealed nothing, but we’re guessing there’s a structural advantage and we wanted to get in on it.
The problem was we didn’t know how high above the ground the flange was, so unless we wanted people rolling off the beds, we had to table the bunks for another day. Turned out everything else revolved around the placement of the bunks so day two ended a couple hours after it started.
Day three started with good news that the bus didn’t need a costly new radiator. Something had been blocking the flow of coolant and only half of the engine was receiving fluid. Four and half hours and a $600 bill later, the problem was resolved. We had our bus back and the dreams of African mahogany trim that Bob had desperately been holding on to were finally dashed.
We took our measurements and installed one bunk without issue. Bob had plans to not work another 12-hour day (he has a day job that actually pays), so we called it good and went home.
At this point there’s a long side story that involved removing a couple of built-in heaters. We think it’s best to just summarize it by saying Bob wasn’t there and it involved multiple trips to several different auto stores, a handful of returns, a gallon of spilled coolant and a lesson in patience.
Things settled into a grove after this and in eight short days we’d finished construction on the bus. It isn’t the prettiest ever, but it’s done. We’ve stuck mainly to the original plan with the exception of a second built in seating area, which is now a super plush, white couch that is sure to be envy of everyone not on it.
With construction finished, we’re feeling pretty satisfied, but one thing remains dreadfully clear—this bus needs some furnishings. One week left to figure it out.
Additional photos of the bus and construction can be found on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nexgentour.