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By Cindy Gargagliano
wanted to go to Bike Week. With their bikes. It was February in Michigan.
It would be the bus's last hurrah.
Vince knew of a scrapyard in Michigan that bought up old school buses. Normally the buses are sent through a shredder, but if they are in decent shape they are driven down to Mexico and sold there. The right connections make all the difference, and being in the scrap business himself, Vince knew, Pat, the owner of Kalamazoo Metal Recyclers. So one afternoon Paul and I drove to Kalamazoo and returned with an old yellow school bus that had been set aside especially for us. The price, $0. "Just bring it back when you're done with it."
The 66 passenger, 8.7 liter, diesel school bus sat in the driveway of our home in our middle-class suburban neighborhood. A suburban neighborhood is a unique place. It is one in which mowing your lawn is a science, i.e. one week you mow in a horizontal pattern, the next week vertically, and the following week diagonally. It is where the neighbors trim their bushes in the shape of cars and add wooden car wheels for effect. It is a neighborhood where the Gargaglianos have been accused of "importing" kids. A neighborhood where the big, old, faded yellow school bus was eye-catching. Anyway, Vince and Bill spent many evenings remodeling the bus. First, all the seats came out except for a couple up front. The back of the bus was cut open so that a servi-car would fit through the opening. They welded rings to the floor to use with tie-downs. Vince brought home an aluminum "tongue and groove" semi-truck floor plank to make a ramp to load the bikes. When they were finished the back of the bus was ready to hold two Indians, a 46 and 47 Chief, (Bill and Vince's, respectively), and Vince's 1953 servi-car and 1978 HD electra-glide. Vince brought the servi-car for his uncle to ride, and the electra-glide as a "back-up" bike in case there were problems with all the old stuff. Rusty didn't have a driver's license and would be a passenger with whoever would agree to take him for the day.
They left for Florida at 8:00 p.m. on a Thursday night. To make room for the servi-car, the rear heater of the bus had been removed. It was 11 degrees Farenheight in Michigan when they left, with the cold air reaching far into the South. Although they were all huddled up in the front of the bus, they froze. Soon they rigged a blanket up between the passenger seats and the rest of the bus in an attempt to keep warm. Vince took the first turn in the driver's seat. Their plan was to drive straight through to Florida, switching the driving duties between Vince, Paul, and Bill.
As Vince and Bill were telling me this story, over a few Guinesses (well, I was drinking a Bud Light - my opinion of Guiness is that it tastes like a mixture of prune juice and coffee - maybe they drink it for breakfast in Ireland), they claimed that the "maps were wrong". However, the Rand McNally Road Atlas seems clear enough: I-75 curves around Lexington and continues South. But it is useless to argue (with men), so, As They Tell It: It was the wee hours of the morning and Bill was driving. They were heading south on Interstate 75 towards Lexington, Kentucky. Vince, Paul and Rusty were still awake, but not paying much attention to where they were going, when Bill noticed that I-75 had petered out into a dark and empty city street. Vince, Paul and Rusty figured this would be a good time and place to relieve themselves, so Bill pulled over to the side of the road and let them out. They walked around the front of the bus. As Bill waited, he noticed a police car pulling up along the passenger side of the bus. Bill caught Vince's eye and with a nod of his head motioned "it's time to go". Vince, Rusty & Paul all filed back to the bus door in full view of the police car. Bill reached over, pulled the lever to open the door, and let them in -- then put the bus in gear and drove away. The cop never got out of his cruiser or followed them. Vince and Bill still wonder, "what was he thinking?".
They pulled into the Sunshine Holiday campground in Eustice Florida late on Friday night. It was raining. They found a great campsite - it was on dry land! Bill took the campsite picnic table and loaded it onto the bus - his bed for the night. Vince and Paul stretched out on bus seats. Rusty put 6 Huber beer boxes together and settled in. The next morning it was still raining - and they were hungry. Since they hadn't unpacked yet, they simply started the bus and rode into town for breakfast. When they came back, their "high and dry" campsite was taken. The only site left was 4 campsites away, a foot closer to sea level, and covered with 6 inches of water. Their new campsite was lacking a picnic table, but luckily Bill's bed -- the picnic table from their first campsite -- was still on the bus. They put down the aluminum ramp-plank as a "bridge" to the campground road. This would be their home for the next week. The rain stopped on Saturday and within a few more days their campsite was dry.
Part Two: Adventures In Daytona With Rusty "Hapless" Havens (maybe).
Sunshine Holiday Campground.
1984 GMC Bus. Bike Week 1996
Bill at the Ormand Crab Company
Cindy is editor of the All American Indian Motorcycle Club newsletter and webmaster of the AAIMC site