Bus Bitches Part 1

I’d like to tie this in to an earlier post, in which I discussed how the logical response when somebody asks you if you can drive a bus is, “no”, not, “Sure, legally.” Recently visiting friends who have known me for some years, working the horse farm and running or biking the 6km there and back everyday, they were not surprised. “We loved your Instagram posts of you and the bus this summer,” they said. I reiterated the story of how I learned to drive the bus and I was comforted by the fact that they viewed me the same way I did. “I think if somebody asked you if you could drive a bulldozer, you’d say yes and you’d just figure it out.” More or less.

L and I exchange post-cards in between seasons. I made a lot of friends last season. I was lucky. I found myself. I heard soul-affirming statements and compliments. “You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met,” my boss wondered. Thanks, bud. This, shortly after he finds his girlfriend and I on the kitchen bus, topless with our boobs in bread pans of dyed flour-water paste, making a birthday card of breast imprints. “I promise I’ll be ok for tomorrow,” I say.

I plant my personal best the next day in some weird mind-state, after spending an inappropriate amount of time naked the day before, then swimming, fully clothed, in leech lake, trying to wash off the flour water paste. I had naked wheel-barrow raced a friend that day and couldn’t look him in the eyes for months, remembering hysterically laughing as I held his legs under my armpits and basically staring into his asshole as we raced around the bus with his sneakers on his hands. My potted plant, bought at a garage sale in Hearst, dares everyone on the bus to get naked and they comply. A friend speaks for the plant and begins to tear him out of his pot. “Jesus, he’s a plant, he doesn’t wear clothes, he’s already naked! You’re just tearing him out of his pot!” He is constantly having beer poured into his pot, a show of solidarity, a brief ‘salut!’ to acknowledge him. I bring Dyl to the block and my crew boss takes his numbers. The next week night off, somewhere between ‘boat races’ and ‘strollin’ like Moses through the desert to find a bonfire’, I bring Dyl to a friend, a sort of mentor like figure, a figure I oft refer to as “dreadlocked sex Santa” or occasionally, “Dad”. I look at him sort of slanty-side eyed and say, “I think Dyl is dying.” He plucks at a limp leaf that wilts in his hand and falls to the ground. “You’re right. We should probably put him out of his misery.” And in a moment we fall upon him like animals and rend him limb from limb. Nico runs in at the last moment and retrieves the empty pot, screaming about how we have murdered him. She carried the empty pot on her head during our travels about camp in search of the rumored bon-fire until I tire of the dead past and throw it victoriously upon the fire.

When I roll into Northern Ontario for a second season, I’m exhilarated and terrified all at once. I found my people last year. This season can’t be the same. It can’t live up to the last year, yet at the same time, it’s been the resounding siren call to live for over the past nine months. Do you remember when the promise of life made you shiver, anticipating snow in London and azure seas and the sheer ecstasy of being alive, driving through mountains at midnight, careening through wheat fields in a car like a space ship with the other occupants in some deep, medically induced sleep. Over the monotonous winter and the dreary restaurant work, there’s been the promise of the woods and the lakes, the beaver ponds and unpopulated meadows and the fragrance of wild strawberries, the philosophical discourses on psychedelics and the promise of old friendships renewed and new relationships kindled. L and I meet up the first night back in Hearst and return to spend a night at the Queens, our last night in a bed for a while. My greatest longing over the next four months is just to sprawl across a bed, for while we do occasionally stay in a hotel room, there are four people to a bed and the hours spent there are brief.

My first time driving a bus has been recounted over and over again. I can’t help but laugh. I can’t say no. My first round of drop-offs goes well, backing the orange bus into line in the Esso parking lot, framed by the piles of pulp logs and cranes and logging equipment. Shuttled back to the bus yard by another staff member in a white truck whos back door won’t open, requiring me to climb over the seat and into the front to exit, I bring over the next round of buses. The dry bus, the equipment bus, soon to be loaded to the rafters with tarps and tents and guitars and boots and the detritus brought along to survive two months in the wild. I arrive in the Esso parking lot and back the bus into place fairly confidently. My chauffeur back to camp is waiting outside. We stand and light a cigarette and chat casually outside the bus. In a moment, like an optical illusion, the bus begins to slowly roll backward, toward a deep ditch full of brackish water and cat tails. I futiley grip at it with my hands as if it were an errant horse I could stop with my willpower and stern gaze. “Jump, jump, jump!” I’m being shouted at and boosted in the door with a surprising strength and agility. Shaking, I slam on the brakes. I swear I’ve put the parking brake on. We drive in circles around the Esso parking lot, throwing the parking brake between ‘on’ and ‘off’ and there’s no difference. Later in the season, I learn that the parking brake had long ago been burnt out by a rookie crew boss who repeatedly drove with it engaged, thus rendering it useless. We cholk the tires in the future.

L had brought the same bus from the winter storage parking area, ten kilometers away from the shop. Her first time driving a bus, she ran it dry of coolant and overheated the engine, as our boss mistook her frantic “stop sign” hand-motion for a ‘thumbs up’ and geared up and drove back to the shop while she lagged behind with a smoking engine. Driving the old buses is a negotiation, a conversation. “Bertha,” I cry out, smacking the dash affectionately with a closed fist. “We’re gonna do it, old girl!” my eye on the temperature gage, delicately adjusting the speed to allow the temp to cool off, eyes watchful of highway traffic in the rearview mirrors. Neil Young’s blaring on my Spotify in the cupholder and I hold a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich in one overfull fist, the steering wheel gripped between a pinkie and index finger, and a coffee cup dangles from between my clenched teeth while I watchfully observe an OPP cruiser drive by. Thank fuck my four year outdated license plates go unremarked.

Our first camp move, from Waxatike to Pitopiko, is a two day affair. There are not enough drivers for the number of vehicles we have. We pack up camp one morning after breakfast and leave with the dry bus, the kitchen bus and the ‘people’ bus. I may or may not try to gear out of a muddy incline with my old bus and roll slowly back into the dry storage trailer, colliding with a dull, final thud. No damage was done. We spend hours filling in the greywater pit until I am convinced it is purgatory. The planters are dropped off in town to enjoy a night off; the rest of us have to continue to our new camp nearly 100km away to begin set up up and the first round of vehicle drop offs. I leave the kitchen bus plugged in at the shop and ride with L out to Pitopiko, seated atop a pile of tarps and planting bags, while shovels ricochet dangerously around me. A ten liter water jug falls from on top of the cubbies to my feet, narrowly missing my head. My dog lies miserably at my feet near the radiator, wearing both his sweater and his coat. It’s miserably cold and rainy. Really, I could have brought the kitchen bus, but nobody wants to set up the generator, digging a hole for the ground plate and lifting the 1000lb diesel burner from a flatbed and playing with fuel and dongles (heehee) in the blackfly ridden evening. We are also both on the dangerous verge of falling asleep. We blast Stan Rogers songs as loud as possible on her phone speaker and sing along, badly out of tune, to Barrett’s Privateers. “Never have I ever fucked anybody because they knew all the word to my favorite Stan Rogers song.” After we turn off the highway, the directions are convoluted. “Left on Rail Road,” seems simple enough, but the rest of the directions are clues and inside jokes from previous seasons. “Ten kilometers past naked bridge,” they said. The road is an old torn out railway bed with narrow trestle bridges looming high above foamy, frigid rivers. We see five bears on our drive from highway to camp.

We drive back to town, two hours away, in the crew cab, piled in tight. “We don’t have booze,” we lament. It will be ten o’clock before we’re at the Hojo and it’s party night. I guess we’ll be spending a lot of money at La Companion. Our Quebecer lumberjack crewboss smiles slyly and showcases a pillowcase full of tallcans. “Pre-game,” he says. I fall asleep in the backseat cuddled between my dog and the pillowcase while the low lull of crewboss conversation continues in the front and the strains of Johnny Flynn reach my ears. I might be dead, this is the road to heaven, and I’m ok. The dark woods flash by and a bear runs alongside the truck for nearly 5km and I think I am born to be here.

All the doors are open at the Hojo and we are greeted with cheers of welcome. “You’re here!” the drunk planter scream, thrusting beers upon us. We’re here, we’re here, we’re alive and we’re so here. We crack open beers and find vacated showers with hair clogged drains and dirty boots occupying foyers, we both catch up and surpass in terms of inebriation. We go to join our friends and so equipped, go to meet our lives, rushing toward us like the trees rush past on the sides of the highways, the sound of the music ripped away by the wind.

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