Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Other Half of the Story

Note: Guest blogger, Ilse Brukner (aka Mom), gives us version of the conclusion of the bus story. --DR

Did you ever sell a bus on eBay? We did, and I can tell you a tale.

It’s a long story that started in early January when we moved to Hemet in Southern California. Our dear bus moved with us and landed in the parking lot of an RV storage area. Of course, there was the thought to sell it as soon as possible, but fate (and I must say greed) and inexperience interfered.

Having lived 23 years, mostly in winter, in my husband Ali’s masterpiece, there were strong heartstrings connected to it which had to be severed.

We had purchased this school bus at the end of 1979. They call it a pusher because the engine is in the rear and pushes the bus down the road. It took us four years of dedicated work – Ali, the mechanical design engineer, using his wide experience in design, welding, handling tools expertly, was the very knowledgeable boss. I, awkward in handling tools, called myself the unskilled labor. At the end of this adventure I brandished the paintbrush like a pro, worked along beside him good naturedly and gave him moral support when needed. After we converted the bus into our living quarters of the future, I could repeat my first statement before starting ”I will move into a bus but … it has to be the nicest converted bus about.” And it was and is!

Then with the new year of 2006 came the time to start cutting the umbilical cord and put it up for sale. Blinded by the love and work that went into it and with the recommendation from daughter and her experienced salesman husband, we advertised it at $19,999. Doris had made a professional looking detailed write-up with photos that should get results.

Hmm, it was quiet out there!

We went down in price to $17,000, to $12,000. A few nibbles, nothing serious. Down to $7,000 and things became lively. Two different women expressed interest and were enthusiastic admirers of the interior, but the first dropped out not trusting the mechanical innards of the vehicle. With a bleeding heart we almost considered giving it away or sell it for the amount spent on storage and insurance. Then the second woman offered $ 4,000. And we accepted, BUT…(there is always a but, isn’t there?)…she kept asking questions, continued to research any other avenue open to her and then focused on the condition of the tires. She never realized that a bus tire is not a passenger car tire and has more life in it than a 40-year-old man, even if it is a bit cracked by the sun.

When for two weeks our lively email exchange suddenly dried up, we waited for a couple more weeks, and then turned to eBay.

PRAISE BE TO EBAY! For nothing in the world I would not have missed that experience. It was pure fun!

Signing up for a one week auction and asking $500, the bidding started within a few hours and up, up it went. When it reached $2,000 there was a lull which lasted through the middle of the week. It got lively again when the weekend as the end of the auction approached. We looked at that computer screen in astonishment and glee. Friday and Saturday – the last two days – we stared at that screen almost continuously, answered questions promptly and politely. It passed $3,000 and slowly crept higher.

But the end of it all was dramatic not only for us but probably for the three final bidders as well. One experienced guy had faithfully bid again and again. Saturday morning the telephone rang and somebody actually wanted to SEE the bus. Living a three hours drive away, he turned up, looked at the bus, drove it around the storage area and with a big grin on his face said he liked it.

The last half hour of our auction came and excitement mounted to even greater heights. Three bidders were bidding against each other, one of them Ken, our only customer to see the goods. They were popping in and out of the battle. Ken wasn’t sitting on top as the clock counted down to the last minute but, whoopedidoo! with 5 seconds left before closing, he came in with the last offer. We rooted loudly for him. We had met him and liked him.

The bus sold for $4,801.38.

Hey, don’t you think that dear, old bus deserves a round of applause, too?

We are glad it found a good owner who appreciates it and hopefully will love and cherish it as we did. It gave us 23 years of bliss, freedom and happiness. May the new owner continue in the same way. Good luck, Ken!

Does eBay give a discount for advertising?

For a video of the new owners driving it out of the storage yard, click here. If you look closely you can see John and Dad escorting it down the driveway.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Magic Bus

When I was 19 years old, it became obvious that I needed to be able to live independently soon. My sister was already out of the house for a couple of years, and Mom and Dad were planning ahead for when I would leave the nest, too. The house I grew up in was too big for just the two of them, and their dream was to travel and live simply. Dad was nearing 55,and he really didn’t want that day job anymore. Their new lifestyle would be to live in some kind of RV in the winters, then put it in storage in the summer to travel with a Jeep and tent trailer.

So, Mom and Dad starting looking at the commercial RV’s on the market. Most were cheaply constructed and designed more for sleeping lots of people rather than full-time living. My father was at the peak of his engineering and craftsman ability – a mechanical engineer by profession, he also was skilled in welding and construction, able to put his ideas into physical form. So why not build his own motor coach? And that is just what they did.

They purchased a used school bus and drove it home, knocking out the back gate to get it into the backyard. For the next four years Mom and Dad worked on transforming a yellow school bus into what would be their home for the next 20 years. The roof, set at a height suitable for grade schoolers, had to be raised six inches. The sliding glass windows were removed and replaced with a solid exterior. Many square feet of yellow paint was scraped off and the outside primed and painted. And the interior was customized, with open living spaces, nooks and crannies for storage, and beautiful wood paneling and built-in furniture. The engine needed rebuilding, and Mom and Dad pulled the engine out and rolled it to the garage a hundred feet away using old wooden tent poles like the Egyptians built the pyramids -- the engine would roll on the tent poles laid on the ground, and Mom would grab one from the back, place it at the front, and they thus proceeded slowly down the driveway.

Four years later it was complete – this picture was taken on November 6, 1983 on the first drive around the neighborhood. By this time I was out on my own, the house was sold, and Mom and Dad were at the brink of the best years of their lives.

Time passes, and needs change. Mom and Dad moved into a mobile home in Hemet last January, where they can be closer to doctors and shopping. And the bus is on sale on Ebay this week. Just like my parents, there is not another one like it in the whole world.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

A Knead Satisfied

Acquiring good bread has been a quest. During our summer travels we sought out locally baked breads to augment our otherwise minimal lunches. And we were successful. In Missoula, Montana we found three bakeries offering whole-grain breads made from freshly ground Montana wheat. We might move up there someday just for the bread.

Here in the Eastern Sierra we have options. Schat’s Bakery is a local institution. Their bakery in Bishop resembles Disneyland on weekends and holidays – people queued up to buy breads and pastries fresh from the oven, displayed on open racks and wafting aromatic fresh from the oven.

Great Basin Bakery, just around the corner, produces dense, whole breads not available at Schat’s, but inspiring equivalent lust. But, at nearly $4 a loaf and 60 miles south, it is not viable for regular sustenance.

It has been a dream, in addition to retiring early and moving to a mountain town, to learn the art of artisan breadmaking. The appeal is not just in the eating, but in crafting the loaves by hand and managing the variables that determine success or failure. I have been only a scholar of the technique for the past few years, reading books and browsing the Internet. The anticipation of putting into practice these techniques often carried me through the periods when work was consuming or tedious. Since this has been of year of dreams coming true, it was time to knead.

When we moved into our current abode recently, there simply was no room for the three cases of canning jars I had stockpiled. A family friend of our pal Charles does catering in Mammoth Lakes, and I thought she could put the jars to good use. Rumor has it that Evie nourishes a sourdough starter that is over 30 years old. In exchange for the jars, she kindly provided me two containers of the famed starter, as well as a recipe for Jewish Corn Rye Bread. My future lay in front of me.

I “built up” the starter over a period of several days to get sufficient volume for a loaf of bread, adding rye flour and water to the original starter batch to feed the yeasts. By day three it was bubbling and foamy. On Halloween I spent the afternoon baking bread – mixing, kneading, followed by three rises, and forming into two oblong loaves garnished with caraway seeds. Once placed into the oven, they sprung to full glory, browning perfectly. The final product prior to consumption is shown in the photo. The crust was chewy, the interior tender and moist and substantial. The twang of the sourdough and the spiciness of the caraway made for near perfection. John and I ate half a loaf with dinner.

We ate the last slice for lunch today, so I knead to bake again…

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