Archive for January, 2010

Pelé, the Portuguese Water Dog

On May 24, 1985, the North Carolina legislature passed an antique plate law. House Bill 704 Chapter 257 was passed as General Statue 20-63 (d). The statue reads, “Any motor vehicle of the age of 35 years or more from the date of manufacture may bear the license plates of the year of manufacture instead of the current registration plates, if the current registration plates are maintained within the vehicle and produced upon the request of any person.”

I tolerated a long morning of boring sleep while Moni wrote scientific reports at her computer, but the afternoon concluded differently. The staccato sound of the keyboard subsided and Moni called, “Come, Pelé!”

Up I jumped. Oh crap, I hit my head on top of my crate, again. Moni’s stocking clad feet shuffled across the brick kitchen floor. The sweet sound of a lid lifting from a potato-shaped bowl filled with doggie treats, the ones with the picture of an adorable Portuguese Water Dog like me on the bag, reverberated through the house. Those single bite tidbits are delicious. I behave like the teacher’s pet when Moni’s pockets bulge with them.

While standing near the office door, Moni gently commanded, “Sit, Pelé.”

Yes, m’lady. I sat my bottom down and waited patiently.

The door opened and I bounded outside like a Yukon Gold shot from a PVC pipe gun. The crisp air filtered through my unclipped gray-tinged, black fur. In an attempt to control my excitement, Moni raised her voice, “Heel, Pelé.”

You bet; watch this. In mid stride, I queued up to Moni’s left leg and, with extreme difficulty, slowly walked to the garage where Fredrick the VW bus resides. I’ll never get there at this speed.

Finally, the sound of Fredrick’s sliding door opening and Moni’s voice, “Load up, Pelé.”

Yahoo, let’s take a hike. I leapt into Fredrick and assumed my position in the passenger seat, just in front of an oval sticker taped to the glove box. The message is Fredrick’s reminder for me to “Wag More, Bark Less.”

Moni placed Fredrick in reverse, twisted her torso like an owl rotating its head, visually lined up the North Carolina State Wolf Pack sticker in the center of the rear window with the trunk of a large tulip tree in the natural area, then stepped on the accelerator. Shifting into first gear, we headed to Lake Brandt Road. Fredrick crossed the bridge on Mears Fork Creek, passed the beaver pond, and sputtered up the rolling terrain to Hillsdale.

From the angle of the sun, I estimated that we arrived at the Lake Brandt marina trail head at three o’clock. Come on, Moni. We only have two hours before the gate closes. I NEED ALL that time to check messages from other dogs, swim, chase deer, eat bones, and leave messages on shrubs and trees.  

During the fall, deer carcasses litter the forested slopes of Lake Brandt. We began our hike on the Nat Greene trail, but soon bushwhacked to the parallel Wild Turkey trail where I immediately sniffed my way to fresh bones. Remnants of fur and tendons clung to the knee joints. Oh boy, it will take some time to savor this one. I hunkered down, gnawed, chewed, and ate marrow. The sense of time completely left my mind.

After I consumed the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner, we hiked to a “skinny.” A skinny is a bridge frequently constructed of lumber or a fallen tree that bikers ride to cross a ditch or stream. This one was about eight inches wide and five feet long. On biking days, I run through the ditch while Moni rides across the skinny. Moni gets nervous when she rides in the opposite direction, so I lead her through the ditch. While Moni studied the skinny, I vanished to my bone stash. Got to go, see you in a few minutes.

The sun descended low on the horizon and dappled light filtered through the leafless trees. We began hiking back to Fredrick. At a long wooden bridge that crosses the floodplain of a slow moving tributary, Moni glanced at her watch. “Pelé, its four-thirty, we better hustle.” My four short legs clipped along like a cantering horse.

I emerged from the woods and happily trotted into the gravel parking lot. Oh no, Moni, why is there a black and white car with blue lights on top parked behind Fredrick? I saw no other vehicles.

Moni stepped from the woods; Danny, a runner, yelled, “I think the gate is locked, they must close at four-thirty.”

Moni again checked her watch and replied to Danny, “I thought they closed at five?”

With confidence, Moni waltzed up to the idling car. With a slight forward lean and wave of her hand, she smiled through the glass until the police officer rolled down his passenger window. “Are you looking for me?” inquired Moni.

The serious-faced officer answered, “If you are the owner of that bus, I sure am.” Maybe I should growl and show my teeth.

“Yes, I am,” responded Moni. “What time does the gate close?” she asked, still thinking that the marina had closed and the gate was locked. However, from Moni’s furrowed eyebrows, I detected concern.

Gosh, there is no chance for a quick get-a-way if the gate is locked. But, of course, it is never possible to outrun the law in a VW bus. That occurs only in Fredrick’s dreams.

 The officer continued glaring at his computer while asking, “What is the deal with that license plate?”

That darn Fredrick is getting us in trouble. I will pee on his tires.    

Moni politely explained, “It is an antique plate, the year of the bus. The current and official plate is inside the bus.” She continued, “A North Carolina General Statue allows drivers of thirty-five year or older vehicles to display antique plates of the year it was manufactured instead of their current plate.” Fredrick wears a 1970 white license plate with red letters, 8548-TN. “My husband has a 1958 plate on his Austin-Healy.”

The officer’s face softened and remarked, “I saw the lone vehicle in the parking lot and thought it was stolen, so I checked the plate number on my computer and it wasn’t registered.” 

“I’ll show you the current plate. It’s stored behind the driver’s seat.”

That a girl, you just keep being nice to the authority. I prayed for Moni to smooth out this silly issue and cringed thinking about spending a night in jail with only bread for dinner. I don’t like bread. Good thing I just ate those bones.

“I trust you, no need to show me,” the officer politely responded and bid us good-bye. What a relief, let’s get home to the security of my crate, dog pad, and ducky toy.

On every hike I break the law by running off-leash and never get busted. That close proximity to a police officer fried my nerves. Moni must speak to Fredrick; he almost got me in the dog house.

Moni’s hair color, similar to the salt and pepper coloring in my fur, negated Fredrick’s tinted windows that are adorned with an assortment of stickers and his unregistered license plate. Consider if Chris, a twenty-something North Carolina State student, strolled up to the officer instead of his mother? Who would greet us, Andy Griffith or Mr. Hyde of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

To be continued:  

Chris will write about his encounter with a Chapel Hill police officer (who was a Mr. Hyde) when he was driving Frdrick and was the designated driver for his “of age” friends during his freshmen year at NC State.

Because many police officers are not familiar with antique plate regulations, it is advisable to carry a copy of your state’s General Statue for displaying antique plates on “senior citizen” vehicles in your vehicle.


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Sandra Redding with the Greensboro News & Record interviewed Fredrick for an article that was published on December 27, 2009, Writer lets bus speak for her. The full interview is posted.  Due to Moni’s confusion, there is one correction.  Moni’s great grandfather and great great grandfather were named Jacob, not Fredrick.   

Are you employed by the Bates or do you consider yourself a member of the family?

I am definitely a member of the Bates family. I enjoyed living with Gordon Plumbee who was my previous owner and Moni’s science teaching mentor at Western Alamance High School. I miss Gordon, but am thrilled that he found the Bates family for me to live with. Gordon kept me in a garage and, especially on cold days like today, I am glad that John and Moni park me in their garage. I am as much a member of the Bates family as that ridiculous Portuguese water dog named Pelé, even though he lives in the house.

What do you like best and dislike most about the Bates, particularly Moni? Explain.  How do you feel about her writing about you? Why do you think she’s so fond of you?

The best thing about Moni is that she adores me and takes good care of me. I met Moni in the teacher’s parking lot at Western Alamance High School in the early 80’s. Moni’s blue eyes sparkled when Gordon introduced her to me. Moni rode in me to a science teacher’s conference in Knoxville with Gordon and another science teacher. My slowness never annoyed Moni, she enjoyed everything about me.

The best thing about Chris, Moni’s son, is that he gave me a new life. My new paint coat is gorgeous and I get lots of compliments from people.

The best thing about John, Moni’s husband, is that he is a darn good back yard mechanic and he maintains my engine. 

What I dislike about Moni is that she lets that darn dog ride in my cabin. I guess I have to tolerate it. Sometimes it’s not bad because, I must admit; Pelé adds another element of fun to our adventures.

I love narrating Moni’s stories and it makes me happy that she does the typing for me. I don’t think I could learn to type. Knobs fall off me, things break down, and I just don’t think my pistons could hit the keyboard properly.

Chris introduced two hobbies to his mother – mountain biking and me! Moni is fond of me because she enjoyed watching and helping Chris restore me.  There is a little piece of Chris that will always remain with me. Moni also enjoys hearing other people’s tales about when they used to have a VW bus, they are always endearing stories and she takes the time to listen to them.

Moni uses me to bond her future and past. I am named after her grandfather, Grandpa Fred. Her great grandfather and great, great grandfatherlived in Germany where I was born. Instead of fine china and silver, Moni’s dream is to pass me and our written stories to her and John’s descendants. How do you like that, I am a family treasure!

 What is the favorite trip you’ve led? Why?

 So far my favorite trip was our first trip to a music festival in Boone, NC called Music on the Mountain. On this trip I learned that Moni and John could handle VW bus break downs. I did what every good bus does and my engine would not start. The whole weekend they parked me on slopes and jump started me. The best thing was the fun and laughter I heard all weekend, even while popping my clutch. Not once did they get upset with me. From that weekend forward, I knew Moni and John could handle my idiosyncrasies and I had a perfect home.  

 Do you think they should get rid of the dog? Why or why not.

Most definitely, yes, Moni should have given that dog to the Obama family when they were looking for a rescue Portuguese water dog. Moni received that dog as a rescue from Alexandria, Virginia and he should go back to Virginia. I worry about him messing up my cabin and humans think he is soooo cute, which irritates me. Plus, it takes attention away from me and my pretty paint job. I am more handsome than that dog.  

What is your most embarrassing moment?

This is the hardest question, I seldom get embarrassed. If Pelé ever peed on my tires, that would embarrass me. It would also make me mad, as mad as Mr. Richard Petty when he tapped the bumper of a car going slow in the left lane on the interstate (and that was when he was running for a public office, he never won). I usually don’t get to drive in the left lane, I’m too slow.   

How will you spend the holidays? What are your plans for the 2010?

Chris is coming home from NC State and he will take me to visit James Garrison. James has a nicely restored bus and well-equipped garage. James is the person who introduced Chris to VW buses and helped Chris restore me. I like James because he knows a lot about VW buses, he is an expert. 

Moni and John promised to take me to some full moon bus camp-outs. The one at Hagan-Stone Park in Guilford County is called NC Every Bus. I am excited because buses from all over, even Canada, will attend. I’ll camp and socialize with all kinds of buses and their proud owners.

What is your wish for the world during the New Year? What advice do you have for those wishing to camp and to preserve land for campers, hikers, cyclist, etc.?

My wish for the New Year is that the world will develop alternative energy sources. I hear on the radio that oil reserves are diminishing and I burn only petroleum. I would like the new vehicles to run on alternative fuels and save the remaining fossil fuels for Moni and John’s descendants to operate me.

For North Carolina campers, hikers, and cyclists, my hope is that Governor Beverly Perdue continues efforts to expand our state parks, natural areas, and complete trails systems like the Uwharrie and Mountains to Sea Trails. I love to camp and take Moni, John, and even Pelé to the North Carolina trails.

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Roan Mountain

Fredrick the VW Bus


“I feel like an old engine whose driving wheels are broke” 
Dave Bromberg Quartet

What a special weekend. Pelé the Portuguese Water Dog joined us for a camping trip in the North Carolina Mountains. John and Moni called for Pelé to load into my sliding door. That black-furred critter was so excited that he acted like a Mexican jumping bean clutched by the hand of a flu afflicted person with a temperature of 105º. Finally, Pelé settled down on the floor board, and soon John’s nose sniffed out Ollie’s Bakery in Winston-Salem for breakfast and coffee.

Ollie’s is a European-style artisan bakery, except unlike in European countries, Pelé is not welcome inside the bakery. The owners are dog-friendly and named their bakery after their deceased hound however, North Carolina law prohibits canines in restaurants. 

John parked me near the bakery entrance. My doors swung open, then Moni followed the smell of fresh baked breads and pastries and John leashed up Pelé for a pee break. I prayed that John and Moni stay attuned to Pelé’s output; I certainly don’t want a mess on my interior. As my engine cooled, Moni returned with her arms crammed with bulging bakery bags and steaming cups of coffee. Sauntering behind her was a trim and healthy elderly lady, also with bakery goodies in her arms. My attention was abruptly interrupted when I noticed something streaking by in my rear view mirror. Was it Superman?

Good grief! John was flying through the air with a taut leash, Pelé in the lead. After catching sight of Moni, that Mexican jumping bean transformed into a streak of lightning. Pelé knows no restraint when he spots his alpha lady. In the mayhem the elderly lady asked, “Is that a Water Dog?”  The Doppler Effect stretched out John’s reply, “Oh, yes ma’am.”

“What a cute puppy!  How old is he?” asked the lady, who apparently loves dogs because I spotted a white toy poodle in her Mercedes Benz. Embarrassed from Pelé’s uncontrollable charging, Moni answered sheepishly, “Pelé just turned eight; we got him when he was five.” 

The lady showed no disgust over Pelé’s immature behavior. Meanwhile, in my eyes, that nice lady became an ogre, because she never noticed my shiny new paint. Guess I better learn to share attention from strangers with that unruly Portuguese Water Dog, I thought as I headed into a long weekend.

Last May, Pelé turned eight. Veterinarians once used a conversion factor of seven to convert from dog to human years. With this method, Pelé was fifty-six. While listening to a broadcast on NPR one day, I learned about a more complex conversion factor that uses a dog’s breed, size, weight, and activity level to determine a canine’s biological age in human years. Using a chart developed by Dr. Fred L. Metzger, DMV, at Pennsylvania State University, Pelé’s sixty pounds placed him at fifty-five. This year, Moni and Pelé were the same age for three weeks.   

The two cats that reside with Pelé, Socks and Pinot, are thirteen. A cat conversion factor adds fifteen years of human years to a cat’s first year of life, then nine years for its second year of life, and four years for each cat year thereafter. Socks and Pinot are sixty-eight human years of age and the oldest members of the Bates household. The independent cats stay at home during our adventures. Moni won’t allow them to ride in me, even for a few miles to the vet’s office. I get upset if critters mess in my interior. 

Unlike cats and dogs, there are no conversion factors for a VW bus into human years. I hear John and Moni discuss certain numbers. I do not relate to a line from a Dave Bromberg Quartet song, “I feel like an old engine whose driving wheels are broke.” This does not apply to me, thanks to Chris, Moni and John’s son, who gave me a smooth face lift. John also deserves credit because he maintains my engine. In human years, I am thirty-nine, which is young. However, in the mornings, my engine sometimes struggles to start and I even wheeze. I crawl up mountains at a snail’s pace. 

The rich aroma of coffee and buttery scones filled my interior as we left Winston-Salem and started our journey to the higher elevations of Roan Mountain. First, I climbed the escarpment from North Wilkesboro, home of the MerleFest music festival, to Boone. The lowest gear John used was third and my speed plummeted to thirty-eight miles per hour. John steered me to the far right slow lane as I burned fuel and took my time. One day I read a bumper sticker on a BMW that sped past me like I was a snail with a broken shell. It said, “The right lane is for saving gas, the left lane is for hauling ass!” I must admit, I don’t go slowly to save gas. My nature is slow. 

Pelé was nestled on my floor board between Moni and John and he listened to my engine strain, just a bit. John proposed a conversion factor of two from VW bus to human years which makes me seventy-eight years old. Yep, that seems about right because I felt that hill. I relate to a healthy and adventurous late seventy something year old person with AARP benefits. Also, humans constantly compliment my appearance, for my age, to the point of oogling, except for that lady at Ollie’s Bakery! Does this mean that I may receive a senior citizen discount at the campground this weekend? 

After driving through Boone, we ventured onto two lane roads with lots of curves made for an Austin Healy. I don’t do curves fast. We slowly passed through small towns and along mountain streams, full to their banks from spring rains that mimicked monsoons. Moni and John reminisced of whitewater paddling days. John still misses those river days, but Moni, like me, prefers the simplicity of biking. I’m way too old to haul boats on top of my popup camper roof and then chug up mountains. 

Finally, we reached Tennessee and entered Roan Mountain State Park. Moni reminded John, “Tell them we want tent camping, not RV.” John hopped out and greeted an elderly campground host. 

Mouths moved and heads nodded, but Moni and I could not hear their conversation. Then we saw that telling smirk on John’s face. Oh no, I thought, something is cocky. Moni knew what that expression meant and read John’s thoughts, “You got to be kidding me. That is ridiculous!” 

Moni leapt into action jumping out with Pelé on the leash. The campground host repeated to Moni, “The VW bus is a RV, so I must place you in the RV camping area.” I felt honored for being included in the big-dog category, but really, how could he compare those RV’s with their televisions, air conditioners, and generators with me. This time I read Moni and John’s minds, “You want us to pay nine dollars more per night and for that extra charge we get to listen to the roar of generators all night long. There is no way!” 

John explained, “We won’t use any of the hooks ups.” Still, Mr. Rigid never budged. 

Moni remembered the tent she stored in my nifty under-the-bed storage cabinet and responded, “Okay, we have a tent that we will sleep in it.” Mr. Rigid bent slightly into a Gumby doll and allowed Moni and John to tent camp, provided they slept in the tent! I did not like that option. I wanted John, Moni, and Pelé to sleep inside me. 

Once we selected our site, John strung the tarp between two trees to resemble a tent, and the tent never saw the light of day during the whole weekend. John considered this a success after reading the signs on the front porch of the ranger station: “No Bicycling, No Smoking, No Pets on Front Porch.” Groups of rocking chairs and checker boards sat on the porch. John shook his head and said to Moni, “I wonder why there is no sign that states, “No Cheating at Checkers.”

On Saturday morning, John jumped in my driver’s seat and drove eight miles to Carvers Gap. From there John, Moni, and Pelé left me in a gravel parking lot. I sadly watched them take off on foot through a wooden gate and onto the Appalachian Trail. During the drive, I noticed Moni’s topographic map and saw that the AT passes across Round, Jane, and Grassy Balds. I wished that I were a VW Syncro four-wheel drive vehicle and John would drive me through hill and dale. Then I could see the mountain ash trees, blueberry shrubs, and, in moist areas, alders. I could smell the yellow-eyed bluets that trim the trail edges. Just before Pelé completely disappeared, I caught sight of the wind fluffing the Mexican jumping bean’s fur and his ears flopping with each joyful leap.  

The movement of the wind was visible as the sedges and grasses softly drifted and birds soared in the updrafts. As a professional botanist, Moni spent time nestled in the grasses on Roan Mountain. When Moni taught high school science with Gordon Plumblee, my previous owner, he encouraged her to attend a Mountains to Sea course offered through the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The summer of 1980 was the last time that Dr. Hollis Rogers and Dr. Ernie Lee taught this natural history class that involved camping at North Carolina parks for two weeks.

Doc Rogers was a botanist who remembered a time when majestic chestnut trees dominated the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. When Gordon used to drive me around the mountains, I met Doc Rogers.  He was a jolly fellow with grayish disheveled hair and beard. Large framed glasses accentuated his delightful eyes that greeted his students with enthusiasm. The soft spoken Ernie was a compliment to Doc Rogers, like the colors of red and yellow. Ernie was an education professor and enhanced the outdoor class with tidbits of geology and astronomy. 

One day, when I was parked near the old Cloudland Hotel site that burned down on Roan Mountain, I watched Doc Rogers easily walk into a briar patch wearing thin jeans and a white short-sleeved shirt. He wildly thrust his limbs through the dense bramble and his arms amazingly bore no sign of cuts or blood from the thorns. Doc Rogers explained to his students that this species was smooth or thornless blackberry (Rubus canadensis). 

Smooth blackberry is a component of the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. This forest type occurs in the highest elevations and coldest climates of the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains. During Glaciation, when Canada and the Northeast United States were covered with ice, the high elevations of the Southern Appalachian Mountains provided a refugia for northern plants like red spruce (Picea rubens), Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), and smooth blackberry. 

As Doc Rogers witnessed the decline of the chestnut trees, today’s botanists watch the Fraser fir slowly die from the invasion of balsam woolly adelgid, a European parasite introduced to the Eastern United States around 1900. Future botanist may helplessly watch the decline and eventual extinction of Canadian species from the Southeastern high elevation mountains as our climate warms. 

Moni, John, and Pelé enjoyed the vistas of mountains, saddles, and ridgelines from the grassy balds. The early pioneers noted the unusual areas and historic photographs show the wide, open expanses. During summers, they herded their livestock to the balds where the animals grazed in cool weather in a landscape free of insect pests. This tradition declined and in 1941 the U.S. Forest Service purchased Roan Mountain and the balds. 

Over time, blackberries and other woody vegetation encroached into the grassy balds. The historic openness, so valued by the Native Americans and early settlers, diminished. Botanists debated whether to allow the balds to succumb to woody succession or manage the unique botanical community and maintain the openness.

After much debate, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service decided to manage the balds. To the rescue came thirty angora goats. Goats are used instead of sheep because goats are browsers and consume woody vegetation before herbaceous plants. Sheep are grazers and prefer herbaceous plants over woodies. Roan Mountain is the home of numerous rare herbaceous plants and sheep spell trouble for these species. 

The angora goats live at lower elevations during the fall and winter months. Prior to their Roan Mountain migration, they are fed seed-free food for several weeks. This clears their digestive tracks of invasive plant seeds, which would be disastrous to introduce to the balds.The angora goats are placed inside solar powered electrical fences which are moved around the balds as soon the goats devour the woody species. Volunteers carry water to the goats and goat herders tend to the flock to protect them from coyotes.

I remember when John, Moni, and Chris had an angora goat named Peanut. Peanut had a buddy, a sheep named Jason. Jason and Peanut were retirees from the Greensboro Natural Science Center’s petting zoo, so they were very friendly. I loved watching them graze and browse in the fenced pen.

Sometimes Moni let Peanut and Jason free range in the yard. This often created trouble. Peanut frequented the shrubbery around the house and Jason located perennials in the flower gardens. One day I watched John and Chris carry the Frasier fir Christmas tree horizontally, base first, through the front door. Unbeknownst to the boys, Peanut trailed behind and entered the house while munching on the tree tip where an angel would soon reside. Moni entered the threshold to begin decorating the tree. To her surprise, Peanut was already trimming the tree in the foyer. From watching Peanut and her antics, I clearly imagined goats munching on blackberries on the balds of Roan Mountain when Moni, John, and Pelé took off hiking on the Appalachian Trail and left me in the Carvers Gap parking lot.

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Fredrick the VW Bus

“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land
I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning,
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,
all over this land.”
Peter, Paul, and Mary “If I Had a Hammer”

“You need coolin’, baby, I’m not foolin’
I’m gonna send ya back to schoolin’
Way down inside, a-honey, you need it
I’m gonna give you my love
I’m gonna give you my love, oh
Wanna whole lotta love”
Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love”

On my first trip with John and Moni, I felt like Pelé when he anticipates that it is time for a walk. You know how dogs behave – oh boy, I get to go, hurry, hurry, hurry, I can’t wait, ah yes, I get to go, please, please please open the car door NOW, I want to jump in and dirty your car seat. I didn’t behave like that; I am more composed than a dog. 

I must admit, though, excitement pulsed through my engine as Moni busily packed sleeping bags into my storage compartment, food into my cabinets, and clothing into my closet. 

John folded my back seat into a bed and placed cardboard on my tan vinyl. Next he snapped open the quick release levers on the hubs of two mountain bikes and removed the front wheels. To my disbelief, those bikes were placed on my bed. This worried me; my bed is intended for human occupation, not dirt-caked bikes.   

The packing appeared complete except for one important item, a tool box. All VW bus owners know the importance of carrying a mechanics shop, even on short weekend trips. I look young, but my engine is decades old. These neophytes would learn.

John settled behind my large, black, steering wheel. I heard two clicks and knew my riders were belted into my bucket seats. John looked distinguished, his new eyeglasses perched on the bridge of his nose, as he gazed towards Moni with a smile. He, too, was excited about his first adventure with me. With the key inserted, I felt long fingers grasp my steering wheel and a foot applied to my clutch. From sneaking peaks at Moni’s map, I learned the ocean was east and mountains west. The beach is flat, not good terrain for mountain bikes. I hate the beach; the sand and salt are awful. Salt is nasty stuff and the curse of the devil.

Salt strips buses of our youthfulness. Many buses living in northern climates rust to death because the roads are heavily salted. I am a lucky bus, because after being shipped from Germany to Philly, I was transported to North Carolina, where I have spent my life. Compassionate humans provided shelter over my roof and kept me far from the salty oceans.    

I peered through my headlights as we approached Interstate 40, which runs east-west across North Carolina. The next turn determined my destination for the weekend. I felt pressure applied to my brakes and John’s hands turning my wheel to the, damn, east. However, the braking pressure continued, and we came to a full stop. John slid out and reached into his back pocket for a credit card. Regular gasoline gushed into my tank; petroleum smells wafted into my cab. 

We pulled out of the fuel station and, again, I felt nervousness and excitement about the mystery of my destination. I am a Generation II bus, complete with modern blinkers instead of old-time semaphores. Slowly, John reached with his right hand and pulled my turn signal lever upward. At that moment my composure flew out the window. I related to Pelé’s behavior. Hallelujah sweet Jesus! We headed toward the mountains.

I gained speed down the entrance ramp, my wing windows angled to direct a strong breeze toward Moni and John. My wheels merged onto the big highway as Moni’s hair blew in the wind. I was one happy bus.

After a short stop at Ollie’s Bakery for pastries and coffee, we began our climb to the mountains. Wispy clouds moved past my windshield at top speeds of 55 mile per hour. Sometimes I even ripped down the hills at over 60 mph. I love four lane roads, and felt smug even though newer vehicles passed me effortlessly.

Near North Wilkesboro, we pulled off U.S. 421 and drove to a campground on Kerr Scott Lake.  A retired couple who introduced themselves as Don and Linda greeted us at the entrance gate. When they spotted me, their faces lit up like those fancy, modern, Xenon headlights. They immediately began sharing memories from decades past of their VW bus adventures. John turned my key off to give my engine a rest, as he and Moni listened to their stories. The act of turning off my engine, though, was the beginning of another story. 

Linda handed John a map and suggested that we drive through the campground and select a site. John reached for and turned my key. The silence of the wildness remained uninterrupted. Not even a click. The sound of laughter broke the silence. 

It is always good when a parent resorts to calling a child for help. Chris’s voice echoed from the cell phone, “Oh yeah, the bus always does that when it gets hot, just let it sit for about 15 minutes, then it will start.” Moni and John were officially introduced to life in the slow lane. Don and John pushed, as Moni steered me to the side of the road. Moni and John took off on foot to select a camp site. Half an hour later, they returned and John again, turned my key. Again, silence. 

After some discussion, Moni crawled into my driver’s seat while John and Don positioned themselves near my engine. With a heave and a ho, they pushed me down a slope. I picked up speed and Moni quickly popped my clutch. We all heard the lovely sound of a gas-powered engine. Good-bye wilderness, hello exhaust fumes. 

I listened carefully as Moni suggested that they head home instead of going to the Music on the Mountain festival and biking the next day. This concerned me.  But John, with his backyard mechanical skills, expressed confidence and easily convinced Moni, an adventurous soul, to sit back and relax. “Besides,” John told Moni, “We are heading to Boone where all the land is either up or down. We will find hills to park on and jump start the bus again.” 

We began the long, climb to the Blue Ridge Mountains. My engine worked hard, my velocity declined, and little wind gushed through my windows.  Eventually we passed under the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove near the home of Doc Watson. After spotting Music on the Mountain signs, we drove on a bumpy gravel road to the Boone fairground where volunteers were stationed at the entrance. 

A cute female with long brown hair greeted us with enthusiasm. No, it was not John’s handsome appearance that excited this hottie. It was none other than, me. I proudly received her compliments while she pointed out her bus that resided in the VIB, the Very Important Bus parking area. I glanced over and saw an attractive bus much younger than I with a pink lacey garter dangling from the rear view mirror. Immediately, I hoped that John would park me beside her.

John and Moni gazed out my windshield in search of a gradient. John asked the parking attendant, “Does this lot not have a slope?”

“That is about the best we have,” she replied and, again, pointed to the VIB area. The parking lot was the largest, flattest terrain in all of Watauga County. With optimism, John and Moni concluded that my engine would cool and start by the time the sound waves of the last song dissipated into the mountain air. John pulled me adjacent to that sweet lady bus which tickled me.    

John and Moni gathered their chairs, locked my doors, and walked off to the festival. The music of Acoustic Syndicate, the Jerry Douglas Band, and Sam Bush vibrated in the distance. I could barely see Moni and John enjoying the music with an excellent view of the stage from their vantage point near the top of a grassy knoll, the kind that I should have been parked on. 

Concluding the evening, Byron House, the bass player with Sam Bush, ripped out Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” All ages of new grass music fans are familiar with Robert Plant, formerly with Led Zeppelin, since his CD release of “Raising Sand” with Alison Krauss, a bluegrass musician. The music faded as the moon light silhouetted the images of Moni and John strolling towards me. 

Still humming, they jumped into my cab, settled in, and John turned my key. Just minutes before “way down inside, a-honey, you need it” blared from the valley, now the theme song was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.” 

John began troubleshooting, as Moni considered a lonely night of camping in the VIB section. John instructed Moni to find a flashlight, as he crawled under the bus with his pocketknife. Moni slid into my driver’s seat; glad that her favorite mechanic was with her. 

John shouted from under the rear passenger side, “Put it in neutral, pull the emergency brake, and push in the clutch. When I tell you, turn the key. Make sure you have it in neutral, brake on, clutch in. If this works and you haven’t done those steps, you’ll run over me.”

I felt Moni wiggle my shifter vigorously to ascertain that I was in neutral. She then pulled with all her force on my emergency brake. Next her foot mashed the clutch pedal; if I were a Yankee bus, the clutch would have gone right through a rusted floor board. One more time Moni wiggled, pulled, and mashed; then she yelled to John, “I’m ready.”

Anxiously John shouted, “Turn the key.” A couple of clicks and nothing; then, on the third attempt, my engine turned over and I sounded pretty. John and Moni screamed with excitement and folks most likely wondered if House was starting another encore of “Whole Lotta Love.”

Late that night, John drove us back down the Blue Ridge escarpment. I quietly rolled past the campground guard house, Don and Linda were long gone, and we searched for our reserved camp site. Luckily, the gravel path to our parking area was uphill. John backed me toward the picnic table with my headlights pointed downhill. 

The next morning, Moni and John woke to a perfectly beautiful, blue sky for mountain biking. After another jump start and breakfast delivered through MacDonald’s drive-thru window, we drove to a steep hill overlooking the calm, blue water of Kerr Scott Lake. John and Moni pulled out their bikes and took off on the roller coaster Overland Victory Trail. 

Weeks later, John and Moni shared our first adventure with their friends, Vicki and MacGregor. During the hippie days of the sixties, Vicki and MacGregor drove a VW bus similar to me.  Immediately, MacGregor laughed and said, “Solenoid.”

MacGregor explained that my solenoid resides on my belly, near the passenger-side, rear wheel. The large cylinder is my starter and the small one is my solenoid. A solenoid is a coil of wire that is wrapped around a hollow, metallic pipe. A metal rod slides in and out. One end of the rod is connected to an electrical switch. When my key is turned, an electrical current passes through my wire, then my coil becomes an electromagnet and pulls my rod into the pipe. The movement causes a switching action to start my engine. This process begins with an electrical current from my battery, which moves through my solenoid, then to my starter. 

When my key is turned on, the two contacts touch one another, and, if all goes well, my engine starts. Likewise, when my key is turned off, there is no electrical current and my rod is removed from the pipe; my engine turns off. 

MacGregor and Vicki’s bus collected dirt in the solenoid, evidently a common issue for VW buses. This is especially problematic when the engine is hot and the metal of the solenoid expands, preventing the rod from moving. The lack of contact with the starter creates the familiar sounds of silence. The night John crawled under me, he used his metal pocket knife to jump across or by-pass my solenoid. MacGregor’s technique involved whacking the solenoid with a hammer. 

My newbie owners learned the importance of a tool box. A hammer was the first item on the tool list. Other tools included jumper cables, wrenches, screw drivers, a tire gauge, and pliers. Moni created another list for further adventures such as Windex, paper towels, cup holders, sunscreen, sunglasses, and trash bags. I looked forward to future trips that will introduce me to more artisan bakeries like Ollie’s and fill my vents aromas of sweet pastries and coffee.

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