We all live in a yellow submarine, er… yellow bus by
(15 Stories)

Prompted By Moving Day

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In the early years of our marriage we were students or post- docs and our friends were in similar positions. None of us had much stuff in our small apartments and moving days were an excuse for sharing the work and having a good party. My favorite memory of such a party involved a friend who was moving from Boston to Seattle. Karl was a post-doc with a PhD in engineering who had decided to go to medical school. His wife Sharon figured it was her turn to go back to get a master’s degree. Off they went with their two sons, ages 2 and 3.

… their route started from Boston to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun

Karl had discovered that Massachusetts required that school buses be retired from service after a much shorter time than Washington did and figured out a great profit-making opportunity —buy a retiring school bus before the move, use it to camp in and transport themselves and their worldly goods across the country, and then sell it for a profit. Along the way they were picking up a couple of young relatives for parts of the journey. Also, their route started from Boston to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun (yeah, the one Carly Simon sang about in “You’re so vain”), then back into the USA to pick up one of the guests in St. Louis, then back into Canada for something they wanted to see, then finally to Seattle.

Moving day started with the assembled friends removing all but a few seats from the bus to make room for the furniture and other goods. Of course, the seats had to be saved so that the bus could be re-assembled for resale at the other end. The seats were strapped onto a makeshift carrier on the roof. I managed to avoid roof duty but friends reported that the roof was very slippery. Next came loading the furniture and cargo onto the bus, while also setting up beds and other necessities for the camping trip. All of this was done in a pretty sketchy neighborhood near Boston City Hospital.

The bus did not have a key and could not be opened from the outside once the door was closed. No problem — Karl found a solution, put one of the kids through a window and he would go to the door and open it from the inside. My husband and I enjoyed contemplating what would happen when the boys realized their power.

When the bus was finally loaded the whole crew got in to head for the first stage of the farewell party at our studio apartment in Cambridge. I do wonder how we got that many people in that small apartment, but the good times rolled until we all moved on to the second stage in another friend’s apartment. Driving the bus from one place to the next went straight through Harvard Square —a school bus loaded to the top of the interior with stuff and with seats strapped to the roof. During a period when weird sights were routine and generally accepted as normal in that spot, one of my best memories is of a Cambridge cop stopping his traffic directing to stare at us with his mouth hanging open.

Our friends made it to Seattle and reported that the only real problem was multiple flat tires. Who would expect a PhD engineer to consider the maximum weight load a school bus was designed for?

Profile photo of JeanZ JeanZ

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Jean, this story is hilarious! I love the whole scheme with the school bus, the Carly Simon solar eclipse, the boys being put through the window to open the door, and the Cambridge cop with his mouth hanging open! Just one question: were they able to sell the bus at a profit at the end of the trip?

  2. Boy, those were the days! I was on such an old school bus myself once, The Magic Bus. Our fearless leader, Smiley, maneuvered it along the sinuous and often steep road through Big Sur with ease. We were so trusting and fearless. And I loved watching people’s mouths drop open. Thanks for the memory!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great story, Jean! What an adventure. This reminds me a bit of the Viggo Mortensen movie from a few years ago “Captain Fantastic” where he and his family were living off the grid in a school bus.

    Knowing the Boston/ Cambridge area, and visualizing that overloaded school bus, I also had thoughts about those low overhangs on Storrow Drive, but obviously Karl thought of that too, because everything on the roof would have come crashing down.

    Like Suzy, I love the connection to the “total eclipse of the sun” form the Carly Simon song (was just thinking about that the other day). This also reminded me of my kids’ favorite book series: “The Magic School Bus”, great adventures with a smart/goofy teacher. It was made into a TV show, but not nearly as good as the books. I probably still have them in my basement. Thanks for the road trip.

  4. Marian says:

    Really fun story, Jean, those were the days, weren’t they? None of my immediate friends lived in a bus, although a close friend did drive cross-country in a very old Volkswagen Beetle, which miraculously made it from Boston to the Bay Area in California. This was a great recollection of how we moved around.

  5. What fun Jean! Only the young are so adventurous!

    When I was working in an inner-city high school our students came to school on public transport,
    but we used the traditional school buses to take the kids on school trips.
    I soon learned the kids called them CHEESE BUSES.
    Why I asked.
    Because they are yellow I was told!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    What a great, fun story, Jean, and terrifically told. And what I was particularly reminded of was Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters of Electiric Kool Aid Acid fame.

    And you gotta tell me what Karl ended up doing with all his degrees and his obvious brilliance — albeit not applied to figuring out maximum loads.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a wonderful story Jean. It’s so captured the feeling of those times and I had to laugh at the image of the policeman letting that bus through Harvard Square. I don’t think this could happen today although I’m not sure why, those were just such different times.

    • JeanZ says:

      The atmosphere in Harvard Square is very different today, most obviously from loads of tourists. Back then it was a gathering point for students from all around but not general tourists.

      Also, I can’t imagine making several trips across the border from Canada with that bus now!

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