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The Bus to Never Never Land

04/21/2010

Certain images are unmistakably Grateful Dead: tie dyed t-shirts, dancing bears, hippies in tie dyed t-shirts dancing like bears, etc. I’m not sure how bears dance, but you get the idea. As strong as some of these images are, there is one in particular that, to me, encompasses what the Dead phenomenon is about. It’s what has carried Deadheads to freedom, sheltered their makeshift families, comforted them in bad times, and shown them the good times. It is, the Volkswagen Bus.

The Volkswagen Bus as depicted in Pixar's animated feature, 'Cars'.

For some, the odd-nosed German bus offers a feeling of nostalgia, but for others it inspires eyes to roll and judgments to flail. But, really, how harsh can you be on anything that winds up as a character in a Disney movie? If Disney’s charms don’t do it for you, then maybe Peter Conners can convince you of the beauty of the bus.

“…before Ashland, there was 1988 summer tour. The maiden voyage for the new VW. Or, as we referred to it, “The Bus.” The deeper we got into the Dead, the more our language would reference aspects of Dead culture. Shasta’s VW was not a van because a van didn’t carry the Deadhead significance of a bus. In Grateful Dead history, the Merry Pranksters drove a 1939 American Harvester school bus named Furthur across the country with Neal Cassady at the steering wheel. As a result, many Deadheads named their vehicles in honor of that tradition. A van, or bus, to a Deadhead is as important and personal as a horse to a cowboy, or a camel to a Bedouin. Deadheads lived (got to the show) and died (didn’t get to the show) based on their vehicles. They also slept, ate had sex, conducted business – lived – in their vehicles. So vehicles were personalized accordingly. Our family lived in ‘The Bus’. “

Ken Kesey with the original Furthur bus that traveled the country with the Merry Pranksters until it was retired, here, on Kesey's farm in 1989.

Culture, history, tradition, livelihood, shelter, family, freedom. Some people yearn for these things their whole lives and never come up satisfied. And yet, thousands found it on board a VW bus. The bus, by any name, became a part of the not-so-traditional Deadhead family. It became the landscape of Dead shows across the country. It filled the highways and brought people from West to East, East to West. Strangers were united, friends were bonded, and ‘Good Dead Karma’ prevailed. Fifty some odd years later, Disney slaps its brand on the ol’ bus, calls it ‘Fillmore’, makes it chatter, and throws it into the living room of children across the world. What a long, strange trip indeed.

As a mass-transit loving, non-driving New Yorker (by way of relocating, not by birth) I envy the freedom of any vehicle. The MTA-ran trains supply me with many of the qualities mentioned above (culture, history, etc.), but there is one I miss. Freedom. So often I daydream about jumping in the car I don’t have (a Volvo circa 1990 if I had my way) and just driving through the country. Even if I never actually did it, I would know that I could if I had my Volvo. When real life can wear you down and the walls start moving in, that feeling of freedom cannot be understated. Luckily, my city has hundreds of escapes and I don’t mind using my legs to get around. But if I had that Volvo…

Where do you find your freedom? Have you ever hit the road and relied on bare minimum and four wheels to get by? What do you think when you see a VW bus today? What would you name your bus?

Comment below or send your thoughts and stories to becomingdead1@gmail.com and be sure to check out previous posts by clicking here.

“Escaping through the lily fields, I came across an empty space
It trembled and exploded, left a bus stop in its place
The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began
There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to never never land”

The Other One

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. 04/21/2010 3:27 pm

    So sweet! Makes me feel a little wistful and nostalgic. I re-read the Acid Test again last year– such a beautiful/sad story. :-)

  2. jonathan permalink
    04/21/2010 4:28 pm

    Love the reference to the 1990 Volvo! Best beach car I have ever owned. Haven’t had the opportunity to leave the world behind and drive off but, maybe someday…
    (Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!)

  3. 04/21/2010 4:41 pm

    seeing the photo of the original bus is really something.
    great post!

    http://www.tracyzhangphoto.wordpress.com/

  4. 04/21/2010 4:47 pm

    Marie – Acid Test is definitely going on my reading list. I’m so fascinated by it.

    Jonathan – Thank you! I can’t tell you why, but I’ve always been drawn to the Volvo. It’s my dream car… is that sad? Hope you get to drive off soon :)

    Tracy – Can’t wait to check out your site!

    Thanks everyone, Hope you enjoy Becoming Dead… stay tuned!

  5. 04/21/2010 5:56 pm

    Very interesting bus rides, end up making these folks live in it as a home in a forest on a farm. I like Volvo’s too, I want to get one of those Volvo S40’s. They have incredible engines and luxurious features.

    Must drive one of those Volvo’s on a cross-country trip and end up living in a ditch. Rofl
    Remain.Simple

  6. 04/21/2010 6:55 pm

    I’ve never been on a road trip in an “original” bus but I did grow up with many road trips in the Vanagon and Eurovan. Even in those vehicles, there’s a sense that you could be going anywhere and still have a good time.

    • 04/21/2010 7:07 pm

      Totally. A van or bus may offer more space and more of the conventions of a home (sleepers, cabinets, etc) but I think just about any car will do it. Whether it’s a pick up truck, a sedan, or state of the art camper. Cars are like our wings; they can take us anywhere if we know how to steer them.

  7. 04/21/2010 7:53 pm

    When I was 20 and 21, I drove my beat-to-shit Plymouth Sundance around everywhere in America. From NY to Indiana down to New Orleans (car died here, started using Greyhound buses) out to Venice California back through the Great South and back on up to New York. This all happened over a period of about a year and a half. I’d stop and stay in a random town or city for a month and catch a little day labor work or play music in the streets, and then move on.

    And even though I’ve traveled quite a bit since then, these were some of the greatest (albeit haziest) times of my life. Because I was young enough to understand that whatever I did to f*ck up my life back then, I’d have more than enough time to make up for in the future. So I was utterly carefree and life was absolutely beautiful.

    Thanks for writing this lovely post, and providing me with a good reason to be nostalgic.

    • 04/21/2010 8:03 pm

      Such a good way to put it… sometimes I forget I’m 23 and have plenty of years to “f*ck up” and make up for it later. This journey I’m on now is definitely reminding me of that.

      Thanks for sharing. I hope you’re still living a carefree and beautiful life :)

      • 04/21/2010 10:08 pm

        Well, sadly, I’ve recently had to start caring more about a few things. But generally speaking, I am and always have been stoked on life. It’s all too weird not to be enjoyed, don’t you think?!

        In other news, you’ve got me listening to The Dead (Dane County Coliseum, 2/15/73) for the first time in a long time. Man, ’73 was such a great year for them!

  8. 04/21/2010 8:11 pm

    Great blog…Thanks for sharing :)

  9. Songbird permalink
    04/21/2010 8:23 pm

    aww… happy bus…. :o)

  10. 04/21/2010 8:27 pm

    Glad to find your blog and join your journey!

    Coincidentally, just last week down here they had a VW van trek for some enthusiasts (unfortunately I wasn’t one of them) Here is a link from our local news if you are interested–

    http://www.3news.co.nz/VW-fans-get-together-to-celebrate-all-things-Kombi/tabid/367/articleID/150865/Default.aspx

  11. 04/21/2010 9:29 pm

    I love those V W buses…My sister had one back in the 70’s and she called it “The Easter Egg”, it was so cute!!

  12. stoffainkorea permalink
    04/21/2010 11:22 pm

    I’ve had two buses a 64 and a 71 Westy. Part of the freedom that comes from owning an air-cooled V-dub is the fact that you can do most of the maintenance, diagnose problems, and fix them yourself. All you really need is How to Keep your VW Alive (the Idiot’s Guide) and you are in business. Also, as a rule, VW owners are friendly and helpful. They will give you advice, lend you tools, and are willing to get their hands dirty (otherwise, they wouldn’t own a VW). Finally, VW’s, particularly buses, are endlessly customizable. Your VW becomes a part of you, because it inevitably comes to reflect the sort of person you are (from highly organized and efficient aficionado of well orchestrated engineering to tripped out fun loving free wheeling road dog). VW buses are the iconic open source automobile.

    P.S. My wife drives a 1987 240 wagon – So, this post is firing on all cylinders!

    • 04/22/2010 12:48 am

      Thanks for bringing that up. From what I’ve read, the VW can be quite temperamental. Yet, this seems to make it all the more charming, as if the owners forgive the flaws. I imagine this is because in strange way, the VWs troubles make the owner feel needed and useful. Besides, we all have bad days, right? Well, so does the bus. And that’s okay.

      I’d love to see pictures of your old buses!

  13. Janifer permalink
    04/22/2010 1:47 am

    Your story is so strang, I’ ve never heard before.

  14. peppermintpoppy permalink
    04/22/2010 3:09 pm

    Wonderful blog post! My dream is to one day own an authentic V-dub so your story just reinforced this dream.

  15. 04/26/2010 4:06 am

    I usually don’t post on Blogs but ya forced me to, great info.. excellent! … I’ll bookmark your site.

  16. 05/18/2010 7:55 pm

    I found your site from the WordPress.com page which has several sites that are strong enough to make the page. Your site is wonderful and beautiful..
    Thanks.

Trackbacks

  1. Update: The Bus to Never Never Land « Becoming Dead
  2. Update: The Bus to Never Never Land |

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