One of the beautiful things about The Escape Pod is that she came with a lot of her original bits. When I bought her, she was already twenty-five years old. Now, she’s forty-five. I do my best at keeping her together.
In 1996 I had just started my career in tech and I was on the lookout for a new VW Bus for the specific purpose of traveling and living in it. I knew that I wanted a 1971 – it was an epic year for the microbus. As I searched, I kept finding what I call “Boy Buses”, but maybe a better name for them would be “Beater Buses” – those VW buses that have seen better days, ones with a few dents, some weatherization (ie: rust), and more than a few missing parts. I was looking for a pretty “Girl Bus” … I’m usually not so gender specific about objects, but somehow it made sense when it came to this.
I perused the papers – the East Bay Express and Auto Trader – craigslist was a thing back then but it was more of a social email list on which craig posted his dumpster finds and party invitations were sent out to the entire group. I called about every 1971 VW bus I could find listed in the papers and saw quite a few. It wasn’t until I saw what I would call The Escape Pod drive up that I knew I had found my girl.
I spent quite some time visualizing my new to me 1971 VW Bus. It was blue, and clean, and cute, and together. It would run well. It would take me places – like car camping in Big Sur, or down to my favorite West Coast home town, San Luis Obispo, or off to visit friends around the state. I had a perfect picture of her in my mind and I just knew she would show up.
I found an ad in the Auto Trader … Calling about The Escape Pod, the phone was picked up by an older man. We talked for awhile about the van and made arrangements to meet in Kensington Circle. I took the bus from Oakland and hung out to wait for Mr. Been. When he drove up my jaw dropped. The bus was perfect, well as perfect as a twenty-five year old bus could be in 1996. Mr. Been sat behind the wheel, a little Fedora on his head. The windows were open and the in dash stereo was blaring Vivaldi.
It took me a moment to get my bearings. This was the bus that I had visualized! She sounded great all the way around – both musically and the engine. She was also really clean, although sure, there were a few noticeable spots that needed work. And she was blue! I hopped into the passenger seat and Mr. Been took off. As he drove, he told me about the van’s history. He was the original owner – he and his wife were about 88-years old at the time. The van was bought in California, but had been driven across country at least twice, to and from Washington DC where it lived for a few years. He told me about the original bits – almost everything in the van was original from the headliner to the seats and all the knobbies. The one thing he had replaced was the rear window, to install one with the radio antenna wires embedded in it. Recently though, he had the bus parked under a redwood tree in his yard and it hadn’t been driven for about ten years.
We drove up to his house as he wanted me to meet Mrs. Been. She welcomed me in and we started talking buses right away. They hadn’t been able to drive the bus for quite a while and their asking price was two-grand.
They let me take it for a test drive and they also let me take it to the mechanic to get a look over. The mechanic found a few little things and one or two big things, but all in all she was sound. When I came back to Mr. and Mrs. Been with the news – that it would take about a grand to get her into tip top running order, they didn’t believe me. I offered them a grand but they turned me down.
Oh well, I thought. I walked away. Sadly, but what can one do? I only had two grand at the time …
About two weeks later I got the urge to call them back to see if they had any other buyers come to look at the bus. They were so happy to hear from me. There was one potential buyer that had come up from Santa Cruz. But Mrs. Been said he didn’t “feel right”. During that aloof time, they had also had their own mechanic check out the bus and their mechanic gave them the same recommendation – about a thousand dollars worth of work. They, right there on the spot, offered to sell it me for nine-hundred dollars. “But I offered you a thousand?!”, I said. “No, no, we want to give it to you for nine-hundred, and that’s final!”.
We made arrangements for me to come over to the house the next day to give them a bank check and for me to pick up the Vdub. As we sat in their kitchen at the table, I told them the story of how I found them, of how I visualized the bus, and how their bus was the one in my mind for quite some time, and that I knew as soon as Mr. Been drove up that day in Kensington Circle that I had found my new home.
Mrs. Been chuckled, and I asked her what was so funny … She said, “I recognized you the minute you walked through the door the first time. I knew the bus was yours too!”
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The engine in the pod, when I bought it, was the last engine built by the famous Berkeleyite Karl Hudson of RVEECO fame. It had an external oil cooler, which really kept the engine running nicely for years. For the first ten years of driving the pod, after the initial fixes, I only ever had to do the 3,000 mile tune ups and I drove her everywhere. One day though, the compression dropped and I had to do another rebuild. It hasn’t run the same since.
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