I returned from Europe and moved to Santa Cruz, California, in 1988 where I could rent my brother’s school bus as a place to live. I was nineteen.
The school bus was a model from the late 1960s. The seats were taken out and the inside was redone with shelves and a counter. A blue captain’s chair toward the back offered seating.
I went in and out of the bus through the emergency door at the back of the bus. It served as my front door. When I opened the door, a whiff of kerosene and storage shed smell greeted me, with a top note of dank mold.
The bus was parked in the Santa Cruz mountains, in an area called Lompico.
Mountains are known for being slanted. The mountain this bus was parked on was no exception. The back of the bus was the lowest part. The bus slanted upward toward the front. When I say I climbed through the back of the bus, I really did need to climb.
I didn’t much use the front of the bus because it was filled with my brother’s storage. He had boxes stacked up thick so it was impossible to get up where the driver’s seat was.
The bus came with electricity, supplied from a very long orange extension cord running from the house. I had to chose what I wanted to plug in because it only had two slots.
I could have my lamp on and my music, an 8-track player. Or I could have my typewriter and my lamp.
For music, I had two 8-tracks. One was Simon and Garfunkel, the other was the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange.
I had a rule about dancing in the bus. Whenever Cecelia came on the 8-track player, it was time to dance. It didn’t matter who was over, or if I was by myself. That song was a cue to get up and dance.
I developed a dance style unique to the bus. Because I was a six-foot-tall woman and the bus roof was six feet high, I could only stand and dance with my knees bent and my feet spread.
For heat, I used a kerosene heater. Even when the heater wasn’t burning, the bus smelled of kerosene.
My bed was on the roof of the bus. A hole had been cut in the roof and a small structure, just large enough for a queen-size mattress, was built out of fiberglass and plywood.
I didn’t have an actual mattress. I had an old four-inch thick piece of foam with a large piece of brown fake fur on top to use as a bed. The foam had seen better days. Possibly in the 1970s. It had gone from being soft to being hard and crumbly. The foam crumbs stuck in the long brown fur of my bed and in my hair.
My process for going to bed was simple. I twisted the wick on the kerosene heater until the flame went out. I turned off the lamp.
There was no ladder to get up on the top level. I put a wooden crate on its small end so I had the maximum height from the crate. I stood up on the top of the crate so my hands could reach the metal rooftop.
Then I jumped off the top of the crate to get enough momentum to push myself up to the top of the bus roof and crawled on top of the fur-foam bed. The structure was three feet high, so I couldn’t sit up. I had to stay low.
In the morning, I repeated the process, dangling over the sharp metal roof edge until my feet found the top of the crate.
The worst was when a vigorous jump at night toppled the crate over. It meant a morning drop where I tried to land on my feet without getting caught on the fallen over wooden crate.
I often slept in my clothes. The damp cold that settled in the redwoods surrounding the bus pervaded the metal bus skin, plywood and fiberglass.
I dressed in layers and usually in black. A typical outfit would be black leggings, a black skirt, a purple tank top and a ribbed black wool sweater with black suede on the shoulders. For shoes, I had black wingtips.
I was growing my hair, still black from London, from a bob to past my shoulders. I often got twigs caught in it. It suited my style as a woman who lived in a bus in the Santa Cruz mountains.