Nearly two years have passed since we officially started #buslife and so much has happened! Graduating college, two trips to Mexico, and starting a business are just a few of the things that have kept to so busy over these last couple years.
I (Dustin) graduated college with a B.S. in Geoenvironmental Science in the fall of 2019 and we celebrated by going to a small island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. We spent nearly two weeks consuming dozens of al pastor tacos and snorkeling beautiful reefs. Upon coming back to the states I had the intent of finding a job in a field that would allow me to continue working with G.I.S. and cartography. Unfortunately, almost immediately upon graduation COVID started, and jobs became increasingly difficult to find. After applying for over 100 jobs in my field, I started working at a warehouse. While this wasn’t ideal, it was necessary to save up the money we needed to finally leave PA.
During this time we finished selling the last of our possessions and moved into the bus. It took nearly four years, and like most in the skoolie community, it was a mad dash to the finish line. While the bus wasn’t 100% complete, it was enough that we could live comfortably without tools lying around. We had running water, and power, but we were using an outdoor camping grill to cook all of our meals since we had not had the time to run all of our propane lines.
In July of 2020 we posted a photo in the woodworking subreddit and received great feedback from the people there. We were contacted by a member of that sub that stated he and his business partner owned some property in Encinitas, California, and were using it as a maker space for several people there and wanted to add us to the list of creators. We were a bit hesitant at first but after talking with him for several weeks and coming up with a plan, we were all in. The deal fell through shortly after when his “business partner” ended up being his older brother, who was the one calling all the shots decided that he did not want to have multiple buses parked on the property. Holly and I were both pretty bummed but life moves on and I continued work at the warehouse.
Just a few days before Christmas in 2020 while I was at work, my uncle in Pittsburg called me to let me know that my father (his brother) was in the hospital and he was not going to make it. I hadn’t spoken to my father in nearly three years, and for the entirety of my adult life we had an ebb and flow relationship. Since this was all happening at the height of COVID the hospital was not allowing visitors, and despite driving back and forth to Pittsburg six or seven times I never got to see him again. When I arrived to my father’s house to find out what had happened, his girlfriend called the Liberty Borough/Elizabeth Police Department and told them that I was trespassing on her property and that the house was hers. Five police cars pulled up in front of my father’s house, guns drawn to do what the police do best – ask zero questions and begin their assault; and that’s exactly what they did. All of the charges against me were dropped and all of my father’s possessions (including the house) were donated by him to St. Jude Children’s Hospital with the proceed going to help families in need.
During the summer of 2021 we were contacted by a young couple out of Philadelphia that were interested in having a bus converted so that they could spend some time out west before the birth of their son. They had both previous traveled in a van that he had “converted” but they were looking for a little more space. They wanted the work done for basically nothing, and I reluctantly agreed since this was the perfect opportunity to see if I could in fact convert a bus in 6-8 weeks. He stated that there was a loft at the shop that I could sleep in as well as a shower that I could use. Upon my arrival I was shown the “loft” which was a filthy walkway above the garage, and the “shower” was an outdoor spigot. I should have known then what kind of people these two were, but I let it go. Throughout the build I slept in my car in 100°+ weather, and showered using a hose.
Several weeks into the build his girlfriend starting making demands outside the scope of the signed contract. These demands included assembling Ikea furniture, painting the bus, rebuilding the closet twice, rebuilding the overhead storage three times, and installing a skylight. It was at this point that he wanted me to start using my own debit card to pay for materials that they would then add onto the weekly payment. Out of no where she sent me a text message stating that if I had no intention of installed a front door that she was going to start deducting money from my checks. I explained that the door decision had not yet been finalized as the plans were changing by the day.
It was at this point that she cancelled my weekly check which included $1,000 for labor and nearly $1,000 in materials. When I called the police they told me they would not help because a contract was involved. When I asked them what would happen if I went to the bus and took out $1,000 worth of materials, they said they would have me arrested for felony theft as those materials now belong to client. I packed up my tools, cleaned their bus, and headed home.
During the bus build in Philadelphia we were contacted by a much older couple from Las Vegas that were nearing retirement and were looking to have a bus built. Holly and I had both been wanting to head out west since we started our bus is 2016 so this was a great opportunity for both of us. The problem we kept running into was that we could not leave Pennsylvania until we had water proof underbelly storage boxes for the bus. The boxes were going to house our solar setup components, as well as some of our larger wood working tools. The entire time I was working in Philadelphia Holly was making phone calls, and sending emails to try and find someone that did custom fabrication work. The company we used for our solar rack was no longer taking custom work and everyone else we called was just one or two guys working out of their garage and did not have the equipment for such a large job.
Holly found a place in Hanover, Pennsylvania that claimed they could do custom fabrication work, and they told her that toolboxes wouldn’t be a problem for their team. It was going to cost $15,000, but we were out of options and gave them the go-ahead to begin the work. While we waited for the toolboxes to be completed, Holly was able to finally quit her job after nearly 12 long years. She had several well deserved months off while I made the necessary moves to wrap up some of the unfinished bus projects that needed to be done before heading west.
It took nearly two months before the toolboxes were done, and to say I was dissatisfied with the quality of work that this shop put out would be an understatement. The precision laser cut pieces of aluminum were ground down with an angle grinder to make the poorly fabricated doors fit, and their idea of “water proof” was to add a thin piece of $0.99 weather seal around the door openings. Had I not been there to troubleshoot the very straight forward installation process, they would have also hand cut the top flange of the toolbox from one side to the other to make its sit flush along the body of the bus, rather than adjusting the bracket. At the end of the install they hit us with a surprise $5,000 bill. It wasn’t until after the first rain storm we found out that these $20,000 toolboxes were not water proof and which caused severe damage to about $5,500 in tools.
All of this is a very long winded way of saying, WE FUCKING MADE IT. Through all of the shit, through all of the lying and stealing, through all of the incompetence, we made it. We’re finally living the lifestyle that we set out to do almost half a decade ago and we couldn’t be happier! Don’t let other people get you down, surround yourself with a good support network, and keep chipping away at your dreams. Sometimes things seem impossible when you look at the whole picture, but even the hardest puzzle is put together one piece at a time. See you out there!!!