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Bustaride, busted? Hello, Hooters!

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The moment we had all been anticipating was catching our first sight of the Bustaride, the 1978 “Bluebird” school bus that had been converted into a rolling living room and would carry us across America. It was carpeted, air-conditioned and wired for sound. We had all checked out the Facebook photos and couldn’t wait to hang out on a couch beside the lava lamp.

But out first sight of her, on a side street in downtown Charleston, was not a promising one. The hood was open, half-swallowing the owner/driver, Shelby, who was sweaty and did not seem like the happy, enthusiastic guy I’d been speaking with on the phone over the past few weeks.

As the boys made themselves at home in the back of the bus, Shelby, shaking his head, broke the news… The bus had been at the mechanic’s for a week, but when he fired it up this morning, the air-conditioning was dead – a belt snapped and the fan blades slaughtered each other. Even worse was the loud rattling he heard coming from the engine when he hit 50 miles an hour. His posse, who introduced themselves as Slim and Bulldog, had been trying to help Shelby investigate the problem, with no luck. A mechanic was on his way, but Shelby knew it would not be a quick fix.

I exchanged “oh sh—” looks with my friend Reid, whose house we had stayed at last night, and who would be joining Sk8 the St8s in Los Angeles. He and I then dove into contingency mode, and within minutes we had a plan: Reid would drive us to Charlotte in his wife’s SUV (which we soon nicknamed the Trust-a-ride), and we’d end the day in Raleigh. That’d give Shelby all day to fix the bus, and he’d meet us in Raleigh that night or the next day.

We tried not to think about what we’d do if Shelby’s efforts failed. Meanwhile, we sped toward Charlotte, the three boys watching DVDs in the back.

Three hours later, just past noon, we pulled up at a warehouse in an industrial park outside Charlotte for a pre-planned visit with my long-distance friend Todd. (We’ve been working together on audiobook edition of my book, Driving with the Devil). Todd wanted the boys and me to meet his pal Caleb, a multi-talented fashion and visual designer – and a California-raised skater – whose very-cool company, Enemy2Fashion, creates clothing and bags from recycled materials.

Sean, Leo and Nathan fell instantly in love with Caleb’s concrete-floor warehouse, and began skating down the loading ramp into the workspace. Todd had brought his 30-year-old wooden chunk of a skateboard with clay wheels and had the boys and me sign it. Reid had brought moonshine, which we sipped while Caleb took photos of the boys.

img 01211 Bustaride, busted? Hello, Hooters!

After accepting an awesome donation of a few Enemy2Fashion t-shirts and packs of Vitamin Water and Fuse (donated by Caleb’s friends at Vitamin Water), we reluctantly left Caleb and Todd to meet up with local radio personality QCB, of Charlotte’s CBS Radio station, WFNZ. Standing outside Grayson Skate Park, the boys and I talked with QCB about our road trip – and our high hopes for a functioning school bus. QCB pointed out that our tour was happening at the same time as Beyonce’s and Lil Wayne’s.

A planned visit to the Grayson Skate Park was a bust, though. Of the dozens of skate parks I’ve visited with my kids over the years I’ve never been asked to fill out a two-page registration form, for each kid, and have it notarized.

As we left Charlotte behind, I reached Shelby by phone, and he gave us the verdict…

“You want to truth?” he asked, and I knew we were in trouble.

After hours of scrambling for parts, the Bustaride was no better off than it had been that morning. Busted AC, busted radiator and busted transmission. Shelby was baffled that after a week with his mechanic so many problems had cropped up in one morning. He and I agreed, though: better to bust now than halfway to L.A.

So that was that… No Bustaride. Hot, anxious and hungry, we pulled off at the next exit looking for food, and Sean point and yelled, “Let’s go there.”

Hooters.

Our waitress, Kimberly, wearing naughty librarian glasses, leaned obligingly over the table as she took the boys’ orders. Kimberly offered to pull her co-workers together for a group photo. It was the highlight of the day.

img 01831 Bustaride, busted? Hello, Hooters!

After our late lunch, Reid affirmed his position as MVP of the day by offering to drive us to Richmond. The boys skated at Shockoe Slip while Reid and I downed a much-needed Guinness at an Irish pub, waiting for Lou, Tina and Niall to come pick us up and drive us to D.C.

Tomorrow, we’ll find out if my preliminary rounds of calls in search of a new vehicle will yield anything.

One-way RV rentals are hard to come by on 24-hours notice. But maybe we can find a van? An SUV? Anything?

Follow the whole coast-to-coast, dads-and-sons adventure at http://sk8thest8s.cbslocal.com/

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