/// September 2008 ///
‘It just needs some electrical work. You can have it if you make sure to do something cool with it’, said my roommate, Cyd.
My partner Jasper and I looked at the bedraggled, Barney-purple monstrosity parked out front of our place in southeast Portland, Oregon. It was a 1980 Chevy ‘Wayne Busette’ mini bus that had once been used by the military and somehow made its way into Cyd’s possession. It had a spacious, round bus body and the front end of a Chevy van. You could still see the raised surface of the army star on the outside panel underneath Cyd’s pealing purple paint job.
It was perfect. We handed him a courtesy one dollar bill and he went to get us the title and keys.
/// The beast is born >>>
Electrical system and a few other engine details tuned up (for the time being), the thing’s monster V8 roared, choked out some black smoke and then chugged along, seemingly happy. It really was a beast, and we decided to continue this theme by spray painting the outer body grey… rhino grey. We’d been looking for a vehicle for our extended, aimless road trip around the States, and, planning to live in the bus, we figured it wise to err on the less conspicuous side as we left the liberal, ‘Keep Portland Weird’ bubble and ventured out into red country. Rhino grey seemed appropriately unassuming.
The departure got repeatedly postponed, however, as the money that was supposed to go into savings for the trip got continually diverted into cosmetic and mechanical repairs for the bus itself. It seemed we’d be stuck in the city longer than we’d thought. So what to do? Naturally: wrap a metal sheet into a cone shape, spray it white, and screw it securely to the hood. Old grey bus ==> Rhino bus. Install a massive, bass-blasting car audio system. Rhino bus + Rhythm ==> Rhynobus. Supreme!!
The Rhyno became our baby, our project that we devoted most of our time and lame job money to. We gutted the rest of the interior, removed the last remaining bus seat and threw in two cozy, thrifted mini couches, two arm chairs and an end table. My mom obligingly hand sewed curtains for the windows. We lifted the plastic drink holders from the shopping carts at Safeway, sprayed them gold and installed them around the interior. Plush pillows, mirrors on the walls, a little EL wire, and the name ‘Rhynobus’ stenciled on the exterior.
/// Stampede >>>
The next several years involved a kaleidoscope of raging mobile parties around town with up to a dozen people at a time, trashy beats thrashing through the belly of our beast, champagne corks flying, headbanging injuries, two very eventful trips to Burning Man, numerous local camping trips… we even decked the Rhyno out in flowers and chauffeured a friend’s wedding… but it would take far too long to recount all these experiences, and the point here is not nostalgia. Indeed the adventures with friends in the bus brought us all closer together, we raved, and several friends made Rhyno-themed shirts and trinkets to commemorate the times. These memories will not be lost.
But what’s most interesting looking back are the interactions and connections made with total strangers through the medium of the mutant vehicle. We often got notes on the windshield when we parked around town; love notes to the Rhyno, little poems, someone wanting to use it somehow in a film they were making. A girl from the neighborhood sketched a cool charcoal drawing of a rhino with the word ‘Rhinobus’ and gave it to us.
Through a windshield note we met and befriended another couple who lived and travelled in their full-sized bus, which they named ‘Seraphim’. They’d built seperate rooms inside and had space for art projects, their cats (!) and even a tap for the beer they brewed. They gave us lots of tips about travelling and living on the road, and about owning a bus, registration issues, and how to make corners on small city streets without wrecking.
/// Rhythm >>>
At the time there wasn’t much of a scene for dance music that interested us in Portland, which was populated with good punk venues but lame electronic clubs. We began driving the bus down to the dubstep parties at the only halfway decent (but still terrible …) club downtown, the Crown Room – or as we called it, ‘dump-step’ at the ‘clown room’. Still, it was perfect: we’d park next to the club and go in, check it out and dance a bit, and when the music turned shit we’d head out to the bus, crack a beer, and blast what we wanted to hear, leaving the back emergency door open for whoever wanted to join. We’d spend the night switching between the bus and the club. No one hassled us. We met and shared beers and music with loads of interesting people this way, including ‘Randy Boogie’, a painter who ended up painting the trippy motif on the Rhyno’s interior walls. We started driving people around and giving them rides home if they wanted. After all, riding around in a mobile living room with big sound was more fun than staying in one place, and some people were too wasted to drive themselves home anyway. It was win-win.
People would sometimes give us gas money as a kind gesture, but for the most part we just enjoyed hosting, and at the time we could mostly afford it. We had the idea at one point to start a party bus chauffeuring business to help with funds, charging people a set fee to arrange parties and tours, bar-hopping nights, whatever. We did manage once to take a group of four well-off middle-aged Texan sisters on a tipsy tour of Oregon’s wine country. The ‘Sippin’ Sisters’, as they referred to themselves, loved the tour and were happy to pay us for it. But beyond that, the whole idea of charging people became more and more ridiculous, as the best experiences came out of just meeting random people and hanging out.
Inside the Rhyno it was really our own space, and we could make it what we wanted and take it pretty much anywhere we wanted to go. It was big enough to fit twelve people cozily and private enough with the curtains to be inconspicuous about our parties. Even the sound passed surprisingly under the radar – something about the acoustics of the thing allowed us to crank it to brain-rattling decibels inside and have it remain relatively quiet outside. Incredibly, we never once got hassled by the cops.
Of course it wasn’t all kittens and rainbows; we had endless mechanical and electrical problems, water came in through the holes that we’d drilled to build the roof rack (no matter how much sealant we slathered on), and driving with the big, inefficient gas engine – though technically legal as far as Oregon emissions standards were concerned – kind of made us feel like assholes. We looked into converting it to diesel and going the veggie oil route, but it would have cost thousands that we were beginning to realise we wouldn’t be able to save up. Still, the thrill of the project was enough to justify pouring our money and time into, and that actually never got old.
/// R.I.P. Rhyno ///
Alas… it’s wild out there, there are poachers, and romantic relationships end. Towards the end of 2011 the Rhyno was out and about less and less, and one morning we came out to find that an unknown assailant had poached the horn from the Rhyno’s hood in the night. The Rhyno’s final public interaction: death!
We sold the sound system and eventually passed the no-longer-rhino bus on to a close friend for a commemorative one dollar bill. He held onto it for a while, also interested in making road trips, but after one too many mechanics shook their heads at the mess under the hood, he passed it along to someone else, and it was gone.
/// `!!!!> ///
So that’s (my) story of the Rhynobus. It started out as a desire – need? — to travel and do something unconventional, to explore a way of living beyond the daily grind, rent payments, life of rotting in front of facebook and the general lameness of being stuck in one place. Pipe dream of living on the open road? Maybe wouldn’t have been impossible. But being stuck in the city pointed us in a different direction, and unexpected things happened. We met and networked with loads of people. We learned that pouring our resources into creating a space to share was better than charging people for an experience. We took control of our free time, made it what we wanted and the people who joined us made it what it was.
And what was it? All I know is it’s no longer a Rhynobus, but the beast is long from dead …