Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On the Road Again...

I spent most of March upgrading the creature comforts of Tourtoise.  (My friend Margareta calls my bus by the blog name, and I like it.)  I've completed a lot of cabinetry, and put up some shelves that I think are rather clever.  They are supported on heavy metal brackets which I installed below or above the shelves between alternating 30" windows, so that the 60" blinds could operate between the stronger bottom mounted brackets, while the upper mounted brackets still cut the spans in half and support the middles of the shelves.  The shelves are made of 1 x 3 inexpensive "white wood" (a Home Depot mystery species that looks a little like a very light fir or dense spruce.)  The 1 x 3's are spaced 1 1/4" apart to allow bungee hooking.  The fronts of the shelves have a 1 x 3 oak trim board, mounted to form a raised 3/4" lip at the edge of the shelf, as well as a 1 1/8" lip below, forming a lighting valence for lights mounted on the bottoms of the shelves.  The oak trim board is spaced 1/2"away from the first shelf board by 3/8" hex nuts and two washers which I put around each of the trim board's mounting screws, to provide another gap for bungee attachment.  There are a few pictures in the previous post, below.

The night before last, I had dinner in New Orleans with Alicia.  She shared lots of maps and notes from her bus traveling days, and helped me plan my route, upon which I will elaborate in a bit.  I took off in the morning, after calling Eli to thank him for all of his help and hospitality in New Orleans.  He was disappointed that I was leaving without visiting him again, and I felt a little guilty about that, but in the end he understood that I was impatient to get going.

But it turned out I had one more chore to deal with.  Tourtoise has two air conditioners; a normal system discharging from the dashboard for the driver, and a huge unit mounted on the ceiling at the rear of the bus, for the passengers.  Driving down to Alicia's, I discovered the large unit was blowing it's fuse immediately upon start up, and the dash system was blowing only hot air, even when set to vent.  I knew I had to have these fixed for my desert adventures.  I thought it might have something to do with the other electrical equipment newly connected at Happy Camper, but I was reluctant to drive back 40 miles or so for them to look at it, until Alicia persuaded me what I already knew on the other hand, that a new mechanic down the road would have to spend a lot of time just figuring out what HC had done.  So at about 7:30 a.m. I headed back to Mississipi, deciding to just show up at HC, rather than give them an opportunity to put me off to another day.

I greeted Jeremy, who was on top of a huge motor home, mopping the roof, and I explained the problem.  He said "We can look at that for you," and climbed down.  Jeremey is amazing.  In the next hour and a half, he probed, reasoned, metered, fearlessly openned panels of the interior, and using an amp meter, he tracked the short to ever decreasing possible locations, until voila!  When I had mounted my shelves, I had hit an air conditioner cable and pierced and shorted three wires.  In my defense, the cable had fallen from a wire chase at the ceiling line into an unpredictable location just above the windows, but we all had a good laugh at my expense.  As Jeremy repaired the cable, he said he loved when a customer blames them for something and it turns around to be the customer's fault.  I saved the piece of pierced cable jacketting, and mounted it on the bulls eye of Jeremy's archery practice target; Jeremy is 2nd place Mississippi State Champ, his assistant and friend Duncan is State Champ.

AC repaired, I got on the road again.  I meandered down to I-12 west and stopped at Target for sun glasses and some food provisions.  And across the parking lot was a Verizon store, and I remembered Margareta's reminder to me to get a broadband access card, as I had weeks ago complained about having to organize my days around finding Starbucks for internet, and that the cost of the coffee alone would pay for broadband access.

So, last night I parked at Wal-Mart near Baton Rouge, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting at my drawing table, the one I've had since I was eight, and using my under shelf mounted light, connected to my 200 amp hour deep cycle battery, to which was also connected my 1250 watt converter, into which I had plugged my laptop, which was connected to the net via Verizon broadband, and I reached into the propane powered refrigerator behind me and retrieved a Red Stripe Jamaican Ale and a few slices of Provolone, and for the first time in a long time, I feel really optomistic.  I will look into taking on some easy drafting work for two days a week to fuel the tank, and this will be great.

Thursday morning I start down I-12 west again, and a red break light comes on on the dash.  Crap.  1/4 mile further, there is a Ford dealership.  I pull in.  I describe the break light, and also the roughness of the engine at 35-45 miles, which two previous mechanics have failed to fix, and I also mention a funny ticking/screeching sound that just started, which I suspect is a belt.  I'm sitting in the Ford waiting room, waiting for the prognoses, sigh...  And I plug in my broadband and type this story :-)

UPDATE:  One hour later, Ford has officially pronounced the Tourtoise healthy.  They could not find anything wrong with the breaks, and the warning light no longer shows.  We chalked it up to possible water infiltration from the rain last night, wetting a signal wire.  They also said there is nothing wrong with the engine, though I still feel it's objectionably rough at 35 to 45.  Oh well.  And the screech?  Must be my hyper nerveousity getting the best of me over a normal sound.  And they charged me nothing.  Thank you very much, Wes!

Here I go....


  1. on new adventures :-) & in a home you have made....It's a great life, you get to meet some wonderful people & see the most beautiful sights...Safe travels :-)

  2. Dawn,

    Thanks so much. I am parked in a tourist info center near Lafayette, La. Earlier I went down to the coast on Pecan Island and saw an adorable town, which I'll write about. Then I came back here, and tomorrow morning I am going on a 4 hour swamp boat tour. Can't wait.

    Cheers, and thanks for all of your encouragement all these weeks.


  3. Yo Sparky, John Emr calling. How are you? The Tourtoise looks great. Congrats and props for following your heart...visit my blog and email me: