A Panic Attack, and the Unexpected, Expected Repair / by Heidi Geist

I’d be an idiot to think I could drive a 1999 tricked out school bus across the country without running into some engine trouble.

I did not, however, expect the engine to start smoking as I drove 75 mph down I-95, headed from Connecticut to events I had planned in Queens and Brooklyn!

It has been a stellar journey thus far! Yes, I have been drinking too much free beer and accepting too many free meals, and yes i have gained a good 8+ pounds as a result. That is part of the process of adjusting to a year on the road in a microhome, working in an industry that does nothing to discourage the consumption of good drink.

At 38, I’m old enough to accept the fact that appearance, while helpful to maintain when in the spotlight, is secondary to good health, and so I will find some balance that allows more exercise and less alcohol. But aside from my physical being, (insert eye roll) I have been quite content out here. This is not to say that it isn’t at times a bit stressful…especially being a label behind and having a few jobs outside the project that I need to get wrapped up. And yeah, then there’s the bus.

I was pretty rushed to get the bus finished for the tour, especially the exterior, which I painted with a product that I could actually afford, recommended to be my the “experts” at Lowes. Well, by the time I figured out the rhythm of the second paint sprayer, I was out of the choice color, and ended up with a real “neapolitan ice cream” look! Time and weather did not permit me to make any further changes before getting her awesome decals from Blue Planet Graphics.

Well…the recommended paint started to blister in the humid weather through the first few weeks of the trip. Some of the blisters have created holes in the paint…and this in addition to my driving under some rough tree branches and scraping off a decent amount, down to the school bus orange. Turns out, when I ran under the branches, I also knocked in the little lit sign on the top front, breaking the rubber seal, and creating a wet nightmare.

Driving down the interstate on a day that received the most rain since my departure, water started to drop, drop, drop on my knuckles, on the floor, on the dashboard. The rain was blowing in that little crack and it was coming in good! I found a stopping place and stuffed paper towels up inside the box, and taped the little trap door shut (if you have a school bus, you know what I’m referring to). That didn’t fix anything… the paper towels just soaked up all the water and started dripping… haha… gahhhhhhhh.

So, a couple days later, I’m back on the road, headed from CT to NYC, again, driving down the interstate, in the pouring rain, about 72 + mph. Again, the rain started to come in, so I reached up and used all my strength to hold the trap door shut. 20 minutes later, I noticed a burnt smell, that I assumed to be from a passing vehicle, certainly not mine! Then my battery indicator light came on…

I didn’t panic right away, the smell seemed to disappear, and I figured the light was due to some minor thing…(yes, whatever the hell that means), and so I kept one hand on the door and the other on the wheel and kept driving.

Then the noises started and the odor became overwhelming and my heart went into overdrive.

I have broken down, run out of gas, been hit, held at gunpoint, arrested, rappelled a 150 ft cliff, given birth (twice),.. NEVER. EVER.. ever, has the old adrenaline rush made such a mess of me before. I don’t know if it was my subconscious awareness that my entire life is that bus, all I own, all my work, all the work I put into it…but I immediately couldn't breathe…shaking uncontrollably, heart pounding…audibly.

The smoke that started to plume out seemed like a hallucination…a symptom or byproduct of the panicking, but no. I managed off the highway and into a parking lot, where I jumped out and popped the hood-the toxic odor of burning rubber/plastic/chemical was overwhelming. The smoke continued and I couldn’t tell if it was all about to go up in flames, so I grabbed my purse and laptop and frantically dug out the fire extinguisher.

Thankfully…no fire.

I was pretty unhappy…for obvious reasons, but also I had an event to be at in Queens within a couple hours, and another in Brooklyn, both to highlight the 48 Beer Project and meet some awesome folks. This was Saturday, so my phone calls to local mechanics were not getting me anywhere. I sat in total desperation, choking on the horrid smell of a melted engine part (it was still raining), reaching out on social media, seeking anyone who could come help me out.

Eventually, I went for a shot in the dark, called up O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, and asked if there was anyone who could help a Geist replace a broken belt on site, in the rain. I didn’t expect much. The man I talked to drove right to me, belt in hand, checked out the condition of things, only to decide it wasn’t something within his ability to repair….BUT….he made a call.

Turned out he had a buddy, that buddy had the parts, time and tools, and we limped Fearless over to his shop.

The alternator had seized, causing the belt to brake, and my continuing to drive it to a safe spot resulted in the fan melting, which caused the odor and smoking that- NEARLY ATE MY HOUSE. All the parts were replaced within a couple hours, and I was able to make it to both events, albeit fashionably late!

*Quick side note…when we arrived at the shop, I turned, only to find that it was quite literally directly across the street from Two Roads Brewing! What are the odds..?

…More on New York later…..