September 01, 2012
We are riding a 1972 MCI Challenger bus in our journey across the southwestern and southeastern part of the United States. This bus, who came baptized with the name ‘Priscila’ has been used in organizing tours mostly on climate justice issues. Inside she is more like an RV, with benches, a small kitchen and even bunk beds in the back.
So, it was a roll of the dice to choose a 40-year old bus to make this trip. Partly it was a gamble of necessity, because we have not counted on lots of money to make this happen. And it was also a choice, understanding the potential drawbacks. To have a schedule and route we could control, to be able to make the bus in the image and design we wanted.
But it was also, I am speaking personally here, it was also about what we want to portray. We could have eaten the cost of a chartered bus, complete with a driver and avoided lots of sleepless nights and headaches. Which, we’ve had. It was important to reflect a virtue of our community, that we roll with the punches. The fact that most of the time we don’t have all the things we need, but we get it done somehow.
So we roll out of Phoenix, baby girl lookin’ PIMP, a outside masterpiece painting project led by DeeJay Farias Portugal and Sandra Castro, where literally form the kids on up painted. The inside became a colorful collage designed by Julio Sanchez, Leticia Ramirez and Nataly Cruz. When you work for something, when you sweat for it, the value transcends dollars and cents.
Priscila overheated within the first hour. The next 72 hours, we encountered what felt like an endless mechanical glitches, a flat tire, mysterious reoccurring tail light burn outs and other things that I’ve since forgotten. It got to the point where a slow down or any pulling over generated a collective groan from the whole group.
At the outskirts of New Orleans, she gave out again. This time, we couldn’t find a mechanic who would touch her. Too old. Too busy. We developed contingency plans to keep going. Porque tampoco nos vamos a rajar. We left Priscila behind, and we waited for what felt like forever. Finding parts was slow, and as the days went by, it was clear that the mechanic we were working with was in no hurry. In the end, his conclusion that we should dump the bus.
So we dumped him. After being told we needed a new alternator, with another big bill and long timeline we came up with our own plan. Our friends at the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice jumped in to support Eucledis, our fabulous and committed driver to make the trek to Georgia.
Our hope and our theory was that we needed a city where parts and materials were more available. And that we needed a larger community network to spread the word and a find a mechanic who would understand the political purpose for this repair, prioritize it and work some magic.
We found it in Teamster member, Steve Howell.
A union member with more than 20 years of experience under his belt – he asked little questions, only needing to know that friends needed help. Within minutes he had diagnosed the problem. It wasn’t the alternator, the starter, the radiator, the engine or paranormal activity (that was a topic of discussion, btw). It was the electrical system. Several wires were loose or disconnected and as a result, any given area could go out at any given time. Steve started on a Tuesday, it was done by Friday.
Priscila now proudly wears a Teamster license plate and Eucledis rocks his Teamster shirt on the regular. And when she drove up in front of the Atlanta Detention Center where we rallied, I felt like I wanted to bear hug Steve in gratitude. Of all of the talk about solidarity, about communities connecting across issues and sectors..it seemed pretty simple here. We were literally broken down, and this person out of kindness and consciousness stepped in and with a very clear ask, made a huge difference. It means that we are now in North Carolina, making our descent into Charlotte with our dear Priscila. Even Selena knows what’s up. Listened to Carchacha lately?