To acquire a tour bus, as a band, is to arrive. Ours was 36 feet long, 16 years old, and bright yellow, a 1987 Bluebird International school bus our bluegrass band bought for one dollar as part of our first professional contract, which came from a circus. And not just any circus. This was Circus Smirkus, a European-style, one-ring outfit run by former hippies in northern Vermont. There were six of us, college kids aged 20 to 21, and our job was to write and play bluegrass for 82 Wild West–themed shows, in 30 towns, over eight New England summer weeks, entertaining crowds of 800 screaming children and beaming parents. Our burden was our wardrobe: faux-rhinestone-covered wool shirts that hung heavy with sweat. Our reward: the bus. We gutted her and installed couches and a subwoofer, painted flames in the vicinity of the wheel wells, mounted a set of cow horns on the grille, and named her Bessie. The Astroturf we planned for the roof never came to fruition. On the dashboard, we kept a tally of the things we hit: six birds; five street signs; innumerable hedges; a mailbox in Newport, Rhode Island; and a town hall in Cape Cod. All summer, we dreamed of the magic words the circus director uttered whenever the tent came down: "Be in York, Maine, in three days."
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