Day 15: San Francisco… sorry, I mean: Berkeley

Ethan providing a welcoming committee in Berkeley.

Ethan providing a welcoming committee in Berkeley.

Seeing Ethan is one of my favorite semi-annual events.

For my sophomore, junior, and senior years of college, my bed sat in the dormer of a small attic just north of the University of Minnesota, and Ethan’s bed sat in the dormer facing mine. You get to know a thing or two about a person when your beds face each other for three years.

Ethan went to bed at 10pm. I started my homework at 10pm. Ethan rose early in the morning to have the first of his thrice-daily petite vegetarian meals (supplemented by constant grazing). He gently set down his fork between every bite to patiently, contently chew his food. I woke up 15minutes before class started (even for afternoon classes), put on the pants that were on top of the “acceptably clean” pile, stumbled out the door, and neglected to eat until returning in the evening. My once-daily meal often consisted of a steaming pile of chili-mac (a can of chili mixed with a box of mac and cheese, possibly topped with a pack of sliced hot-dogs if I was feeling hungry.) which was not so much ingested as inhaled. Ethan had clear visions of what brought him joy in life, and had the discipline to maintain a lifestyle that made him happy. I never stopped to consider what made me happy, and wasn’t entirely clear on the concept of discipline, which was evident by the mountain of clothes, papers, and moped parts I allowed to consume our room. What really brought us together was our unreasonably joyful personalities. We were reduced to giggling fits on an almost daily basis, and in social situations you’d be hard-pressed to find us without silly grins on our faces. We were a beautifully matched odd couple. In the 9 years I’ve known Ethan we’ve never had an argument, although I’m not sure Ethan has ever had an argument in his life, so that might not be saying much. He became my voice of reason and confidant. (Although, I’m sure he would have appreciated it if I could have waited until morning to confide my adventures, but at 3AM the story is still fresh and I didn’t want to forget.)

After college I left the country, and Ethan moved in with other friends, including Justin. Two years after graduation, Ethan uprooted and abandoned the mid-west for sunny California. He’s since convinced at least half a dozen friends to join him, and has settled into exactly the kind of lifestyle you’d expect in Berkeley, hopping from one borderline-hippie-commune to the next.

Since he’s left, I’ve missed Ethan terribly, and we’ve made staying in touch a priority. In addition to regular phone calls and the annual Christmas party at his parents home, we set aside a week each summer to road trip and have an adventure. This year, with the bus at our disposal, it was the obvious choice. In fact, the schedule for this trip was set to fit exactly between Ethan’s 10-day silent-meditation retreat (hippie), and the start of the school year, when he returns to work one-on-one with an autistic student.

As we parked next to Ethan’s house and he climbed triumphantly on top of the bus, energy was running high. Everyone was ready to celebrate.

Well, except Ethan. He was ready for bed.

The bus parked on the streets of Berkeley.

The bus parked on the streets of Berkeley.

So as Ethan went to sleep in his own little RV parked in the driveway (don’t worry, it’s only until his sister finds her own place), Vince took off with his friend Alex (never to be seen again), and Justin and I went out for sushi with Ethan’s friend Hannah, and my roommate Phil, one of my best friends from the architecture program. Phil flew out from Minneapolis to visit friends in LA, and then hopped up to see us in the bay area. I practically pleaded with Phil to ride the bus with us back to Minneapolis, but he determined he couldn’t take that much time off; a decision he is surely regretting. (Hi Phil!) It’s a real shame, because not only do Phil and I get along really well, but he’s also much more concerned about keeping living spaces clean than I am, which is pretty handy to have around on the bus. Honestly I’m surprised he continues to put up with my slovenly nature. Phil is sharply dressed every time he leaves the house, and I’m always wearing a stained t-shirt and torn jeans, which has to be frustrating for him when we head out to the bars only to find that women are reluctant to play pool with us, unsure whether I’m actually homeless or just impersonating.

Sushi and Udon that night was delicious, although for the first time in recorded history the table had to wait for me to finish eating. I was too embarrassed to ask for a fork, and insisted on “using” (such a strong word) chopsticks to consume my dinner. At least half of my food made it’s way to my mouth via a detour to the table top. Was that less embarrassing than asking for a fork? Emphatically, no.

Hank looking determined at his noodles.

Hank looking determined at his noodles.

The next morning, Justin took off early to wander the Mission District and meet his friend Ellie. For the first time since the trip started, all the bus travelers were separated. During our stay in San Francisco, each of us spent at least one night sleeping somewhere other than the bus, choosing instead to crash at various friends’ homes. Bus life involves constant social interaction. Most people would recognize that I’m an extrovert, and thrive in most social situations, but it consumes a lot of mental energy. After almost two weeks sleeping face to face, Justin, Vince and I needed some time apart.

I spent the day lazily writing, heading out later in the afternoon with Ethan and Phil for food, and to pick up supplies for a new skylight. That morning and afternoon were refreshingly content-free.

Street chess.

Street chess.

That night Ethan planned to gather a few of his local friends who were interested in seeing the bus. The result was one of the wildest mobile-parties I’ve ever encountered. In a space that was designed to comfortably hold six, we had, well, let’s say it was whatever the legal capacity is for a vehicle that’s being driven without a CDL. It was a wild ride, and I’m grateful the other passengers were only dancing on the roof while we were stopped. I was glad Phil had the chance to experience the bus party, as it was clear he was disappointed he couldn’t continue on with the bus. (sorry Phil) We even picked up Lacy, a former roommate Ethan and I lived with in college. She had flown in from Minneapolis to join the bus journey back to the midwest. I love Lacy because she is one of a handful of people who refuses to let me get away with my nonsense. She’s a hard working, hard partying, sassy, don’t-take-shit from no-one kinda gal; just the way I like it.

Party on the bus. (Photo courtesy Stephen Shumaker)

Party on the bus. (Photo courtesy Stephen Shumaker)

The next day was yet another lazy day. I should probably regret not getting outside and experiencing the city, but traveling isn’t just about seeing the sights, it’s also about relaxing, and being just a little hung over.

The days energy was being reserved for the main event, Nerf wars. Ethan’s friend Stephen runs The Port Workspaces, a collaborative work space in Oakland consisting of a series of two floors of offices spread out around a central common space, with a spiral staircase connecting the central courtyard. During the day, these offices are rented and used by local, independent professionals, looking to work in a cooperative environment. Every few weeks, however, Stephen commandeers the space for an evening to use for 007-style Nerf-gun battles. All the lights were turned off except for the stairwell and emergency lights, allowing scattered beams of light to bleed into the space, giving players ample opportunity to hide and ambush. Security cameras with night vision added an extra layer of complexity. A computer set up in one defensible corner was able to monitor every camera at once, providing viewer an omniscient view of the complex.

That night we had a record showing, 20 people armed with Nerf guns, scurrying around the dark corners of the abandoned offices. In a matter of minutes, the casualties began to pile up and the floor became littered with little foam darts. After a few rounds of every-man-for-himself chaos, the crowd was split into teams.

Aside from the painful realization of our poor physical condition, we felt like kids again. We hid crouching in elevators, our Nerf’s cocked, and scampered around firing indiscriminately at friends and foe yelling, “I got you!”

Let the nerf battle begin.

Let the nerf battle begin.

It was a pretty magical event. And a good reminder to join a gym.

The morning of our departure, we assembled the crew of six who would be making the journey back to Minneapolis. Justin and I were still riding along, but Vince had found a flight home. The flight was sooner than anticipated, and he didn’t get the chance to return to the bus to grab his things or say goodbye. I felt bad that I didn’t get to see him off, but was glad he would be in Minneapolis when we returned. Joining the crew were my former roommates Ethan and Lacy, as well as Ethan’s friends Hannah and Sam.

Ethan and Sam jamming out on the street.

Ethan and Sam jamming out on the street.

Hannah is a friend of Ethan’s who has a story not dissimilar to mine. She has a background in architecture, but prefers to work in the shop rather than on paper. As fellow archies, we hit it off, geeking out about buildings and talking in archi-speak.

Sam, who has a fantastically unique look (one that he was briefly concerned may resemble a gay pirate), and incredibly entertaining personality (it’s not every day you get an acoustic rendition of Ke$ha on a ukulele), was a bit of a wildcard. On first meeting, it’s difficult to tell if he’s insane or brilliant, assuming those two things are mutually exclusive.

The bus crew leaving San Fransisco (minus Justin).

The bus crew leaving San Fransisco (minus Justin).

Fully assembled, we got rolling toward Yosemite. I apologize for the lack of adventure in this post, but my time in the bay area had very little to do with the sights or the scene. It was a reunion of old friends, and an introduction to new ones. It marked a clear break from the trip to-date, and was the beginning of a new journey.

25 Responses to Day 15: San Francisco… sorry, I mean: Berkeley

  1. Jonathan T

    Nice to see the sky “duck tape” roof is onward and upward. On long trips with close “relation” the “break” from sight seeing and more “being” is necessary. As I move towards a tiny home lifestyle I see a need for the “balance”
    (Anymore ” and might need my own breathing time)

    Onward and Upward
    Continuing Safe Travels


  2. Einar Mikkelsen

    So glad to see someone doing one of these trips. Great job! Hope to see video tours as you go along.

  3. B.A. Norrgard

    Hank & Justin,

    Wow! I read your entire travel log this weekend – it’s amazing! You are doing a spectacular job of sharing and documenting – thank you! I love your style of writing and all of the photographs.

    Last fall I sold most of my possessions and my traditional house and I’m building a tiny house! I plan to travel with it – I’m moving in mid December this year. That being said, your experiences are super interesting to me because I hope that I will be in your shoes within a year. Time will tell!

    I’ll be following along with you, traveling vicariously. You are validating my decisions and are so inspiring! Go! Do! Making big changes can be scary, but I think regret would be worse.

    Save travels,
    B.A. (Dallas, TX)

    • Hank Butitta

      What an amazing leap you’ve made! Good luck with your new tiny home and the adventures you’ll have!

  4. David Charron

    Hank… We’re not friends. We’re not family. We’ve actually never met or spoken. But would you consider having me, a French speaking Canadian from Montreal, Québec, on board to shoot and document your adventure for a couple of weeks? I like the bus, like the project and very much like the energy surrounding both. I really hope to hear from you. Until then, bon voyage!

    • Hank Butitta

      David! Justin has first dibs on photographing, but thanks for the offer!

  5. Ruth Vallejos

    So cool – I learned about your bus-house / aka rolling thunder from the website. I like the way the project turned out, and is continuing to evolve.

    I’m an architect, and I’ve had the joy of living in a project I designed and learning about my mistakes or mis-steps first hand. It’s a valuable experience – one that every young architect should get to do.

    If you were to start fresh on a new bus project, is there anything that you would upgrade or change if you could? Any pop-outs or pop-ups? Any improved systems? I’d be curious to hear what you’ve learned about your house after the grande tour.

    • Hank Butitta

      If anything, I would have started with a more powerful bus. That seems to be the most challenging thing to “fix” or upgrade at this point. I’m not interested in pop-outs or pop-ups, as it would compromise the existing structural system of the bus frame, and require wayyyyy too much modification. The systems will hopefully continue to improve as we move forward. The overall scheme is functioning very well, it’s the little details that really need the most work.

  6. JamesAhn


    What a amazing story you are!
    How did you come up with such a remarkable idea?
    I am envious of your experience.

    Well, how can you get your GPS position? Is it from some mobile app. or your own system?
    (I saw your current position on the map in blog)

    Anyway I wish you continue your good trip

  7. David

    Hi Hank,

    I just stumbled across this today and it looks great!

    I have friends who have used this application to record their roadtrips, just t ought it might be an idea for you guys.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip,

    All the best,
    David from Ireland

  8. Daniel L


    Not sure if you’re still on the west coast but I’m selling a similar bus that I and my team started to work on last year but we have no use for it anymore…
    here’s the CL add

    Very negotiable on the price. Maybe you or your buddies might be interested 🙂


    • Hank Butitta

      We already have enough bus on our hands at the moment 😉

  9. Ms. K. McGraw

    Amazing !!!!!! Wishing you all many Blessings on your journey !!!! Stay safe throughout !!!!!!

  10. Paul B

    more updates please 🙂

  11. Chihiro

    I am rooting for you from Japan 🙂


  12. Gloria

    Just went through the entire site … my goodness, I love what you are doing. Absolutely brilliant.

    Looking forward to having more updates!

  13. Anna Miller

    Good luck on your journey. Sounds quite exciting as I go back to read from the start. Hope everything holds together but here is a link in case you need a little help with those roof hatches or anything else.

  14. Valentina Montes de Oca

    Increíble este viaje! no pude parar de leer todo hasta que lo terminé, la manera en que lo cuentan es muy entretenido y me hace vivir el viaje con ustedes. Las fotos son geniales, tienen un aspecto antiguo espectacular. Los felicito y les mando saludos desde Uruguay (América del Sur)

    • Hank Butitta


  15. Shane

    I am an architectural designer (from Ireland) and would be very interested in seeing more of the finer details on the fit out of the bus, I have been looking at a similar project for years and your blog has encouraged me to go do it. Would it be possible to ad some drawings or photos of the cabinets etc ?? on your blog. loving the blog keep it up



    • Hank Butitta

      Shane, I plan on sharing files later this year once I get them a bit more organized. Thanks!

  16. Amri

    Let me know if you need a place to park the bus in Colorado, it’s a glorious thing and you all seem like mighty good folk!

  17. Anna Miller

    Thought you might gain inspiration from this listing once you permanently park it on your grandfather’s property.

    • Hank Butitta

      That vehicle was one of my original inspirations!

  18. Henrique Sousa

    It’s beautiful to see this kind of stuff. Love your work, your blog, and your bus. haha. Keep us updated, I’m watching this madly.

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