Arlo Guthrie sang about one, and from the moment I drove my friend Eamonn Gallagher's '65 VW bus in Cape Cod during the summer of 1989, I "got" how awesome a camper bus could be. I bought Playa Beltane in 2008. We have travelled to Florida, Massachusetts, Chicago...
My friend Eamonn didn't just drive from California to Cape Cod in his bus -- he lived in it and drove it daily. I was amazed by how practical this vintage vehicle was, and also by the surreal experience of driving it. In a bus you sit on top of the front wheels, with no silly hood to get in your way.
I longed for a bus of my own, but they were elusive in the east. In early 2008, I saw an ad posted by a fellow named Ben Werth, who was moving to Costa Rica and was selling his bus cheap -- even for then -- at $2,500. The bus was complete and running, and he'd put in a nice new canvass for the pop up camper. But the buggy also had some rust. The worst of it was the top rails; they were bleeding rust down the sides and it looked much worse but was cosmetic.
The bus was straight and complete, and it was a very special example: a Westfalia pop-top camper. This amazing package includes plaid seats, the back one of which folds into a bed. A second bed of the same size is provided in the "tent" that pops easily up at a nice angle. The Westy has a two-burner stove, a sink , water and electric hook ups, and a refrigerator. There is also ample storage built in for your food and supplies. This bus is a four-speed manual and while it may only have 70 horsepower and be shaped like a brick, it moves down the highway at speeds into the 70s pretty peppily. It is quick off the line. Handling has much improved since I found properly sized tires, which were long not available in this country. They are tough little truck tires made in Vietnam. The mechanics at Zolly/Specialty Motors in Arlington, and Don at Paul's VW in Annandale, have done amazing work to keep Playa B rolling along. And my friend Ian Kreer did some terrific work building out her stereo so she can rock the Jefferson Starship tunes of her era.*
Playa Beltane (named for the Playa of Burning Man culture, and the spring Celtic fire festival) was originally tan. Tan and "Kermit" green were the two colors offered in 1979, the final year of the Bay Window bus that debuted in 1968. While the green was loud, the tan was super subtle -- the two extremes of the 1970s. I had always wanted a red VW microbus, like the one Arlo Guthrie made famous in his song and movie Alice's Restaurant. So when the passenger door got destroyed by a runaway water truck at the 2008 Transformus Burn, I bought a yellow replacement door from Arizona and painted it tan... but then decided to make the lower part red. I liked it, and so panel by panel, over the next few months, I detailed the lower body and reddened it. I have been please with the two-tone look that resulted. That's how Playa B has looked for more than a decade.
Another notable Playa Beltane element is her stickers. Between her adventures and gifts from her fans, her fiberglass top and back windows have become covered in messages, thoughts, and promotions. Part of her ironic charm is that one area that has no bumper stickers is her bumpers!
Playa Beltane has traveled far and wide. She has driven to Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, and all points in between. Her notable trips include going to Arlo Guthrie's church from Alice's Restaurant, now the Guthrie Center; to Chicago for the final Grateful Dead shows in 2015; and on the Auto Train from Virginia to Florida and a drive back.
As noted above, Playa Beltane loves Jefferson Starship. And JS loves her! A group of us went to see a benefit show they played in DC a few years back. Afterward the band invited us to join them for their after gig party. At one point someone suggested stepping out for a smoke and my late friend Kip Silverman suggested we hang in the bus. And lo and behold, my friends and I found ourselves and the band hanging in the bus!
Wherever she goes, Playa Beltane gets inquiries and smiles to as great a degree as any collector vehicle. Many people have memories of times in a bus, and those that do often catch the bus life lust!