Bus rumbles with the groans of the many miles it has covered across the Southeastern Conference pride lands. It spews its exhaust into the league’s newest environment: Columbia, Mo.
The scrappy, white-bearded man slides the driver’s seat window panel and extends his wrinkled hand down to you. It’s not the intense southern drawl that makes him hard to understand. It’s Bus’s growling. It’s the mechanical functions brewing behind the steel.
You ask him to repeat himself.
“Y’all are in a good conference,” Wendell Hutchins, 70, says. “Pretty tough though.”
You ask him if he’s the owner of this 30-foot, 1975 Blue Bird Wanderlodge that’s been draped with a deep red above the tires and stamped with the black Georgia "G" logo.
He says that he’s not. He says there’s a situation. The owner is sorting things out.
Poor Bus. There’s no place for Bus here.
It’s 1:34 p.m. under Friday’s hot afternoon sun when you find Bus misplaced near a curb in the parking lot between a Phillips 66, the Hampton Inn, where a woman at the front desk answers phone calls and tells you she and likely everyone else in town is booked for the weekend, and Stadium Grill, where black and gold and black and red walk in and out.
Lindsey Greeson and his crew simply came. They simply drove Bus from their home of Waycross, Ga., for about 13 hours. They stopped in Padukah, Ky., to fill the diesel, to do some maintenance and to eat pancakes. Greeson is 68 years old and retired after years in the motor home business. His white chinstrap and mustache are well kept. His eyes are a clear sapphire.
He does not know where he, friend Wendell, his brother, his son and his son’s friends will sleep tonight because they do not come to town with hotel reservations. He was told there was no more room for trailer parking over at the stadium. They simply came and they brought Bus just as they always have.
“It’s really an icon,” Greeson says.
The bus was built in Fort Valley, Ga., by a company that primarily made school buses, right around the time in the ‘70s when he got six Bulldog season tickets near the 50-yard line.
He looks at you and points.
“From 1976 to 1998, I went to every game, home or away,” he says.
Save for Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, this bus has seen every stadium in the SEC now. Nearly three hours ago, Bus and its crew drove by Memorial Stadium.
“It’s smaller than we’re accustomed to seeing,” Greeson says kindly, as if not to offend you.
Vinny Silvestri interjects.
“He don’t like Bulldog fans,” he says.
“Who?” Greeson asks.
Silvestri points across the way to a bald man from Stadium Grill in a black polo walking toward the Hampton.
“He said, 'Oh yeah, we’re sellin’ spots but we don't sell ‘em to buses and RVs,'” Silvestri says. “He says he’s going to yell at the lady at the Hampton. He says there’s no such thing as free tailgating. I said, 'That’s not what goes on every week.'”
Silvestri, 31, has been traveling with Bus since 2007. Greeson’s son, Brent, 36, who is currently asleep after driving through the night, first asked his long-time friend to come along to the Florida game played in “neutral” Jacksonville.
“And I haven’t missed since,” Silvestri said.
A man in a silver Nissan drove by earlier and rolled down the shotgun window. “How many can you fit up there?” he asked the group.
That answer can be found in a framed picture inside Bus, taken at that Florida game. Brent Greeson counted off 96 fans who came down the ladder from the roof, which can be enclosed by black bars that can be flipped and locked in place.
Silvestri was along for the 2010 trip to Boulder, Co., for the game against Colorado. But Bus didn’t make it. They pulled into a Kansas truck stop when the air compressor went out.
“So we watched the game on our satellite dish in the parking lot with eight tickets in our pockets,” Greeson says.
“With eight tickets in our pockets …” echoes Bobby Keney, shaking his head in a black Georgia T.
He has a smile on his face when he tells you that fellow Bulldog faithfuls have honked toward Bus since arriving in town.
“A lot of people will be out here looking for it tomorrow,” he says. “We seen some people waving at us a minute ago that we recognized from Waycross. “There’ll be some people that we either know or just random people will come up to us. ‘Oh! there’s the bus!’ … Bus. That’s the only thing I know it as.”
It’s time for Bus to venture back out into the unknown. On Saturday, a game of epic proportions will be played, a game that could prove Georgia’s No. 7 ranking or reveal a Missouri team unfit for SEC standards.
The guys aren’t sure of what the outcome will be.
“We said, we don’t know who’s gonna win the ball game,” says Hutchins, wearing a large oval Bulldog belt buckle. “We’re gonna play the ball game, see who wins.”
The guys aren’t sure where they’ll sleep tonight. That’s not important. They’ll figure something out. They say they’ll tailgate somewhere on Saturday and they’ll do it all day leading up to the evening kickoff, and they say they’ll leave right after and they’ll travel through the night and into the morning because some have to return to work on Monday.
You walk away from Bus, from that noise that churns on, from the old machine that has carried them this far and will take them as far as it can possibly go across the SEC’s expanded landscape.
They say goodbye, and they tell you to come party with them tomorrow.