Throughout the '80s and '90s, the notorious San Francisco-based company Green Tortoise converted school buses into virtual youth hostels on wheels; instead of seats, the interiors were covered in futons, and drivers were known to stop every few miles for "smoke" breaks. But in 2000, the Green Tortoise stopped running their I-5 shuttle services (although they continue "adventure trips"). For the "nontraditional" traveler, who believes that getting there is half of the journey, mass transit to Seattle wasn't one-quarter as fun. But late last summer, a new, Portland-based company stepped into that niche, running weekend travelers between Seattle and Portland in their low-priced, biodiesel-fueled buses. (Check out sharedroute.org for complete schedules.) A bike mechanic and community activist, Benjamin Koenigsberg is the brains behind the so-called Shared Route operation. Wearing a yellow Brazilian soccer jersey, purple pants, and furry slippers, he walked me around the brightly colored school bus. The front grill is painted with a yellow sunrise, and the back is covered with a Vincent van Gogh-style mural of a starry night hovering over Seattle's Space Needle and Portland's Steel Bridge.
Aren't there already ways to get to Seattle? Why not just take Greyhound or Amtrak?
For one, we're using biodiesel. And, it's more like an experience: You're likely to run into an old friend or find someone who is like-minded. Also, we're accommodating. If you're running late, you can call your driver. Or, if you need, we can stop at the Tacoma Dome. And, it's free to bring your bicycle. We also don't charge extra for surfboards. You can bring your pet now, too—for $5.
The most important question: Do you serve snacks?
We're thinking about that. Often times the driver will share his food, or other passengers share. Other things in the works are WiFi onboard, and we're setting up DVD players with a little library of social documentaries.
It sounds like a Portland living room on wheels.
Yeah. We also like the idea of playing music from the cities we serve. So, if you're in a band, we like to encourage people to bring their CDs and make requests of the driver. Or, put up fliers onboard for your events. And bring copies of your zines to leave onboard!
Do people arrive smelling like french fries?
Ah, no. I've heard that whatever was fried in the oil [for the biodiesel] does give off some smell—like french fries or doughnuts. So, maybe a little.