Too Much Green Bus

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

At first, the general rule was that if you were driving a vehicle along the main road, and you saw a Devotee, you should stop and give that Devotee a ride. Some Devotees preferred to walk. Some Devotees preferred not to stop and pick anyone up sometimes, due to being in a Transcendental Hurry.

Devotees moved from Bahulabhana out to Dharamatma’s, where Sudhanu Prabhu lives now. Devotees needed rides from Ma Eddy’s, the little store out on the corner of 88 and Limestone Ridge, all the way to the Palace. Devotees constantly had cause to go back and forth on the Ridge Road which led to the Palace. Because getting a ride was an unpredictable thing, a regular Shuttle Bus Service evolved.

The bus was actually simply a van. The Service was to drive the van back and forth and to pick up and drop off Devotees. This worked very well, if not perfectly. For example, there were some Devotees who were a little personally confused, and would not pick up one of the Mothers. Some drivers pushed the factually dilapidated van too hard and accelerated mechanical failure.

I had the Bus Service for a while myself. Then the Palace Road was often in very poor repair. It was fraught with potholes and crumbling edges. It was tough on the vehicle’s suspension. One Devotee advised me that I should drive really fast; it was his theory that by driving as quickly as possible, the wheels would not have much of a chance to drop down and bang in the potholes.

I asked Varshana Maharaja, the Master of Heavy Equipment, (among other things … Master of Humility, for example) what his opinion was on the “…drive fast, skim pothole” theory. “If I had a baseball bat,” he said, “and I hit you with it, would you rather I hit you very hard or nice and easy?”

“You’re asking me that?” I smiled back at Varshana Maharaja. He was known as Kasyapa Prabhu then. I could see he was hesitating all of a sudden.

“Well …”

“Yuh,” I said. “Given a choice, I’d much rather you hit me hard with the bat.” I was being silly, but affectionate.

“You know what I mean,” he returned.

I did know what he meant. I drove the shuttle “bus” slowly, generally. I stopped for anyone, of course. I tried to do the Service to the best of my ability. I came to know every crevice and dip in the Palace Road. Back and forth, back and forth, it was great, picking up Devotees who were on their way to rendering Service. Truly I was Serving the Servers. I liked it very much.

Eventually, the community got a real little school bus. Then we were really cooking. This was one of those short busses. I think it was about 20 feet in length. We painted it green. It looked great and it ran great. It was our dedicated Shuttle Bus. Sometimes we used it to go pick up arrivals at the Pittsburgh Airport.

Often, on the Shuttle Bus runs, upon passing the Palace, I’d see several big Greyhound size tour busses. People came regularly from all over the country and indeed, the world, to visit the Palace of Gold. Easily hundreds of people came every day. Some tour bus operators did not want to bring their big beautiful busses onto our most often decrepit Palace Road. The notion of driving fast or slow in order to entertain or eschew the ruts and potholes was not the desired mentality of many a highway cruiser.

Then one day, the Community came up with a full size school bus. This bus was not used as a shuttle bus for Devotees, but to go out and meet the incoming tourists at a convenient place, and transfer our guests from the big highway liner type of luxury bus to our own ready-to-rock transpiration; the new full length school bus. We also used the bus in stages, for Devotees, when we went out en masse, to vote in local elections for example.

I truly loved the new bus. It was used, actually, but like the smaller bus, it ran great. It had air brakes, which I loved. It was painted green too. I loved the nearly horizontal steering wheel. I loved the fact that out on Route 88, I had to plan ahead on the turns. At a corner, when you got that big steering wheel going, it had a momentum of its own. When straightening out after a turn, the wheel spun practically of its own volition. You’d not want to let it get away from you. You could jam your thumb if you tried to stop it once that big wheel started going and was centering too fast.

I liked it when I could look up in the mirror, and see the empty cabin behind me, and remember my camp days back in New York, where in the City, we did not have school busses per se, but the regular city bus to go to school. When it came to summer camp though, then we rode on school busses just like the one I was privileged to operate lo so many years later. I’d look in the mirror and imagine I could see the ghost of the child that was me, back then, sitting where I loved to sit, all the way in the back, on the deck beyond the pronounced wells of the rear wheels so I could exaggerate a diving board effect when we hit a bump or a rise, and I could fling myself around on the broad bench seat as if I was on a ride at an amusement park. The reason I liked remembering this way was that I’d come so far in a direction I’d never imagined, and I was doing just exactly what I wanted most of all to be doing. So many years later at New Vrindabana, there I was, in the role of a bus driver.

When a Tour Bus was scheduled to come in and the driver did not want to deal with the Palace Road, our solution was to meet the incoming special commercial highway tour bus, out on Route 88, at an agreed upon time, and execute an orderly transfer of passengers.

We owned the property at the corner of Route 88 and Route 250. There I’d carefully back the big long bus up into the driveway, facing Route 88, and with my eight year old daughter, we’d wait.

Often as not, the incoming driver would zip right by our perching place in his cushy and glittering luxury cruiser with the one way tinted windows and the perpetually gasping air conditioning roaring like a mobile mountain river. We’d be obliged then to start her up, throw her in gear and take off after the incoming tour bus. Route 250 was twisting and hilly, but smooth. In hot pursuit, I’d flash my lights at the bus in front, and invariably, by the time we got to Ma Eddy’s, the driver would see us behind him and pull over. Then we’d do the transfer.

I felt very responsible, carrying these visiting guests. I was extremely careful to drive precisely and professionally. No swerving and no jostling. The fact that I’d be carrying total outsiders not only made me feel extraordinarily responsible for acting just like the best of the Devotees, I also noticed certain deference from the Community along the Palace Road as we passed. The cargo was particularly special; there was no doubt about it.

The bus was in great shape. It ran perfectly. The only problem was that the gas gage was not working, but who ever drove the bus last was under the standing instruction to top off the tank, down at the pump in the lot on the lower terrace at Bahulabhana.

Taking our passengers up to the Palace was also special to me because I got a chance to observe their reaction to the ride, and that was enlivening to me. After living right there for years, and participating in the construction of the Palace, I was in a way, too close to actually see it as others did.

The ride was all hills. It was steep in places, and full of twisting turns. Yours truly drove smoothly and steadily. I could see the passengers looking to the left and the right as we climbed, virtually towards heaven, I thought.

From Ma Eddy’s to Bahulabhana the road was down hill and winding. Coming in from Route 250, you could look out to the left and see the beautiful valley below our ridge. It was magnificent and scenic.

I drove very diligently, and watched our guests in the mirror. To the right at first, you could not see much, but up the driveways there were houses which were also New Vrindabana property. Mixed in were legacy residents, people who lived there before New Vrindabana.

Places like Agni Dhama, Dulal’s, Dharamatma’s and across the way, Loka’s, looked just like regular houses.

I was just proud to be an instrument for the introduction to something as really fine as the New Vrindabana Community back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

After rolling down the straight hill past Dharamatma’s and Sonny Neibergall’s, where Madhava Ghosh lives now, we came to Bahulabhana, and there, clearly, we were looking at a commune. Earlier along the road, the structures were externally non different from any other building along a West Virginia Ridge. Here however, the barn, the four story structure which had an Asram on the top floor, guest rooms on the third floor, offices on the second floor and the Prasadama Hall on the ground floor, the shops, the gardens, and green house, the Devotees, bustling about, the sound of Srila Prabhupada’s lectures coming over the loud speakers, all bespoke a vibrant and thriving dedicated commune environment.

I always took the bus through there at a slow rate so the tourists on board could get a good look. I could see the interest in my passengers as they eagerly swiveled their heads from left to right, like a crowd at a tennis match.

Here were the shops, there the greenhouses, across the road, the big water purification system Jai Maurari Prabhu was putting together. And everywhere, Devotees were waving cheering and greeting. I knew from experience that it might have seemed artificial to our guests; the obvious happiness of the New Vrindabana Community, and I knew too that it was real, that the Devotees are happy, to say the least, and kind. In particular, like me, Devotees were happy to see the manifestation of our plans, of Srila Prabhupada’s Desire: Spreading The Word.

In this instance, they were coming to us. Even in this remote out of the way ridge in the hills of West Virginia, hundreds and hundreds of visitors were coming all the time.

After Bahulabhana, we were climbing again on a winding road. Now once more, the houses on either side looked like ordinary farm houses, but I knew this one to be the Girls’ Asram, that one to be the Older Girls’ Asram, this path the road up to the Motor Vehicle Shop, and so on.

Finally, we’d pop out into a relative clearing, past Mega Mala’s Store, and the environment turned again overtly to that of a Community. You could see the gates which were already in place for our planned theme park. There was the house in which Srila Prabhupada stayed when he visited. On this side, you could see huge bulldozers and a pay loader in action.

Then, just when it looked like we were heading back into the woods at the top of the ridge, we’d come to a turn and an open vista to the right, and there, apparently floating, The Palace of Gold fairly bloomed. It was a sudden blossom, in contrast to not only the farm and country all around, but the difference between what we were about was exquisitely summed in this transcendental and total vision.

There was always a sharp intake of breath from the passengers, and cameras would be clicking like mad.

We’d pull up by the gate, I’d open the swing doors, and the assigned Tour Guide would pop on board to take charge of our guests. They’d file out, eager and excited, and I’d wait to take them back in a few hours. They’d eat at the restaurant, probably; (taking Prasadam) they’d take the tour, and me? I’d meditate on my great good fortune.

One day, on the return run, back to Ma Eddy’s, and the waiting Smooth Highway Tour Bus, like an aircraft carrier, compared to our relatively motley resources, after passing through Bahulabhana, and beginning the climb up by Dharamatma’s, our engine died in the unmistakable way that engines quit when there is only one explanation: Out of gas.

We were on the hill, our momentum carried us a little way on, but I knew we were quite possibly in trouble for when I stabbed at the brakes, without power, there were no brakes.

Our hope then was the hand brake, and my prayer at the time was that somehow, in this world where spacing out was sometimes a problem, the emergency brake would operate.

Who knew? I’d taken Dodge Rama Dasa, our Town Run Vehicle to the Devotee Motor Pool with a problem once, and when Bimbadhara Prabhu could find nothing wrong, he’d advised me to “…just drive it until something falls off and then we’ll know what it is.”

Vahna, the poet who introduced me to Krsna Consciousness, was the one who’d famously stated that the Devotees treated vehicles like paper cups. One look at the yard behind the Motor Pool with the sawed in half chassis, the broken wheels and assorted forlorn vehicle body parts, affirmed that notion.

Now we were going slower and slower up the hill with our precious cargo, with no power and no brakes. Later, I’d be told that I should not have assumed the previous driver had topped off the tank.

From then on I always did first make sure there was plenty of gas when I took out the big green bus, but just then, before we lost it entirely and started to roll backwards, and I was wondering about how I could handle the bus, coming down hill, faster and faster, no doubt, and how important it was to keep it out of the deep ditches on either side of the road, just then, at eight miles an hour, then five, then three, I took that hand brake and pulled it up smartly, fully expecting that it would not work.

But it did work. It halted our progress firmly and positively. I was relieved. My passengers did not seem in the least perturbed. “We’re out of gas,” I announced. Everyone simply smiled and nodded. Was the Krsna Conscious Way permeating these people already? They were quite accepting, I thought.

We made our way back down the hill, using the brake judiciously. At one point, Krpa Maya Prabhu appeared, tapping at the door. Krpa Maya was very involved in the Tourist Program. Anyone would have been concerned, but Krpa Maya Prabhu had a particular interest.

I swung open the doors and Krpa Maya leaped on board. “What’s the matter?” he asked. The alarm and worry were clear on his face.

“Out of gas,” I reported.

Krpa Maya obviously did not like it, but he did not chastise me at that time. Personally, I was overwhelmingly relieved that the hand brake was working.
“We’ll just roll back down to the pump at Bahulabhana,” I said. Krpa Maya nodded and rode with us.

As gingerly as possible I eased our bus down, pulling the brake on, letting it off just a little, keeping us at a very slow rate. Our passengers at no time seemed alarmed in the slightest.

When we were close to Bahulabhana, Krpa Maya jumped off and ran for a can of gas. When we had a little fuel, of course the engine started right up, and I was able to drive, with air brakes restored, right on up to the pumps at Bahulabhana.

As we pulled to a halt, it occurred to me that now our guests were actually in the thick of our community. Here it was not the Palace, but the inner workings. The kitchens, the paths, the cabins, the working temple, the free store all gave our visitors an unexpected transcendental immersion. They seemed to love it. As we gassed up, their cameras clicked like mad and they jumped from one side of the bus to the other.

There came Utamoja Prabhu, nodding, as always, his huge bearded persona swaying as he walked. There on the upper terrace, Kuladri Prabhu was counseling a collection of Devotees from his jeep. Our guests were transfixed.

Suddenly, Jai Murari Prabhu jumped on board. Standing with his back against the windshield he surveyed the cabin of enlivened passengers for a moment. Jai Murari’s intense joy at this scene was palpable to me. I love Jai Murari Prabhu. He guided me in the process of dressing Lord Caitanya: “Watch three times, then I watch you three times, and then you are ready.” With his Indiana Accent, I really liked the way he’d say “Warsh” instead of “Wash.” We’d be ladling cleaning substances over Lord Caitanya, the Deities’ Dressing Room was filled with immaculate Pujaris, the muted sound of sacred mantras, bells ringing intermittently, the Various Deities, Lord Narasingha Deva, Sala Gram Sila, all allowing Themselves to be cared for, and my ears were cocked for Jai Maurai Prabhu’s Transcendental whispered instruction as he guided me, hoping to hear him use that word “Warsh.”

Why was I so fascinated by Jai Murari’s accent? It was because we were all so very different. A city boy who’d been a Science Fiction Writer, a plumber from Indiana, a farmer from California, all from extremely different backgrounds, yet all with the same goal and mood, albeit at different stages.

And then, while the gas was gurgling into that empty tank, Jai Murari Prabhu took it upon himself to jump on board and face our riders. I could see the copious ear hair he sported fairly moving about in the breeze. “Welcome to New Vrindabana!” Jai Murari called out joyfully. He was grinning from ear to fuzzy ear. All the passengers and I grinned right back at that beautiful soul.

“Thank you!” the passengers responded. They were having a great time. After tanking up, we were ready to go in safety and peace. I thought then and now that it was of course, Krsna who pulled the brake for us and saw that it worked.

In those times, Dear Reader, there was scarcely an event or non event that did not lead me to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!

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