How Breakdowns Make the Trip Better

Planning and preparation have always been second nature to me, and I was always very careful to get my bus into the best shape possible prior to leaving San Francisco, but I noticed that some drivers didn't mind if their bus had minor issues on the road. They had a rule for this:

"Breakdowns are good for the trip"

At first I thought they were just being lazy about prep, but after I had a few mechanical issues of my own I realized there was some wisdom at work; upsetting the status quo wakes people up.

Crossing the country is a long, slow process on a bus, and going 65 MPH on the freeway starts to feel like standing still when you are crossing The Great Plains. Blow a tire or clog your fuel filters though, and suddenly you are standing still, perhaps by the side of the freeway, or in some strange town in the middle of nowhere. It's at that point that the size of America slaps you in the face. Suddenly that dinner stop by the river doesn't seem to be a guarantee, and perhaps we'll have to figure something else out. Now we're really dependent on one another for our survival. Things are suddenly more urgent and your body gears up to deal with this threat. The adrenalin starts flowing and you feel more alive.

Whenever issues arose on the bus we found a way to deal with them and get the trip back on track, but the fact that the breakdown happened changed the tone of the trip from that point onward — we had faced a challenge and survived and it made the experience more meaningful for everyone. There was a perverse kind of enjoyment that came from fixing things that broke out on the road.

Engineering Breakdowns

Sometimes breakdowns weren't exactly accidental. Most of the Green Tortoise busses had a bag of musical instruments under one of the front seats, but they rarely came out because the bus had a tape deck and speakers. Why make your own music when professionals can do it so much better? I have seen drivers surreptitiously disable their tape deck during the trip to get people out of the "zone out to music and stare out the window" mode. When the groups says, "Oh no — what are we going to do now?!" the answer is to pull out the instruments. The trip will suddenly take off in a whole new direction.

Looking for Trouble?

I'm not going to say that I love it when the project I'm working on suddenly goes off track and gets stuck in the mud, because I don't. I like thinking through a good plan and sticking to it because that's almost always the best way to approach any undertaking. It's when the detours happen that I find my old experience kicking in and I notice the difference between my reaction and many other people's. I've had my transmission come apart in South Dakota and I've put it back together by the side of the road. I've swapped bus tires on and off their rims in the middle of the night beside the road in Mexico without the proper tools. I've leaned from experience that if a good team can work through breakdowns like that then they can certainly overcome a change in project scope and schedule.

Journeys that suffer breakdowns are often the ones that teach you the most and leave the strongest memories. That's a big part of what keeps working fun for me, because when it all goes according to plan things can get a little boring.