Covid in California: The REAL Magic School Bus, featuring Meeka, Cally, and Ron

March 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Once you become a school bus driver…all your problems are behind you! Just ask the proud owners of this "house on wheels"!

I came across this bright yellow bus when I was walking back from a photo shoot (once again, thank you fate and spontaneity).

Not only did the color of the bus strike my attention, as it was in the parking lot of a residential apartment complex with no school in sight, but I also had to do a double take because I saw a dog behind the wheel in the driver’s seat. Say what!

At first, I thought I was a) dreaming or b) that the dog was a statue or stuffed animal, and that someone was playing a joke on me. Ha. The joke was on me, because neither of those things were true. In fact, as soon as I busted out my iPhone to take a little behind the scenes video of this encounter, the dog tilted it's head and started barking (aka talking to me), which quickly resulted in me figuring out that this was a REAL LIVING DOG.

Seconds later, a human by the name of Ron, popped his head up out of one of the bus windows.

 Everything was much clearer now…Meeka (the dog) doesn't own the bus, but she is the driver!

Before I get into this exciting feature, let's first rewind to childhood for a second, since we are in fact talking about a bright yellow school bus.

Does anyone remember the mid-90’s series, “The Magic School Bus”?! I sure do. As a matter of fact, it was a pivotal part of my book collection back in the day.

The best-selling Scholastic book series follows Ms. Frizzle and her class as they set off on field trips. Ms. Frizzle takes kids on a virtual bus ride full of adventures, magically transforming the vehicle into a plane, submarine, spaceship or surfboard, while still managing to teach science. Cool teacher alert! Oh, and she has red hair. Can you see why I liked these books?

As soon as I started conversing with Ron, I realized how cool this was and asked if he would mind if I took a few photos of Meeka (the four legged bus driver) and the bus. After all, this story was TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL, and I needed to feature them on Covid in California.

Meet Cally & Ron Trandell, aka the new Ms. Frizzle — this couple’s Covid-19 story is full of creativity, love, and passion for travel…a few of my favorite things! The Trandells are truly making MAGIC happen inside this bus and I can't wait to take the "after" photos once this Covid-19 job is complete!

See below for my interview with them:

RR: How has Covid-19 impacted you personally?

C&R: "Honestly, Covid has made us realize even more how grateful we are for the friendships and amazing experiences we have had in our lives thus far. More than anything, it has lit a fire in our souls again to take risks and do the things that make us happy in life because life is short, and all of it can change in an instant."
RR: Did you or anyone you know get Covid-19?

C&R: "Quite a few of our friends and family members have already gotten Covid, and a few of them are still battling the long-term side effects."

RR: What specifically changed your personal / professional life during this time? I.E. what daily routine did you have to adjust?

C&R: "Our lives have completely changed since Covid began. Originally, we were living in Michigan in our own home. We were getting ready to sell our home, and we were looking for another adventure. Ron applied for a job in California on a whim, and a month later, we were packing up everything and moving to California. We have both been through a few professional life changes since last March."

C: "Professionally Ron has been working in different aspects of heating and cooling throughout the Pandemic. I have been transitioning from being unemployed to working at home and now starting a new job as an activity assistant for Senior Living. Once we moved to California, Ron began working in the Heating and Cooling industry again, and I was stuck home every day by myself job searching. Being so far away from family and friends and not interacting with others in California to build a new support system and friendship circle here took a huge toll on my mental health. In November, I began hiking around 15-25 a week, and I fell in love with nature and myself all over again. Spending time in nature and connecting with the mountains and the ocean allowed me to grow personally more than I ever imagined."

C&R: "A few months ago, we decided that we would make another huge life change and convert a school bus into our home on wheels. We knew international travel was on the back burner for a while with so many unknowns due to the Pandemic. Also, with the cost of housing in California, realistically, we didn’t know if we could afford to stay here. We love to travel, and at this point, building out a tiny home on wheels is the best way to satisfy our craving for adventure and have a little bit of stability at the same time."

RR: Is there a story behind your mask?
C: "Before we moved to California, Ron’s mom made us about 8 different masks, all hand-made so that we would be stocked up to stay safe!"
RR: What do you miss most about life before Covid-19?
C: "For me, I miss interacting with people in general and making new friends. I also miss spending time with my family. Both Ron and I also just miss the simplicity of being able to go out to the bar after a long day of work and just hang out together and have a drink or grab some food."
RR: What has Covid-19 made you grateful for?

C: "Covid has made me grateful for the alone time I have had with myself and my own thoughts this year that has ultimately helped shape me into a more secure and confident woman. I have had more time alone with myself and my thoughts this last year than I have probably had in the last 10 years. I used this time to face many of my inner demons head-on and improve my mental health. Time alone with your own thoughts can be terrifying, but it has given me such an amazing chance to grow as a person and finally be confident with who I am."

RR: What has been the biggest challenge for you during this time?

C:"Honestly, job searching. I have wanted to work at an in-person job since we moved to California, but it has been tough to find a job during Covid. I can’t tell you how many jobs I applied for when we first moved here before deciding to take a work-from-home job. But then being by myself day after day really took a toll on me. Thankfully, I just started a new job as an activity assistant for Senior Living, and I am so happy to be back in the world and helping others!"
RR: What are you most excited for when things return to “normal”?

C&R: "We are both most excited to travel back home to Michigan to see family and friends safely!"

RR: Does your bus have a name?

C: "So far, we have not been able to make a final decision on our bus's name. We feel like she needs a name to properly suit her, but we still haven't decided. We are open to recommendations for names! Right now, we are hoping to complete the build by the end of June because that is when our lease is up. We have had the bus for about a month now and have a crazy long way to go to get her finished by June. With that being said, even if she isn't fully finished by the end of June, we still plan on moving into her and just finish the build while we are living there to save money. Right now, we love the area, and once we move into the bus, we still plan to stay in the area for a little longer so we can both keep our jobs and work to save up money before we travel."

RR: Do you have a timeline for how long it'll take to complete, what you anticipate it looking like, the features inside and out?

C: "Honestly, we are just taking the bus build one step and one decision at a time. We know that we will be painting the outside of the bus, but we are not sure what color. As far as the insides go, it will have many of the features of a regular home, just smaller! Our solar panels on our roof will be enough to power a few small lights inside, our fridge, vent van, water pump, and charge our electronics. Our elevated bed will be in the back of the bus, and we are going to build a frame a few feet off the floor to have storage space underneath the bed. Having the bed in the back of the bus will allow us to open our handicap accessible door and have outdoor access right from our "bedroom". We will also have a bathroom that includes a hot water shower and a compostable toilet."

C: "Since we are originally from Michigan, we wanted to make sure we could take the bus back home and still be warm, so we will be including a diesel-powered heater in the bus along with a rooftop AC unit so we can transition from a California summer to a Michigan winter. For our kitchen, we would like to have a deep sink to do all of the dishes, along with a camp stove that will give us 2-3 burners and a small oven space powered by propane to cook and bake. That is one thing I was not willing to give up because I love cooking healthy meals and then treats for dessert!"

C: "To accommodate any extra company, if we have any, our couch will convert into a bed for extra sleeping space. We will have a removable table to put in front of the couch to eat, play board games, and work.  Overall we have certain things we are unwilling to budge on, but we are still flexible with how the overall bus will turn out.  We are not sure how we want the final style to be on the inside, but we would like to incorporate some of our previous travels and adventures into our build. We figure we will find inspiration for our build along the way!"

RR: What are some of your "must have" items that will be coming along with you in this bus?

C: "Some of our 'must-have' items that will be coming along with us on the bus include; Meeka's Toy Box and dog bed, Ron's surfboard and violin, and my yoga mat, rock tumbler, and jewelry making supplies to make my sea glass jewelry, as well as a decent assortment of our favorite board games and hiking and camping gear. And of course, all of our needed electronics like laptops, phones, cameras, etc."

C: "We still aren't completely sure what life on the road will look like.  We would like to transition to doing things we truly love to make money on the road, and we are still exploring ideas. But we also have the option for Ron to work at various locations along the way since help in the heating and cooling industry is always in high demand. To do this, we will be building a few metal storage boxes underneath the bus that you can pull out like a drawer, where Ron can store all of his tools he would need for work.  Having access to tools like this will allow us to stay in one location for a few months and explore the area while working."

RR: What's the gas mileage like for this magic school bus?

C: "As far as mileage goes, yes, we were told that the bus gets between 10-14 mpg, but once we have the whole bus built, this might change depending on how much the bus weighs. I wish we could share more quirks about her, but we haven't been with her long enough yet to know of any! ...Oh, wait! When we first got her, I was driving her home from just east of LA. There was a problem with the emergency brake alarm. There was an extremely loud beeping I had to deal with the whole way home during LA rush hour traffic. Not to mention all of the loud road noises, especially from the handicap lift rattling around in the back. I was completely terrified driving her home for the first time, but I was oddly at peace even with all of the beeping, road noise, and traffic. Thankfully, Ron was able to play around with the wires and figure out the problem a few days later."

RR: Most important question: How did you get the bus and were you specifically looking for it? 

C: "As far as how we got the bus, we had started seriously looking for buses in December, and we found a few good contenders, but nothing felt like it was meant to be.  We knew we didn't want a full-size bus, but we also knew that a van would be too small."

C: "A week before we found our bus, we had found a good bus in Texas that we were thinking about taking the 21-hour drive out to take a look at it, but I ended up backing out because I got nervous. Ron was getting impatient with me because I just kept saying, 'we will just know when it's right.' The next week on a Sunday morning, we were looking for buses on the Facebook marketplace and found a short bus that looked appealing. It was listed from a private dealer, and we made the drive out to just East of LA to look at the bus that day. Unfortunately, the bus had more miles on it than we were comfortable with, but the seller had many buses for us to look at. We decided on the bus we have now because the bus was a bit taller inside, which gave us more standing room, there were no wheel wells to deal with inside, and it seemed to be in pretty good shape. And honestly, it really did just feel right. We put a downpayment down on the spot and drove back to pick her up the next weekend!"

FUN FACT: Ron and Cally are Ron are trying to be partially eco friendly for the build and use second hand materials. They have already gone around to second hand stores to try to find a good sink and cabinets for their kitchen. Cally relays, "I saw someone throw out the old wood slotted collapsible bed frame by the trash a few weeks ago, so I picked them up because the wood was in perfectly good shape and I figured I could use the wood for a bus project rather than it going in a landfill! We know that because of our time constraints we won’t have the time we want to be able to find everything second hand, but we are at least trying to be creative and save money where we can along with being sustainable!"
Anyone want to take a ride in this COOL SCHOOL BUS? I know I do!

Thank you, Ron and Cally, for your creative and inspiring Covid in California story. And tell Meeka that I will be bringing her treats next time I see her!

To keep up with the Trandell's progress on the bus, check out Cally's instagram: @littlebackpackbigdreams

If you or anyone you know would like to be featured, please direct message me on social media or shoot me an email - I’d love to share your story with the world! 🌎 

And, if you haven't done so already, please follow along this journey with me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter - and share it with your community! The whole point of this project is to connect humans during a time of so much uncertainty.


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