chapter 39 – the empire strikes backJack scrambled back onto the bus and pulled his duffle bag out from under the seat. He dug in and found the bag of magic beans at the bottom. Then, Jack grabbed a magic marker and jumped back off the bus. He found a piece of plywood leaning against the old boarded up gas station and wrote these words:
Magic Ragbrai Beans $500
Without taking time to explain, Jack asked Kelby to help him, and they ran with the sign up the steep embankment to the interstate and propped it up on the bridge railing so that traffic could see it.
As Jack and Kelby turned to climb back down the embankment, they heard a horn honking and saw a pickup towing a camper flash by on the highway. The driver hit the brakes hard and pulled onto the exit ramp just in time while Jack and Kelby made their way down to the abandoned gas station parking lot
where Kelby’s stranded Short Bus passengers waited.
At first, Jack wasn’t sure what to make of the pickup truck and camper rolling slowly toward them in the parking lot. He saw the Texas license plate on the truck and could barely see past the glare on the windshield to make out the Texas-sized grin on the driver’s face, but Kelby was already laughing and shaking his head.
The truck came to a stop, and a young man wearing black horn-rimmed glasses and a child’s straw cowboy hat stepped out onto the running board proclaiming,
“I’m Mayor Dean G. L. Berry, mayor of Ragbee! Vote for me … I did! Welcome to Iowa. Here’s your ham!” He went on like this for a while longer as others climbed out of the truck behind him.
Based on the hugs and backslaps, Jack could see that everyone in Kelby’s group seemed to already know the new arrivals, and eventually, Jack was introduced to
Bowlingball, his wife Trixie, Roger, Choi, and Mike.
Roger said, “We saw two hooligans putting up a sign about magic beans and then at the last second, we recognized Kelby. We had to stop to see what you guys were up to.”
“We were going way too fast for that exit ramp,” added Trixie. “We almost went into the ditch.”
“I had it under control the whole time!” exclaimed Bowlingball. “I’m thinking about taking the rig back up there to try it again a little faster. Trixie, get my blindfold!”
Then, there was a pause as all eyes shifted to the other vehicle in the parking lot. “Nice bus,” said Bowlingball. “Why are you parked here? Ragbee’s that-a-way.”
“We’ve got a flat and no spare,” said Kelby. “We don’t even have the tools to change it.”
“Well, I’ve got the tools, but our spares won’t fit your bus,” said Bowlingball.
Roger stepped forward. “We’re just a few miles from Missouri Valley. I used to live there, and I know where we can get it fixed. We can use Bowlingball’s tools to take off the flat, and we’ll drive it up to town and get it fixed. Then we’ll bring it back and you’ll be set.”
“That sounds like a plan,” said Kelby, and within minutes they were breaking the lug nuts loose and jacking up the bus. A few minutes more was all it took for the flat tire to be taken off of the bus and loaded into the camper.
Everything was going smoothly, but before Bowlingball and his group got in the truck to leave, Jack noticed a sinister-looking full-sized school bus making its way down the exit ramp toward the parking lot.
The bus was painted black and had tinted windows that hid what was inside. Words in imposing capital letters were etched across the side of the bus.
RAGBRAI SPECIAL COLLECTIONS BRANCH
to be continued...[a serial by little orphan dbax]