The first time I saw Can't Buy Me Love, on USA's “Up All Night,” I fell in love with the other object of Patrick Dempsey's obsession: the beautifully decrepit airplane graveyard in the desert (aka the Air Force's Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson). You might also recognize the site from the music video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' “Learning To Fly.”
My awe and wonder at those ghostly planes came rushing back when I first beheld Egon Kafka's amazing, historic bus yard in Fontana. A museum's worth of vintage buses have been waiting for somebody to scoop them up and place them into exhibits and interactive learning experiences. As Kafka (a distant relative of Franz) told the Washington Post 15 years ago: “They're the iconic transportation artifacts of the 20th century, relics of the machine age, stuck somewhere in space and time between the horse and fusion-driven starships.”
Kafka has long wished to found a nonprofit museum dedicated to the history of the American motor coach, and his 122 buses represent a dream long deferred — a dream that could abruptly end, due to the fact that the city of Fontana has annexed the property that Kafka rents to store the buses. Kafka has been given two weeks to move. If he doesn't get a stay of execution or a new, multi-acre lot (and significant funds to move the buses), many of these historic treasures will be destined for the scrapyard.
Each bus has a history, a full narrative, according to Kafka. There's the Rosa Parks Bus, the one used to christen the “Rosa Parks Freeway” stretch of the 10. There's the 1939 World's Fair Bus of the Future, with its art deco lines. There's the only surviving Fageol Twin Coach “War Bus,” as well as a bus etched with World War II graffiti (soldiers scratched their names into it). Gene Autry would surely cry if he knew that the bus produced in the 1950s exclusively for The Singing Cowboy could soon be gone forever. I would cry to see the destruction of the first of the Big Blue Buses built for Santa Monica by General Motors in the 1950s, or one the last buses built by the now-defunct White Motor Company, or one of just three prototypes of the Mobile Hospital Catastrophe Unit bus built in the 1940s.
These buses — built by White, Mack, FitzJohn, Fageol and countless others — are a large part of the history of transit in Southern California. They carried soldiers from base to base in wartime and helped fight for Civil Rights by integrating the Los Angeles School District. They starred in movies including The Graduate and made a special appearance on I Love Lucy.
“I think there are lessons to be taught by history,” Kafka told L.A. Weekly in 2003. “Just as, if you stare into it, the whole world is reflected in a drop of water, so it seems to me that buses can be a keyhole, a window, a lens onto the century of the internal-combustion engine, and how it pertains to civic responsibility, the common good and everything from Newton to Einstein. People today, especially kids, live in a virtual world; they don’t even hot-rod cars anymore, they hot-rod computers.”