While strolling the downtown streets of Bellingham, one may come across an old, white bus sitting on the street with the loud hum of music and flashing lights coming from inside. This is no ordinary bus. Bee Bee Metropol may look bland from the outside, but a different world emerges when the door opens. Completed with pillows, curtains and colorful lights, this bus houses a long, red couch that surrounds a small table, while lights on the ceiling periodically flash different colors.
Bellingham resident Wayne Hagan has been the proud owner of Bee Bee Metropol for the past five years.
“The design is geared for people to sit around and have a conversation,” Hagan said.
The bus began it’s life as a Seattle Metro handicap bus before being repurposed as a caravan by Hagan. His original plan was to buy a school bus to refurbish and live in while at Burning Man. However, when a friend of his was selling the old metro bus for a $1,000, he decided to buy it instead.
At Burning Man, which takes place at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, vehicles cannot move for the duration of the festival after they have been parked, unless they are given special clearance or are staff vehicles. Moving creates too much dust, so he needed the bus to function even when parked and turned off, Hagen said.
Hagan’s bus runs on biodiesel and has solar panels that generate 180 watts of electricity that charge three batteries, which fit under the couch. These batteries supply energy to the bus when it is parked for extended periods of time, like at the Burning Man festival, Hagan said.
“It was something people would come up upon and peek their heads in like, ‘What’s this weird bus doing out here? It just looks so normal’. Then they would see the inside and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
The bus’ interior lighting and seating areas have become something of an art piece.
“Everything comes alive,” Hagan said about the interior ceiling, which is covered in glow paint.
Hagan entered his bus as an art piece at Burning Man, he said. At the festival, certain vehicles called “mutant vehicles” are altered on the outside to be considered art and are given a special status that allows them to drive around the festival.
“It was something people would come up upon and peek their heads in like, ‘What’s this weird bus doing out here? It just looks so normal,’” Hagan said. “Then they would see the inside and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
To make a living, Hagan consults for Boeing as a design technologist for 787 airplanes.
Hagan’s friend Harold Niven said Hagan takes what he learns from working for Boeing and puts it into the bus. Niven has watched the bus grow and change over the years and likes to call it the magic bus.
“The thing that makes it most intriguing is how people will walk on the bus and they’ll go into a different realm,” Niven said.
Working on and refurbishing cars is nothing new to Hagan. He started when he was a kid alongside his dad, who would bring cars home and fix them. When he turned fourteen, he worked on his first engine. He has done most of the work on the bus by himself, Hagen said.
For his next project, Hagan wants to keep the creative process going so he doesn’t become bored.
“I’ve been giving thought about collaborating and getting a solid [base vehicle frame], another shuttle bus or maybe a trailer, because then we don’t have to deal with a mechanical vehicle,” Hagan said.
Hagan still drives the bus around Bellingham looking for a good place to park and let people in.
Hagan has met a lot of people by doing this, including former Bellingham mayor Dan Pike and Tom Robbins, who was Hagan’s favorite author when he was in college. Pike has been on the bus at an art walk and a Halloween party, Hagan said. Robbins came up to Bellingham with a relative, and while passing by the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, came about Hagan’s bus which was parked right outside, Hagan said.
Once, a couple of women in their 80s boarded the bus and met each other for the first time, Hagan said. A couple of weeks later, he was out getting coffee and happened to meet these women again, who had maintained their friendship since meeting on the bus.
When everyone leaves the bus, the doors close and Hagan drives away. Going down the street, the vehicle looks like a normal bus. People walk past, unaware of the colorful world that lies within.