A yellow school bus sits gutted, propped up on wooden blocks at a shop in Guatemala, more than a thousand miles from its former life. Black spray paint barely obscures the name of the school district it used to serve.
It is one of several aging buses that have rolled in from across the United States to the shop on the outskirts of Antigua. The shop’s owner, Alejandro Mejia, makes a living giving the old American school buses a makeover and a new start as mass transportation.
To prepare the buses to join Guatemala’s transit system, Mejia chops off several feet from the back so they’re lighter and more nimble on the country’s steep terrain and raises their suspension so they have more clearance on the uneven streets. Then he does away with the federally mandated school-bus yellow and gives them a paint job – a range of bright green, red and blue – depending on the new owner’s taste. After four or five weeks, his work is complete, and he puts on the finishing touch: a new name – Esmeralda, Evelyn or Primorosa, perhaps.
There’s no requirement for how the buses are painted. “Each owner has his own style,” Mejia said.