The Plot Thickens: The Beached Burning Man Bus in Nevada has a Cinematic Past

Not quite a year ago, a crippled 60-foot Muni articulated bus was hauled to Smith & Tobey 24-hour Towing. Muni buses break down all the time — but this was different. Smith & Tobey is in Wadsworth, Nev., 250 miles from the nearest Muni diesel repair facility.

The bus, says proprietor-turned-bus-landlord Carmen Tobey, was dropped on his property “shortly after Burning Man,” where it served as the “PlayaPillar.” It is now shortly before Burning Man again, and the bus rests there still (Tobey can't recall how many times its San Francisco owner has re-upped the $100-a-month rent, but this was originally slated to be a 30-day deal).

In the past week and change, cars full of people Tobey and his wife, Madge, presume are ferrying Burning Man-types — “They're completely packed and very dusty,” she says — have started disgorging their passengers in front of the white-and-orange bus for photo opportunities.

A snapshot of a San Francisco bus still bearing its 14-Mission marquee incongruously ditched in a remote Nevada Indian reservation is worth taking. But there's even more here than meets the eye. This is, perhaps quite literally, a movie star gone to seed.

Muni knew little about Bus No. 6090 other than that it was sold to an unknown buyer in the late 1980s. But Tobey says its owner, whom he has never met and whose name he cannot recall, made an offhand reference about the bus's star turn in the film The Italian Job (a claim also made on

That forgettable 2003 movie starred Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton, but was, essentially, an excuse for the aforementioned stars' stunt doubles to zip around in Mini Coopers. And, sure enough, during one of many chase scenes, there it is: an orange-and-white articulated bus being towed through a parking garage, forcing Wahlberg to swerve his Mini.

While the bus's 15 minutes required its distinctive Muni “worm” insignia and vehicle number to be whited-over, the same Microsoft ad is visible on the left side of both the movie bus and the decomposing Nevada bus. Certainly the vehicle has aged no worse than The Italian Job.

Tobey says the bus's rent is paid up through the end of September. And if its owner wants to move it beforehand — he's supposedly hired a mechanic in nearby Fernley, Nev. — Tobey pledges he'll refund the difference. If and when that day comes, he'll have mixed feelings.

“Yes,” Tobey says with a laugh, “I will miss it.”

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