Boulder is full of the intense, the extreme, the committed. People who climb the highest mountains and kayak the most dangerous rivers. People who jump the biggest cliff and grapple with remote rock faces. In this swirling milieu of the hardcore it’s easy to overlook John Georgis. Georgis, you see, is like you and me. Only he’s different. He’s figured out that the biggest adventure is life. And by embracing that simple philosophy, he’s figured out how to have fun each and every day.
Georgis is smiling. He’s not a morning person, but he’s up early today, drinking coffee as the sun glints off the hood of an unlikely chariot. Outside his lower Chautauqua home, hogging nearly half a block of parking spots, sits the most visible manifestation of the Georgis philosophy that each moment can be an adventure.
The bus is hard to miss. It features an inline six turbocharged diesel engine that puts out 185 horsepower. Coupled with an Allison transmission, the powerplant puts out, according to Georgis, “tons of torque.” It averages eight miles per gallon. And it was purchased on eBay. It’s former tour of duty as a school bus is evident, but the bus has become so much more than that. The seating now consists of plush living room chairs while the roof is wood and wood siding has been added for a rustic cabin effect. If you’ve spent any time in Boulder at all, you’ve seen it. After all, Banjo Billy — as Georgis goes by when he’s driving the bus — and his bus are hard to miss.
Georgis started Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours in 2005 when he purchased his first bus, a 1994 International on eBay.
“I had a bad day at work,” says the former cubicle-dweller, who enjoyed a successful sales career at Equifax prior to what many would see as a moment of temporary insanity when he placed the winning bid for the bus on the online auction site. “And I thought if I’m going to do it, I’d better do it now.”
However, the “do it now” part of the equation had been gestating in Georgis for a while.
“I came up with this idea when I was floating in the ocean,” he admits. “I had saved $25,000 to travel around the world for a year, and was swimming in the ocean in Indonesia, just floating there at night.”
The idea would gnaw at him, until he succumbed. “We all have ideas,” says Georgis. “You can think about it and go for it, or you can play it safe and never go for it. It’s a choice not to do it, and there’s always a good chance you will fail. Everybody has ideas; maybe you want to do an Ironman? Who knows where those ideas come from, but once they are there, you can either ignore them or do them. It’s about, what are you going to do with your life? And until you put some skin in the game, you’re not going to do it. Buying the bus said I was going down this path.”
Georgis also had other reasons for taking the road less traveled. He was passionate about Colorado and the mountains. And he loved to ski.
“I wanted to be able to ski all winter,” he admits of the idea that became the bus that became Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours. “All my jobs have been about staying in Colorado and skiing.”
And like a BASE jumper leaping off a cliff, Georgis dove into the bus adventure headfirst.
“I had no idea what I’m doing when I buy the bus,” Georgis says and laughs. “The one thing I knew about school busses was that they had short little roofs for the little kids, so I know I need to cut the top off to accommodate adults, and to enlarge the windows, and I know that I need to buy an old school bus because they are cheap.”
He laughs again, “I had never driven a bus, didn’t know what to look for and got lucky buying the right type of bus, and not one that was manufactured in Brazil. I brought it home and then had no idea how to build it.”
“I quit my job to drive it out here, got it home and my first thought was, ‘Wow! What am I doing with this?’ I called my girlfriend at the time, and it was a crazy conversation, I was freaking out a bit, and the bus was huge and I was a bit overwhelmed, and I couldn’t quit thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this?!’” Fortunately, fate would befriend the bold — as it
often does those who take the more adventurous path.
“I walked out of the house one day and there was an orange jalopy of an old Mercedes blocking my driveway, and this old hippy guy standing there looking at the bus,” says Georgis.
The ensuing conversation would prove enlightening.
“He said to me, ‘Hey dude, what are you going to do with the bus?’” recalls Georgis. “I said I wanted to make it look like a log cabin and he looked at me and said, ‘Cool, do you know how to weld?” I had to admit that I did not, and then he asked me if I knew anything about busses, and I had to say ‘no’ again!” Georgis laughs. “Then the guy introduced himself. His name was Will and he told me that he’d been a welder for five years and had cut the tops off of two busses. He showed up out of nowhere.”
With the help of Will, along with friends who helped scavenge materials (the siding for the first bus was sourced from an old fence owned by the mother of his girlfriend at the time) it took Georgis 90 days to build his first bus, and Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours was in business.
“The first year was fun,” says Georgis. “You have the excitement and it’s new. But year two it really tested me. We didn’t know when to do tours. I hired some people at the start, and they didn’t work out. But the third year got much easier, everyone we hired was over 40, and their maturity really helped — 2007 was great, we expanded to Denver 2008, that was difficult, but not as hard as 2006, and in 2010 it blew up. It has been a lot easier since.”
“The funny thing is there was the hostel down the street [on The Hill] and I was dropping off some brochures my first year and met a guy from India who was staying there, he told me that the second year you will want to give up, and he said, ‘Don’t give up. It is just testing you.’ He really made an impact, and he was right. I don’t know how he knew.”
“My employees have all been with me for long periods of time,” adds Georgis of his current team. “We have had one new employee in the last three years.
They do it because they like it; none of them do it because they have to. We’re all old enough to realize what is important, and it’s lifestyle. The funny thing is, when I came up with this idea when I was floating in the ocean, I was thinking, ‘I want to do something where I can ski a lot.’” Georgis laughs, sits back and looks out the window. The bus is there, the open road of life is calling, adventure waits around every bend. He looks at the bus and takes a sip of coffee as the morning light flits through the trees and imparts one last sliver of wisdom, the driving force behind the bus, and the fuel for a life of adventure.
“The choice is do what you want to do, or to not do what you want to do,” says Georgis. “That’s not a choice at all.”