"The Beast" has a new big brother.
"The Beast" is the nickname for the hulking limousine that carries the leader of the free world. Next to the new bus that the Secret Service debuted today for President Obama's Midwestern tour, though, the Beast looks downright puny.
When Air Force One arrived in Saint Paul, Minn., the vehicle was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. It has pitch black windows, Washington, D.C. tags, and communications equipment sprouting off the top like weeds.
Call it "Beast Bus,"or perhaps, "Mega-Beast."
"We have had a demonstrated need for this for some time," says Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan. "We've had protectees — presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates — that have participated in bus tours since 1980."
In the past, those tours were a big headache for the Service. The process started with a commercial tour bus and a renovation process that put the old TV show Pimp My Ride to shame.
"It was extremely expensive to lease one of these buses and then put in proper armoring, proper communications equipment," says former Secret Service Director Ralph Basham, who's now with Command Consulting Group. "And then at the end of the contract you had to restore these buses back to their original state."
This year the Secret Service finally decided to build two specialized buses from the ground up. For gearheads and car junkies, these vehicles are objects to fetishize. Nearly every part of a presidential vehicle is built from scratch, says Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service.
"Doors, for example, are five inches thick. The windows are totally bulletproof. It has its own supply of oxygen, tires that can't be punctured with a bullet."
The drivers require a specialized license from the DMV to operate a bus, along with some other training that's unique to the Secret Service.
"Agents will be taught to back up at very high rates of speed using just the mirrors on either side," says Kessler. "It really takes guts to do that."
White House spokesman Jay Carney seems like a fan.
"The president needs to get out in the country and meet with real folks in real places," he told reporters aboard the Air Force One flight to Minnesota. "And as you know, a plane this size is hard to get into small communities."