SOUTH PORTLAND — The 1981 school bus has empty yellow sockets where the headlights should be, bald tires and two pieces of duct tape to keep grease from oozing out of a front wheel.

Dick Stewart, whose company towed the bus from where it had been parked Monday night in the Target lot in South Portland, said the dilapidated vehicle, now painted green, is unsafe even to drive away from his lot. When it’s moved, it will have to be towed again.

But that bus brought Corbin Pratt and a group of friends more than 3,000 miles from Oakland, California, to Portland, and for most of that journey rolled along Interstate 80 without getting pulled over or attracting trouble.

Until Monday night, that is, when police were called to Target to have the bus moved.

After learning that police planned to tow the bus, the 29-year-old Pratt ran back on board and hid beneath his mattress, leading to a three-hour confrontation with police. Officers did not believe Pratt had any guns, but couldn’t be sure. He eventually surrendered, was charged with criminal trespassing and ordered to appear in court Dec. 3.

Given the condition of the bus, and that the only “license plate” consisted of numbers written on a piece of cardboard stuck in the back window, Pratt and his friends had amazingly little trouble traversing the country.

“The cops mostly talked to us when we were stopped somewhere. They don’t want to deal with it when it’s moving,” Pratt said Tuesday.

At times, police just moved him and his friends along rather than writing a ticket and impounding the bus, he said.

“Who wants 12 more homeless people in town that will get drunk and ask people for money?” he said.

Pratt and his group usually traveled from about noon till sundown. When they ran out of gas, some of them panhandled while others would circulate through the gas pumps at nearby truck stops, collecting donations of diesel in a five-gallon gas jug.

Pratt’s cross-country trip was made possible through a little-known California law that allows a vehicle owner to get a “one-trip permit” that can be used to move an unregistered vehicle from one place to another. It is sometimes used by new or used car dealers to relocate inventory, but also can be used for moving vehicles into or out of California, according to the California Vehicle Code, section 4003.

Pratt got the permit to move the bus from one storage location to another: Oakland to Portland. When presented with the permit along the way, law enforcement officers typically were at a loss on what to do – and moved him along, he said.

“We were stopped in New Hampshire and the cop said, ‘I don’t even know what to do with this,’ ” Pratt said.

Pratt grew up in Wichita, Kansas, before moving to Los Angeles. He started roaming in 2005, hitchhiking, jumping trains, living out of his backpack and taking temporary jobs.

Dreadlocks held in check by a bandanna, Pratt isn’t bashful about his countercultural existence: a nomadic lifestyle, drug use and legal infractions.

“I just go with the flow,” said Pratt, who hot-wires the bus to start it because he lost the keys while doing hallucinogenic drugs.

He worked as a medical marijuana farmhand last year in California, but after the season ended he couldn’t get an apartment because he had “horrible credit and no rental history.”

He has had encounters with the law before his confrontation with South Portland police. Last winter, while in California, he got drunk after totaling his car, was ordered to leave an Indian restaurant and soon found himself arrested on a charge of resisting arrest. He spent 45 days in jail on the misdemeanor conviction.

When he got out, he decided to use the $3,700 he received for his totaled Volkswagen to buy an old school bus and turn it into his home. He found one on Craigslist in Eugene, Oregon, and bought it for $2,000 on May 3. Asked how many miles the bus has on it, Pratt replied, “I have no clue.”

He and his friends set out from California headed east to Portland on July 1. Why Portland? “I’ve never been here. It just was the farthest away I could get from California,” he said, adding that the medical marijuana scene there had become too cutthroat.

After a counterculture get-together in Utah called a “rainbow gathering,” the bus was pulled over by the Utah Highway Patrol. Police deposited them in a tiny town and told them not to try to drive off in the bus. But when the local police chief learned they had no money, he gave them 5 gallons of diesel and, because it was dark, lit the way with his cruiser, driving ahead of the bus for more than 40 miles to the Wyoming state line.

Once in Wyoming, Pratt had a falling out with his traveling companions over beer, he said. They preferred low-priced, high alcohol content, while he favored microbrews. They soon parted ways.

Pratt arrived in Maine on Aug. 15, and has been living in the bus with other friends he met, working as a dishwasher. For a time, the bus was parked on Fore Street until Portland police told him it smelled like urine and he had to move it. He parked in the dirt lot at the northeast end of Commercial Street for a time, until faced with a quandary: City parking enforcement told him he had to move, but police told him he wasn’t allowed to drive the unregistered, uninspected, unsafe vehicle.

He managed to slip away and parked the bus at the Falmouth Wal-Mart.

Pratt spent six weeks there. His “crew” as he calls them, had moved along at that point. Chris Kidder, who had met Pratt when the bus was parked in Portland, then joined him on board. Kidder tries to earn money by offering free hugs in Portland’s Old Port.

When Wal-Mart management told them to move, Pratt drove to the Scarborough Wal-Mart. That lasted a week. He moved to the Target store off Running Hill Road, but lasted only a few hours there before store management called police and asked to have the bus removed.

Pratt was a little surprised that his confrontation with police Monday night ended peacefully. He fully expected officers to come charging on the bus with tasers to take him into custody, he said.

Instead, police offered to bring Pratt to the Oxford Street emergency shelter in Portland. However, he didn’t stay there, opting to sleep in the doorway of a business downtown until Portland police discovered him and told him to move along.

Pratt’s younger sister, Caitlyn Pratt, who lives in Texas, said family members are sometimes worried about her brother’s carefree lifestyle.

“Corbin always marched to the beat of his own drum. He’s always been an interesting guy,” she said, agreeing that the standoff in South Portland could have ended much worse.

“I think he’s going to give our poor mother an ulcer,” she said. The bus as homestead doesn’t really surprise her. Their grandfather has an old bus parked on his farm in Iowa, she said.

Pratt plans to get his bus back as soon as he has a place he can park it, paying for the towing and storage with money he had set aside for a wood stove to heat the bus this winter.

The interior of the bus has a recliner and another overstuffed chair as well as a mattress. Eventually, Pratt plans to remove the rest of the windows and cover them with sheet metal. He’s confident it will see the road again.

“If I maintain it,” he said, “I’ve got another million miles on that bus.”