When Elvis Costello asks, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?” I say it’s the vehicles. I mean, who wouldn’t smile at the sight of a converted school bus covered in flowers? Who wouldn’t snicker at the boring sedan with the Jackson Pollock paint job? That’s why I love seeing a ramshackle old van held together with bailing wire and bumper stickers. Not only do these vehicles become a canvas for artistic expression, but also a means for connecting with your tribe. Especially if you’re a Deadhead.
The Grateful Dead is well-represented in my neighborhood and that’s how I like it. My experience of the band is limited by comparison, but I did have the new Warner Bros. GH album when I was 14. Also “American Beauty,” “Workingman’s Dead,” and “Europe ’72” when I was in college. I saw them play once in Seattle just before Jerry died. Not a good show, but a great experience.
I think the 2-gen Dodge Ram Van is owned by a guy in his 60s who can actually remember the ’60s. In addition to the lightning-bolt spare, the rear panel is festooned with bumper stickers and messages. “Box of Rain” is visible in the upper right, along with various references to sasquatch and the “flying eye.” One sticker recalls the words of Chief Sealth (for whom Seattle was named): “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.” Dr. Seuss is quoted over the barn doors on the passenger side: “Oh, the Places We’ll Go!” There is no doubt this Ram Van decamped to many a Dead show, from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah…
Just up the street is a converted schoolie that is being used as a tiny home. A cold, tiny, home. The Thomas-built bus has a chimney coming out of a passenger side window and a picture of Uncle Jerry in the window. Tie-dyed curtains and various wind-chimes round out the tableau. Not much to say about this schoolie except yes, that is a classic early Firebird being worked on in the background. Photobomb Alert!
At the end of my alley is another conversion. The GMC started out life as a “short bus,” but is now being used a portable art school. The paint job evokes the sort of “purple mountains majesty” you would expect from the Artshadow Workshop. This schoolie has a dying battery in its smoke detector, which terrifies my little dog whenever we walk past it. I guess that annoying “chirp” reminds her of when our own alarms have gone off in the house. I say get over it, Freddie.
Finally there is this blank canvas, a 3-gen Mitsubishi Express van. No stickers, no super-graphics, no paint job. A friend of mine said he rented one of these in Australia and drove it across the outback. Said it took a terrible beating but was dead-reliable. It probably won’t be long before someone grabs this little guy for a trip to Burning Man or the Gorge. Don’t forget the cooler.