Benson’s Chuckle – who said no one rides for free?

The bus arrives just in time. Many people who have had a chance to see and spend an evening in the innocuous white whale of a vehicle have gone to bed a little richer. The bus which has no official name, is a former city bus that was converted into a rooving indy media center. It primarily showcases live music of the underground variety and it rarely disappoints. Maybe it’s a bore, or a catastrophe occurs, like the PA system blows up. In fact people will most likely have a memorable time if a minor dilemma arises. On its maiden voyage across the country, it had just made it out of Alameda county when its bio-diesel engine caught on fire. According to Zach Houson, who went on that particular trip and who does not drive or know nothing of auto mechanics, “I learned that anything you need to fix a car with you can probably make the parts out of gum and garbage and it will hold–even if it’s only temporary.” Stories like Zach’s abound with those who come in contact with this phenomenon.

The bus has been having events for the last three years and has made its way across the country twice. An aborted trip into Mexico does not rule it out as a future possibility. And what of Alaska? China? Prague? The imp-like maintenence man John Benson, who is the bus’ primary keyholder, would probably egg on the most impossible ideas as a calendar item for next month. Fans of the bus often will only hear of an event hours before it’s happening. And many people get drawn to it as they haplessly pass it by chance.

But ambuiguity is probably a boon in this hyper–tense–where’s your permit–open air prison called America. Like guerrilla fighters, the networks of underground artists, striving to express themselves, do not bother to open their dream club, cafĂ© or bar, knowing that the restrictions and fees will stifle their fun. House shows and temporary storefronts are just as much a part of a touring schedule as a teen center or any place listed in an alternative weekly. Many bands also go to play in empty fields, toxic waste sites, or in abandoned structures–places hard to get to, but once there the tension of the Man’s gaze is gone. The bus operates on this ethos–and may I add, eliminates all those pesky service charges levied that are the result of being so entangled in capitalism.

The story of the bus origin is a parable on how to face adversity. When John Benson’s communal house, known to host shows, decided to take a break just as the touring band season began to spike, he looked into other avenues. While scouring the world’s bizarre market, a notice of a half-built bus lead to a transaction. The bus was a remnant of city public transportation and was then purchased by the Oakland Police Dept to convert into a mobile cop base. Windows were fortified with metal sheets and an odd-looking tower added, but the funds needed to put it on the street dried up. The first road trips and shows were being planned before the stage was built, lights installed, and veggie oil engine tinkered.

I’m sure the OPD doesn’t fancy the end result of their endeavors. Ah the fossils and failed dreams of the police state only creates the playground to romp in. It’s almost too good, like this reality is one of those boring political tracts written by some splinter group like the Situationists International or CrimethInc. But most of those at a show are not engaging in a conscious act of anti-authoritarianism. Much like those Obama parades on election night, people are pleased to take the street and that’s the end in itself. I am often reminded that the constant visits from traveling musicians is a form of barter that predates the exchange of culture for money. And what these tribes of far away artists share is their ideas–however strange. And when the hometown gets a little too small, the arrival of the bus with new faces and ideas for an hour, will change the dead night into a spark of light.

The bus has been in traction back East from the second U.S. tour. A replacement bus has carried the torch for us all the past couple months. Just as we lost hope in seeing that strange funky blob amble on down the road. Proof that the idea and action of taking public space is more important than any one vehicle.