Why We Have To Look At This *ucking Thing Every Day – May 7, 2010
Kevin L. Hoover
DOWNTOWN – For months, downtown residents and visitors have been greeted by an increasing number of residential buses, the most prominent of which is, arguably, the graffiti-covered 35-foot-long yellow school bus marked with a large green-and-white sign on the back exclaiming “*UCK YEAH!”
Why is this illegal, not necessarily beautiful mobile home a permanent part of our aesthetic lives, what do its neighbors think, who lives in it and what can be done about it?
“You can’t legally live in a vehicle in a City street,” said Police Chief Tom Chapman. Yet someone does. That’s because, like so many laws, violators have found ways to skirt them and to frustrate enforcement.
While Arcata Municipal Code section 10501 prohibits street camping, police cannot break in to a residential vehicle and cite the occupant. So if no one comes to the door when an officer knocks, they effectively elude police in place. “We have to follow a process,” Chapman said.
AMC 3501 prohibits parking for more that 72 consecutive hours, so house-bus owners just move the vehicle every few days. “It’s this cycle,” Chapman said. “We encounter this every day.”
He said persistent attempts at contact do wear down some bus campers, with Valley West having been largely cleared of its roadside residences in recent months.
Another bus-camper hotspot is Eighth and N streets near the Arcata Community Recycling Center. ACRC Director Mark Loughmiller said that area has seen fewer buses this year.
“Most are pretty harmless,” Loughmiller said. “They arrive late in the evening and are gone in the morning.”
The problem arises when some bus residents dump their trash on the roadside. “We have made them come back and clean it up, but then they just dump it in someone’s dumpster down the street,” Loughmiller said.
The *UCK YEAH! bus is usually parked next to Co-op, taking up at least two parking spaces and expelling a cloud of diesel smog as its warms the engine for a move across the street every few days. Last week, a group of schoolchildren walking to the store for a tour had to pass through the exhaust, squinting curiously through the toxic haze at the semi-profane placard on the back.
General Manager David Lippman said he has “mixed feelings” abut the bus.
While he’s “not thrilled at the variety of rolling residences across the street,” neither is he a fan of encroachments on free speech and overregulation.
“There’s absolutely an aesthetic component to it,” Lippman said. “It doesn’t do our business any benefit, but it doesn’t do any great harm.” He remembers sleeping along the roadside in a VW van in his youth.
He acknowledges though, that “if I were bringing my 10-year-old in with me to shop, I might not like seeing that.”
Lippman said he wished Arcata would construct a public restroom so the bus residents wouldn’t be “overwhelming” Co-op’s facilities.
Inside *UCK YEAH!
*UCK YEA! is occupied by Bob Lewis, 59. His mobile domicile features all the accoutrements you’d expect to find in an overeducated old hippie’s groovy bus – prayer flags, books, batik hangings, guitar and a near-full milk jug of urine. The bus also includes a kitchenette, propane-tank heater, sofa and bed.
A button on Lewis’s chest reads, “ON DRUGS.” Not surprisingly, a chubby bud of cannabis rests next to a glass pipe as Lewis hammers out an essay on the effects of legalization of marijuana on the local economy.
Lewis is equipped with the basic tools to participate in today’s modern mediascape – a laptop computer, cell phone and digital camera.
“I’m not a threatening human being,” he says. He’s been in Humboldt County since last June. For income, he says he’s on disability, and also performs at area clubs such as Mosgo’s and Muddy Waters.
Lewis says he has a Master’s Degree in Biblical Hebrew from UC Santa Monica. A notebook scribbled with equations represents his research of the Leon Walrus model of market equilibrium. He also boasts degrees in engineering.
*UCK YEAH!, Lewis says, means exactly what you think it does. It’s a phrase popular among the “underground folk-punk culture” he was steeped in during his musically formative years in L.A.
Lewis says most people “love” the look of his bus. “I have had no complaints.” Told that some aren’t fond of it, he says, “You’re in the minority.”
He’s evasive, even defensive about his sanitation practices, answering questions with questions. “Where do you go to the bathroom?” he counters when asked to resolve the most obvious mystery. “The specifics of that aren’t public information,” he insists.
“Basically there are legitimate ways of disposing of waste that do not require me to illegally do so,” he explains.
Finally, Lewis says that he empties his urine jug at the area gas stations he patronizes. His garbage goes in the dumpsters “of businesses that I patronize that have no objection to it,” he says. “They’ve seen me do it.”
Between the law’s gray areas, the ease of gaming them, the secretive waste disposal and Arcatans’ deeply held live-and-let-live values, the popularity and presence of residential buses seems likely to continue.
“This has been going on as long as I’ve been here,” Chapman said.