“And this was really the way that my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.”
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Twenty-five years ago, ABC NO RIO in an art exchange with Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago, brought Thieves Theatre to the Lower East Side . At the time we were doing my script Travelling Light about a long haul trucker whose CB radio handle is Bird of Prayer and the strange hitchhiker carrying a dozen eggs he picks up. The entire performance takes place within the Vehicle of Knowledge. They travel toward a rendezvous with the sexy female voice coming over the CB named Mountain Belle.
Loading the Vehicle of Knowledge into to our auction-bought Chicago Police paddy wagon we drove to New York. We slept at NO RIO the six weeks we were there and showered at the nearby Allen Street Public Bath; it must have been the last one left in the city. We paid a local graffiti artist to paint the paddy wagon with a Thieves Theatre logo so it wouldn’t get tagged by others. Pulling car seats from all the stolen and stripped vehicles under the Williamsburg Bridge we created seating for the audience at No Rio.
ABC No Rio 1981
Travelling Light is my only play but I instigated a redux of it some years back as a writing/producing project with David Bucci, Lisa D’Amour, Josh Furst, and other rat playwrights. Bucci bought a van with a play commission from Woolly Mammoth and toured northeast out of Texas with his rock band. Lisa left Portland in her Eagle headed toward Minneapolis and New York. I drove this humungous vehicle called the Ratmobile around the country from Memphis to Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Josh was with me on the Memphis to LA tour and we collected short plays from other writers enroute to a rat conference. Bucci sent postcards, Lisa sent audiotapes, Josh and I posted web pages and photos from Internet pods at truck stops. I can’t remember the time sequence on all this, but it was a years long relationship. All of us did make a rendezvous once in New York for a two week long performance frenzy at four different venues– HERE, Ohio Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, and Coney Island USA.
The most memorable for me was the one at Coney Island. Bucci played guitar as Lisa sang a song to the dead eye of a Steeplechase horse from the museum. I was Naked Elvis entourage in the bathtub. For the finale Bucci was tied down in a chair. Jennifer Miller, the bearded lady performing in Sideshows by the Seashore downstairs was supposed to come up between acts to perform a striptease for Bucci as she recited some Camile Pagila text but she missed her cue. So it was left to Lisa to take a razor to Bucci’s seven-year-old sideburns as the audience lined up and poured wine over Naked Elvis. The project never ended, just sort of faded away. I still hang with Josh some; he’s moved into the Dean Street hood, but I have lost touch with Lisa and Bucci. I imagine by now they have retired from the road as I have, the price of gas and all.
Writing this I keep thinking about Bucci’s seven-year-old sideburns. And I want some metaphor or allegory to clearly present itself. Something about writing versus a life lived.
When Jack Kerouac died his estate was reportedly worth only $100. The original manuscript of his novel “On the Road” was typed in 21 days on a 120-foot scroll. Three years ago that scroll was sold at auction for $2.43 million. So now “On the Road” is on the road again in a four-year national tour of museums and libraries.