The vibe resembles a kid's clubhouse taken to the next level on the road and relatively off the grid.
"Another great thing about the bus is that during all that downtime usually spent staring out the window driving through Nebraska, you can actually plug in instruments. A full band can be playing in back like it's a practice space," Benson says earlier over the phone of the bus that shall remain nameless (he likes the anonymity).
The all-ages club on wheels simply just "fell into my lap," he continued. "A retired Oakland cop was selling it, and I just saw it going by one day. It was a monstrosity."
The Oaktown police department had torn it up to convert it into a mobile police unit, he was told, and its last owner was going to remake it as a family RV. That intrepid soul was "so hilarious," Benson raves. "I was sold on it because of his personality. He was this 6-foot-7, really huge black guy with these huge hands such a can-do person. He was sooo the antithesis of Burning Man, because my first reaction was 'Oh, no, this is some big, gross Burning Man art-car thing.' Being a retired cop, he said, 'From driver's seat back, it's perfectly legal to rock out with your cock out' his exact words. 'You can drink a fifth of JD and whatever,' and he then did this funny little dance."
"It's a surprising tidbit," Benson says. "You don't have to have seat belts and can have open containers. And you can have a regular driver's license. If the bus was any longer, you'd need a commercial license. It's kind of shocking."
Shocking, especially when shortly after he finished converting the bus to use vegetable oil last summer, Benson took it on the road with a bunch of bands to the Freedom From Festival in Minneapolis, where they played before the Boredoms. Because of the bus's height, they got stuck in an underpass in Chicago's Wicker Park district. They also couldn't get it into the Pennsylvania Turnpike and instead were forced to drive through the Poconos. "I got lost in a white-picket-fence neighborhood and was forced to turn around in this poor lady's yard," Benson recollects. "She and her neighbors came running out, and she was, like, 'What are you?!' I was so busy trying to do a 20-point turn I could only yell, 'We're a bus!' 'What kind of bus are you?' she yelled. And then someone in the bus jumped out and gave her a hug and said, 'We're a magic bus.' "
You've gotta admit there's a bit of magic going on when Sewn Leather finishes his riveting songs on dead lice, bad pickups, and the end of music genres and the kids pile out, over the oriental carpet cushioning on the floor, and share cookies and other comestibles outside. The cars rumble overhead, oblivious to this DIY snatch of culture-making quietly going about its beeswax. *
With the Fucking Ocean and other bands
Feb. 3, 8 p.m., free
Highway 24 overpass Shattuck and 55th St., Oakl.