Part MacGyver and part Joseph Cornell, Rogers Park resident Jason Trusty is an artist, an inventor, a single dad and a dreamer. He’s got one son, 10; his other offspring is the 7-year-old Puppet Bike, a mobile stage that his team of eight or so puppeteers uses to ignite spontaneous street-corner joy year-round throughout the city. Attached to a bicycle, the seven-foot-tall, brightly painted wooden box has enough room for one puppeteer (two if they squeeze), plus the puppets, a spare tire and a large battery (to power lights and music).
What prompted you to create Puppet Bike?
I was this close to making it a coffee bike, ’cause I like coffee. I’d actually bought four big commercial coffee vessels. They were going to be tiered on the back, with a wash station. I still might come out with that someday. It would be great.
So you’re an avid cyclist? Was that the goal, to make something mobile?
I do like to bike. I also like anything that’s going to be a little bit different. Mostly, it was just for the art of it.
Do you have a day job?
I do some odd jobs, and I’m an inventor. I just got my first U.S. patent last week. It’s a ladder rack. It mounts a ladder to the interior of service vehicles; check out jetrack.info.
Even though there’s a tip jar, I’m guessing you don’t make a lot of money.
I don’t really make diddly off the Puppet Bike. The puppeteers are the rock stars, and they live the rock-star lifestyle. I make about 20 percent [of the gross income; the puppeteers get the rest as their salaries], which is about enough to maintain the bike.
Which neighborhoods are your puppeteers’ favorites?
It’s so consistent: You could say, almost down to the dollar, what you’re going to make for a given time and a given location in given weather. In Lincoln Park—maybe I shouldn’t say this?—they don’t tip at all. Places like Logan Square or Edgewater or Rogers Park, man, we get all the love in the world there.
What are your favorite audience reactions?
Falling on the ground laughing. Adults. That’s surprisingly a pretty regular occurrence. Or to see people dancing, really getting into it, and all of the sudden they’re like, “Oh, am I making a fool of myself?,” and they straighten their tie and move on.
Follow Puppet Bike on Twitter, @PuppetBike.