Travelling with the Puppet Bike | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Travelling with the Puppet Bike

MUSIC (fade up and under)

If you're out and about on a Saturday afternoon in Chicago and you find yourself on a street corner in the middle of a crowd of people who seem unusually happy, and there's music like this playing: (MUSIC UP), It probably means you've found the Puppet Bike, a tiny puppet theatre that travels all over Chicago on the back of a bicycle.

JASON: I'm Jason Trusty, I run the Puppet Bike, I built it nearly seven years ago and it's been rolling all over Chicago most of that time. // People just enjoy the heck out of it.


Seven years ago Jason was a starving artist, looking to make some cash. He decided to build a mobile vending cart and serve coffee to commuters. A vacation to Colorado changed all that, however. Jason saw a traveling puppet show and it caught his imagination. Just like that his tiny coffee cart became a puppet theatre. (Ambi UP and under – PUPPET SHOW MUSIC) He added sparkling lights, speakers, a box for tips (Bystander: “here you go guys”) and a dozen little hand puppets that dance to music.


JASON: You know, I probably would never have built the puppet bike, if it wasn't for this particular brand of puppets – they're STEIFF German puppets. They have such nice little expressions in their glass eyes and their stitching and everything, it's just great.

Ambi UP – PUPPET SHOW MUSIC up and under

It's a sunny afternoon in the Andersonville neighborhood and a puppet show is going on. Matthew Amador is in the crowd. He's a long time fan of the puppet bike and says that what he likes best is the way the puppets act out little stories.

AMADOR: They interact with each other. Sometimes the alligator will, like, pretend to eat one of the puppets and then it's all just a game. Or one time I remember the cats were fighting, they were having a cat fight, and the cat was upset and went over to cry and the other cat felt really bad so went over and, like, comforted the cat and then they kissed and they made up! And they danced some more to celebrate their joy and new-found friendship. It's so utterly charming.

Ambi – PUPPET SHOW MUSIC up and under

JASON: The puppets definitely have their own personas, and people do connect with them and I mean people do view them like actual living little animals, just the way you would your own pets. (BABY: puppets!) As a puppeteer…I mean, you're really just looking for that person that's just enjoying themselves. Some people just, they're falling on the ground happy when they are watching the Puppet Bike. But it's always, you know, very amusing and the reactions, you know, they're genuine and that's what really counts.

AMBI – Toddler: “Rabbits! Rabbits! oh wow! Dancing!” (fade under)

While Jason Trusty is the artist behind the puppet bike, he's not usually the one inside it. He's taught a select group of friends to be puppeteers and they take the bike out when they need to earn extra money.

Scene Change: Taking the Bike Out.


Jason's friend Tommy is one of those puppeteers.

TOMMY: Well one thing my mother said is like, if you can find one thing you really like to do, and make some kind of money doing it, then you should just follow your heart and do that.


Tommy's been taking the bike out to supplement his income for over four and a half years.

TOMMY: ‘Cause I've worked hard at a lot of jobs, you know, construction and everything. You know I used to dig holes – 6 foot or 5 foot holes for water services, you know. I was just the guy who dug the hole, I was a laborer and it's a lot of hard work for, you know, really, not much money…
Tommy still does a lot of jobs, but he says the tips he gets from the Puppet Bike go a long way towards making ends meet.

TOMMY: I eat god, my dog eats good and I can almost pay my rent. (he laughs)

Scene Change: Back to Street

Ambi - female bystanders: “Can we put change in there? / Yeah, I think you should put things that aren't pennies in there. I think they would appreciate it. / I have a lot of quarters. Can I do it?” LAUGHTER. COINS IN BOX. (fade under)

Matthew Amador says he gives the puppets at least a dollar every time he sees the show. Sometimes he gives more. Last Christmas he gave $20.

AMADOR: And I wasn't the only person, I wasn't the only person at all. I saw one person give them actually a much bigger bill. And the puppets took the dollar. Sometimes they dance with it. With the larger bill that someone gave them over Christmas, one of the puppets looked at it, fainted, then the puppet took the money, used the money as smelling salts to wake up the other puppet. The puppet woke up, then they danced with the money and thanked everyone profusely, with bows and dances.

Jason says that a lot of people point out to him that the puppet bike could be making even more money. He could build more bikes. He could franchise. He could rent the puppet show out for parties and private events. But Jason says he doesn't want to do that. He says that's not what the bike is about.

JASON: Even though I have puppeteers working, it's still, it's just me, you know? And I don't have the support or the care or the want or the need, you know, to move on and expand it at this time in my life. And people are like, “oh, well, you know what, you can do this, you can get a loan, you can do that. You can make a lot of money!” I'm all for making money, but the Puppet Bike is something else to me. (Puppet Show Music under: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B) It's a really good feeling to know that you're responsible for brightening someone's day. ‘Cause, you know, that's really what it's all about.

PUPPET SHOW MUSIC up and under


Unless Jason does decide to expand some day, the Puppet Bike will remain exactly as it is: on the streets of Chicago, making people happy.

Ambi UP – Bystanders: “yay!” CLAPPING

For 848, I'm Anne Cadigan.

PUPPET SHOW MUSIC up Ambi – Little Boy Bystander: “Bye Puppets! Bye! Bye bunny puppet! Bye kitty puppet. Bye dog puppet. Bye!”


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