The Puppet Bike Guy Keeps Theater Rolling For Decade
Ask my pals, I’m one of those guys who’s always got a guy when you need a guy.
Recently, I met Jason Trusty, a guy who doesn’t need a guy because he’s a guy who can do the things most people need a guy to do for them.
So, if you need a guy who can do electrical work and tile jobs, make cabinets and refinish furniture, install marble countertops and hang drywall, bus tables and hawk stuff on the street, weld railings and design landscape and paint — walls and art — Trusty’s a good guy to know.
He even installed the iconic No. 23 front gate at Michael Jordan’s former Highland Park home and put high-tech theaters in the homes of Mike Ditka and Mike Royko.
“I’ve worked for all Chicago’s high-profile Mikes,” Trusty said.
Trusty even puts on a mean puppet show.
That’s right, the guy of all guys also is the purveyor of "Puppet Bike" — the pedal-powered shack that’s delivered delightful vaudevillian displays of guerrilla puppet improv theater on random Chicago street corners for 10 years.
Maybe you’ve seen the colorful puppet cart on Clark Street in Andersonville — Trusty’s “home turf” — or on a busy downtown corner.
Trusty, or more likely one of a stable of puppeteers these days, mans the theater shack year round, mostly on the North Side.
The Puppet Bikers have had South Side-expansion ambitions, but the Puppet Bike has its limits.
“That thing is everything of 500 pounds, not easy to move. I’ve already had to make emergency repairs. There’s duct tape covering a hole in the roof,” Trusty said. “And when it is moving that’s when the puppeteers aren’t making money.”
Not a lot of money, but enough to keep Trusty’s passion project rolling.
The mobile theater was originally designed as a mobile coffee cart, but a road trip to a Colorado rail museum changed all that.
“I saw this puppet show on the back of a tiny trailer on a car. I was really inspired,” Trusty said. “It was right up my alley … plus, it meant I didn’t need to make coffee.”
At first, Trusty did his fair share of shows, but mostly the Puppet Bike was a way to help an out-of-work friend make a few bucks. Now, there's three puppeteers who run the shows for tips and kick back a small take to Trusty.
A few days back, a crowd gathered around the Puppet Bike at Michigan and Wacker as Chock the Cat mesmerized little Paul Elevich, 3. When Chock — a "pirate, blues musician and gambler,” according to the puppet’s online profile — snatched a quarter out of Paul’s outstretched hand, the young German tourist squealed with glee.
Soon, a small crowd gathered. Jeannine Chuchan, 32, of Wicker Park, shoved a buck in the tip box. Others followed suit.
Naturally, kids love the shows. But the most important Puppet Bike fans are the ones who keep the show on the road — grown-ups with cash. Parents, shoppers and tourists, join show regulars, senior citizens and downtown denizens as the biggest tippers at Puppet Bike performances.
“We’re loved by taxi drivers, office workers, homeless people. Loved by the police,” Trusty said. “We’re always getting asked to do events and parties. Every show is pretty unique. We’ve got people that come every day, and they can tell what puppeteer is in the box just by watching.”
Trusty says he’s already started building a second Puppet Bike — and maybe more — because after a decade he finally realized being the “puppet bike guy” really is the best guy to be.
“It’s more interesting than any of the other things I’ve worked on. When you roll that thing anywhere people enjoy the hell out of it. I don’t want to see it stop,” he said. “It’s been a wild, turbulent 10 years, and Puppet Bike is the happiness machine that keeps everything together.”