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The Freedom Mobile


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Reactions to The Freedom Mobile have been mostly positive since I graffiti-ed it up with my artist friend Nathan Kubes three years ago. I can count on children smiling and pointing at it, supportive nods from people on townies crossing Elk Avenue, and my fellow climbers saying, “I love your car” at various locales across the West. The most predictable response, however, is from hitchhikers, as I slow down to pull over. Their response, with a glimmer of hope in their eyes, is something to the effect of, “I knew you were going to pick me up.”

I’m proud to drive a vehicle that elicits such a response. It took some time to get to this level of pride, though. The day after we painted the car, I was pulled over by the police, saying something about my headlights not working properly. I thought they were, and wondered if I’d just set myself up for getting pulled over all the time. It took some time getting used to driving a car that attracted such attention.

A couple months later, I had a first date, at the Almont bar of all places. (The woman was living in Crested Butte, and I was living in Gunnison; a good midway meeting point, I thought.) I had the usual butterflies of a first date, and as I walked out to get in my car for the drive, I wished to the heavens that I hadn’t painted my car in such an outlandish manner, so I could just present myself in somewhat of a normal way. She ended up loving The Freedom Mobile, though, and I learned an important lesson that our inner freak is usually a beautiful thing, and we should not hide it; if someone is a kindred spirit, he or she will love what is inside you.

Something I did in the Freedom Mobile, that I never dreamed would happen, was taking it on a major rock climbing road trip across the western United States. It all went down like this. I’d just lost my full-time-with-benefits job in Gunnison with the downturn in the economy, and I’d recently broken up with the first woman I’d ever been in love with. I needed to get out of the valley, and I’d made plans to move down south to Durango for a fresh start. In the interim, my friend Dave and I would take a month-long road trip. It would be one of those coming-of-age trips to do something exciting and forget about the trials and tribulations of the past.

At the last minute, Dave’s truck broke down, and now the trip relied on The Freedom Mobile. With nothing to lose, I decided to take Freedom on the trip. We drove to Red Rocks in Las Vegas, Nevada, down to Joshua Tree, California, up to Yosemite, to Vegas again, and finally down to Durango. There were many moments of pure bliss, and the country’s reception of The Freedom Mobile was incredible. At one moment, driving in southern Utah, a woman sitting shotgun in an old truck, with oxygen hooked up to her nose, pulled up next to us and gave the biggest grin I’d ever seen, and two thumbs up. Later that same day, pulling into a gas station in the Middle of Nowhere, Utah, some good ol’ boy mechanics were staring us down. We were slightly defensive until they started talking, “Nice car, it looks like something Evil Knievel would drive.” 

Durango ended up embracing The Freedom Mobile, and there are more spray-painted cars there per capita than any other place I’ve been in Colorado. Work ended up being scarce in Durango, as it is many places in our country these days, and when the spring ended, I found myself returning to Crested Butte for the summer.

The Freedom Mobile made its first appearance in Crested Butte’s Fourth of July parade, and somehow I managed to convince 16 of my closest friends to spell out The Freedom Mobile in body paint across their stomachs and chests. The wildest incident, though, came later, in the fall, as the deadline for this piece was approaching.

I’d teamed up my friend, Braden Gunem, to do a photo shoot for this article. He rigged up a camera on the front of my car, with all sorts of lighting inside; including a small rag in a bottle he wanted to light on fire to add a wild touch to the photos. While we were keeping our eyes peeled for the police, I looked up to the last rays of daylight to see a major townie takeover headed our way. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the Brick Oven Pizzeria’s softball team, dressed complete with their signature red, yellow and green tank tops and hairnets, on their townies; thirty of them, followed by a police officer.

As we watched it all go down, wondering what was going to happen, the police officer ended up escorting the Rasta Hairnet townie takeover down Elk Ave. Only in Crested Butte! With the police busy escorting the wild Brick Oven crew, we commenced with our unorthodox photo shoot. The result was the cover shot for my first book.

I never know what’s around the corner for The Freedom Mobile, and I like it like that. It’s headed back down to Durango for the winter, so it won’t be rolling the streets of Crested Butte when the snow falls. The spirit of Crested Butte lives in The Freedom Mobile, wherever it may go, though. Let freedom ring!

A version of this piece was originally published in the Crested Butte Magazine, Winter 2011-12.

Luke Mehall is the author of The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed. He is also the publisher of The Climbing Zine.

On Friday, July 3rd he will present his latest prose and poetry at Townie Books. Things kick off at 6:00 p.m. There will be a raffle, haiku contest on a typewriter, and a book signing. Come celebrate freedom, Crested Butte style! 

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