They start massing outside Canter's delicatessen on Fairfax Avenue at 10 p.m.--the weird and the wonderful, the beastly and the beautiful, the unremarkable and the unforgettable.
Outfits range from spiked heels and spiked hair to leopard skins and lace underwear. There are people who look like Billy Idol and people who don't look like anything earthly. Some are dressed up in sequins and rhinestones; some are dressed down in rips, tears and shreds.
But they do have one thing in common. Their attention is focused on a school bus painted in a purple, red and blue checkerboard pattern with a neon-yellow dragon along its sides. And on a woman wearing a plaid pleated skirt and collegiate cable-knit sweater who is being led blindfolded onto the bus.
"Where are we?" Monique Cloud, a 22-year-old UCLA psychology major who is celebrating her birthday, nervously asks her girlfriends. They take the blindfold off.
"Where are we!" she demands, even more alarmed.
Forget Greyhound, the RTD, the little yellow school bus or anything else you ever knew about transportation for the masses. Welcome aboard the Los Angeles Party Bus for an experience--in the words of one first-time rider--"you sure can't get in Bakersfield."
You are entering a world as bizarre as Martin Scorsese's "After Hours," as unpredictable as Chuck Barris' "The Gong Show" and as zany as the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour." The cast of 40 club-crawling characters includes otherwise normal career women who will moon cars on the Santa Monica Freeway for $1 apiece; a couple who will drink their way into a hospital emergency room, and two social workers from Orange County.
For six months now, this unofficial shuttle of the L.A. club scene has been running sporadically on alternate Saturday nights and drawing riders largely through word-of-mouth. It functions as an informal tour guide to the often confusing network of small rock clubs that have sprung up around Los Angeles as rapidly as Taco Bells. And it offers club regulars a safe and cheap alternative to drinking and driving between dances.
On this Saturday night, the high-tech sound system of the Party Bus is going full-blast long before it peels away from the curb. Within minutes of boarding, the riders are gyrating to the music of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
"Hey, let's PARTY!," shouts Cash Oshman, the Party Bus' hip heart-and-soul and its founder.
"Let's PARTY!" the revelers shout back.
It all started five years ago when Oshman, a one-time waiter, bought a fleet of school buses at auction and started Audience Associates. Today he helps fill Hollywood's insatiable need for studio audiences by ferrying groups of students, senior citizens and other Southern Californians to and from game shows and sit-coms.
Then, 18 months ago, Oshman had another brainstorm: Why not decorate the buses into mobile pieces of art? Oshman commissioned several mural artists to decorate four buses inside and out at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 each. He liked the results so much that he started carrying pictures of the buses around in his wallet.
"They're like my kids," he says sheepishly. "So I didn't want to keep them locked up at home at night."
Brainstorm three: Use the buses to shuttle revelers around selected clubs throughout Los Angeles, guaranteeing them entry and discounted admission. He enlisted the help of Myryah Flint, one of the unofficial "gurus" of the L.A. club scene and the editor of several club guides, and together they made the rounds of the club owners to win their confidence.
Hard at First
"It was hard at first because a lot of the places were skeptical," Flint notes. "The owners don't want just anyone at their clubs. But eventually, they grew to like the idea."
Even on a good night--40 riders paying $7--Oshman claims the Party Bus is more a labor of love than a labor for profit since the insurance tab per outing is a steep $900. "I lose money every time I do it. But it's fun," he says in his best party-animal patois. "And that's the only objective I ever had--to have fun."
As last-minute dashes for six-packs of beer, bottles of bourbon and takeout roast beef sandwiches subside; as the moon and stars enter into proper alignment, and as the engine lurches to life, the bus begins its run at 10:30 p.m. sharp .
Er, 11 p.m. sharp . Well, 11:30 p.m. sharp .
"No, really, guys, let's get out of here now ," Oshman pleads.
For this evening's odyssey, Oshman has selected the checkerboard-painted Dragon bus. His favorite, the Sphinx (which comes complete with two life-size mummies), has broken down.
Still, the Dragon is intended to attract stares from unsuspecting pedestrians and motorists--and that's exactly what it does. Or maybe the onlookers are really gazing at its riders, who, reverting to elementary-school pranks, are hanging out the windows and screaming.
"Are we having FUN?" Oshman asks.
"YEEEEEEAH!" the passengers respond.