Car-Nation . . . Car-toons . . . Car-mah

By Pat Holm

I was a puppeteer for many years, an art form I used in teaching to engage, entertain, and educate. In the late 1980s I worked at the Department of Ecology as a transportation coordinator to get people to drive less, take the bus more, walk more, and bike more to work. With this in mind I came up with the idea to do a giant puppet show car-ou-sel. I drew up an idea: 

You oughta go round, the ought-to-go-round,
The Auto-Go-Round goes round and round and round.
Going in circles, driving, driving, here to there, and there to here.
Until . . . Slowdown . . . Gridlock . . . The Auto System seizes up.
A transformation from the alienation of the automobile
To a life of community takes place. 

Keith Eisner wrote these ideas into a playlet for the skit at a Labor Day event in Sylvester Park. George Barner, a rock and roll singer from back in the day, was the Thurston County Port Commissioner at the time. He frequently sang at public events. That day he sang “In My Merry Oldsmobile” to accompany our theme of “Car-Nation” or a nation of cars spewing poisonous exhaust from their tail pipes. Word of Barner’s singing at our event helped bring an audience to our show.

My idea was to create a car-ou-sal with six large cardboard cars. Pat Tassoni came over to help me make the cars. We made a pink convertible, a red pickup truck, a green minivan, a yellow Volkswagen, a blue Studebaker, and a typical tan sedan. Each vehicle was mounted on sticks that puppeteers could hold. The puppeteers wore black. I recruited them from my neighborhood. Then I made extra large puppet heads that were also on sticks. They were walked along to be shown through the windows of the cars waving at the audience as they drove around on the car-ou-sal to music by Tom Russell. Tom on clarinet and guitar showed us the way to community life on a friendlier planet Earth.

The playlet showed a person waking up in his MacMansion, getting in his car, dropping off the children at the MacKid drop-off daycare center, then driving to MacBurgers for lunch, off to work, and so on. In the center of the car-ou-sel was a cardboard structure of the workplace, apartment building, daycare center, drive-in lunch place, and it twirled around like a merry-go-round does. The idea was an endless line of cars going nowhere in circles. The ending was a giant gridlock of cars all piling up and crashing into each other. Once the cars were in a heap of ruin, the puppeteers broke out dancing together and creating a true community.

George Barner, Julia Head and her two daughters, Pat Tassoni, David Richey, Kirsten Holm, Helen Lee, Bonnie Coate, and I were in the cast. Keith narrated the story he wrote to accompany the puppets.