If you’ve ever wandered through a cloud of iridescent orbs while shopping on Haight Street, you can thank The Bubble Guy, creator of the Haight Ashbury Bubble Stroller.
We tracked down the man behind the bubbles (who wishes to remain anonymous), and got the lowdown on the genesis of the stroller, what goes into the best bubble ambience, and a bit about the man behind the project.
Are you a Haight-Ashbury resident?
"I live on Ashbury near Haight, for maybe seven years now. I've lived various places in this hood since 2000."
How did the Bubble Stroller come together?
"I bought the three bubble machines years ago but didn't have a suitable way to make them portable, until one day I was looking at a spare baby stroller I had and I thought, 'Wait a minute'— match made in heaven.
What is the Stroller composed of?
"It's extremely simple; a battery, an inverter, two or three bubble machines (more is more), two pieces of wood, a handful of zip ties, and a baby stroller. I added a fan on the front (for extra lift) and a battery charger (for recharging on the go) later. It uses more power than you'd think: about 250watts. It moves a lot of air. I have a couple of minor extra additions in mind but simpler equals better."
What type of bubbles do you use? How much bubble fluid do you need, say, for a typical Haight & Ashbury corner appearance?
"Nowadays I make my own; commercial bubble juice can get quite expensive. If I have all three machines going it's a little over a gallon an hour. There's a wiki for people who make giant bubbles, and they have a number of good bubble-juice recipes.
"The temperature and humidity make a big difference in how long the bubbles last. I try to have them survive at least a block before popping. By the way, bubbles at Burning Man are not good at all (the air is far too dry, also it's too huge a space). I do different stuff on the Playa.
Why do you think it’s better without sound?
"At first I put a sound system on there, but it's much better without. Music really just distracts from the effect, as well as attracting unwanted attention from cops, etc. There's only a handful of tunes I think would be appropriate anyway. Keeping it simpler also makes it more reliable. Weight is also an issue (the stroller barely stands the weight as it is)."
What are the kinds of interactions you have with people?
"Usually I stand some distance away and people don't know it's mine, which I prefer. It's not about me of course, and it's not like it needs any explanation. I enjoy seeing people enjoy it freely and overhear their comments.
"When I do talk to people, I get plenty of crazy (a percentage of the street people on Haight are… eccentric). Some of the street people pretend to own it and hit up the tourists for money. I'm okay with that; it's the spirit of free enterprise. The dumbest questions I get are 'What's it for?' and 'Why are you doing it?'
"Business owners often want to rent it for promotional purposes, some people want it for kids parties. The answer is 'take a picture and make one yourself; it's easy.' I'm not interested in doing it on other people's schedule.
"A cop tried to shut me down once. I politely asked, 'What's the problem officer?' He answered, 'The bubbles .... they're blowing in people's faces!' He realized that sounded stupid, and left me to it."
What exactly makes the vibe right for a Stroller appearance?
"Sunshine makes it look a lot prettier, especially the angle of the afternoon sun coming down Haight. I do it any time there's a celebratory atmosphere, or I simply want a break from working. It's perpetually rewarding just watching people enjoy it."
Do you have any other pieces or installations around town?
"Not so much in the city (more often at Burning Man). It's hard to find something that works well artistically in a city environment and doesn't get banned, stolen, etc. However, you may have seen the Haight Ashbury Disco Ball, which was out from last December to late January. That came out pretty well, if I do say so myself."
Does the Bubble Stroller make appearances in other neighborhoods or for events?
"It's been at Bay to Breakers (at Ashbury in the Panhandle) for multiple years. Also: 4/20 at Hippie Hill, Halloween Hootenanny, Haight Street Fair (an event which I have rather mixed feelings about). Pride in the Castro was very fun (I've found only the gay bars are nice enough to let me plug in and recharge the battery). I also do it late at night on Haight and Ashbury when the mood strikes. It's a very different crowd (street kids and some drunken folks) rather than the tourists."
Anything else you would like people to know about the Bubble Stroller?
"The slogan is: 'People like it.'"
If you want more bubbles in your life, check out a day in the life of the Bubble Stroller in this time-lapse video of the recent Haight Street Fair: