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Cantos recognized Kafka as a fellow seeker, taught him a skill (pool maintenance) and infused him with an arbitrary yet binding passion for buses. Over time, Kafka became the chief financial patron and ultimately the spiritual steward of the collection (known formally as the Cantos Collection; www.cantoscollection.com).
To subsidize the collection, Kafka rents the buses out for commercials, music videos, and films like Forrest Gump, Pearl Harbor and Ali, and makes a living doing various film jobs, including precision stunt driving (he once rigged up a bus to go 70 mph in reverse through the Second Street tunnel). He estimates that over the past 20 years he has easily spent $1.5 million acquiring, transporting and maintaining his fleet.
Kafkas dream is to found the American Road Transport, or ART, Museum, a nonprofit museum dedicated to the history of the American motor coach. He speculates that between 35 and 75 of his buses are true collectors items (unlike cars, buses often had production runs of between 35 and 1,000 units).
He wrote to Elizabeth Dole, then head of the Red Cross, offering the Mobile Hospital Unit for the Red Cross Museum. He tried to donate the Rosa Parks bus to both the Rosa Parks Institute for Self-Realization and the California African-American Museum. But no one ever takes him seriously, or worse, theyre suspicious of his motives. He has approached the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Department of Transportation, various politicos he even contacted Lakers owner Jerry Buss (get it?).
Im just a custodian, Kafka says. I need a docent. We need grants. But Im so busy just trying to pay overhead to barely keep this fleet in existence that I dont really have the time to properly focus on museum development. I dont want to be obsessed. Really. There are other things Id like to do with my life.
Meanwhile, the buses gather dust and weather the elements in a corner lot in Fontana. Sic transit gloria: Thus passes away the glory.
Being Skip Arnold wont get you very far at a supermarket or a gas station, but at an art event, doors fly open. The L.A.-based performance artist, famous for his claustrophobic live nude self-portraits, perhaps most aptly described as sculpture or installations, slithered through the entrance to the SCOPE art fair held a few weeks ago at the high-hip-quotient Standard Hotel downtown without paying a dime or being on the list. The rest of our party had to cough up 10 bucks. Skip asked if I was going to keep my receipt.
The Standard had closed off its third and fourth floors for the international exhibition, which promised emerging cutting-edge artists in each gallery/hotel room. One of the first rooms we visited featured crude documentary photos of bondage scenarios by a collaborative from New York. The works criminal aspect piqued Skips interest, but the receptionist kept reminding us the acts were voluntary. Oh, its just fetish art then, Skip said. But that didnt stop him from gathering catalogs and pamphlets and schmoozing. He wants to be on top of things, keep informed, and at the same time let everyone know hes in the room.
Despite the stains on a wife-beaters T-shirt, worn underneath a moth-eaten suit with pants that have never seen a dry cleaner, Skip comes off looking classy. Every ensemble includes his signature Italian scarf hung loosely over his spindly body. In each room, he made a beeline for the dealer, his hand outstretched. Hi, Im Skip Arnold. Half of them didnt know who the hell this guy was, but they would never dare let on. Skip seemed oblivious such a thing would never occur to him. Fame is almost every artists objective, but Skip makes it an art form.
After a while following Skip from room to room, watching him work the crowd, wondering if he liked this art or that, we began to get thirsty. It was a breezy, sunny Sunday afternoon, and we were thinking about the celebrated rooftop bar. But Skip was lagging again, exchanging numbers with a gallerist, gathering a stack of ink. An artist friend looked on with envy and admiration, then self-pity, realizing what a rank-amateur networker he really was compared to the Skipper.
It was time for a pick-me-up to cure our low self-esteem. Hey, what about that rooftop with those stiff, dry, exorbitantly priced gin martinis? I suggested.