We’re turning off Route 1 toward downtown Portsmouth when someone in a car in the oncoming lane yells something. The words are indiscernible to me in the back, but they sound hostile. Driver Eli Elkus just laughs it off, though. Over the last year, he’s heard a lot of unsolicited commentary on his unusual vehicle.
“Some of ’em are nice. Some of ’em are, ‘Get a fuckin’ job!’” Elkus says.
If you live in the Seacoast, you’ve probably seen the purple bus, too. Maybe you’ve even offered commentary of your own. Since Elkus bought the 1995 Chevrolet G30 Van on April Fools Day in 2015, he’s seen the rumors circulating on social media. It’s a heroin den, some say. Or a hippy party bus. Or the home of an old hermit woman.
Actually, it belongs to Elkus, singer and guitarist for local band People Like You. In the spring and summer, the bus has become a mobile landmark, seen frequently navigating downtown Portsmouth, cruising along the coast, or parked on the roadside.
The bus is hard to miss. It’s bright purple, with multi-colored handprints all over the windows.
On the inside, though, it looks like a tiny house. There’s a table with bus seating on either side, a colorful rug, and a bed in the back with storage beneath. Translucent tapestries hang over the windows. An acoustic guitar sits on a cushioned bench, and another lies on the bed, beside a copy of “A Light in the Attic.” The ceiling is speckled with rainbow-colored splotches of paint, and there are People Like You flyers here and there. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity.
“At this point, I use (the solar panels) for everything from charging electrical appliances, running a coffeemaker, running a hotplate to make food and such, and even as far as a mobile venue that we’ll use it for, you can power a whole PA and a whole band with this thing. It’s pretty sweet,” Elkus says.
Oh, and there’s a dog. The dog’s name is Boog, “because he’s a woolly boogie,” Elkus explains. His food and water are by the passenger door, which opens with a lever, like a school bus.
Elkus does not do drugs on the bus, and he does not consider himself a hippy. In fact, he’s taken measures to tone down the outlandish appearance of the vehicle.
“It used to be a lot worse,” he says. “I don’t know if you saw this bus when I first got it in town, but it used to be blue and there was a bunch of handprints and big ‘People Like You’ lettering and a bunch of crazy shit all over it. And that got a lot more reactions, and unfortunately, a lot of the reactions I didn’t like all so much.”
People often knocked on the door looking for drugs, Elkus says, and when he told them he didn’t have any, they wouldn’t believe him. Which is understandable, really. Elkus fits the profile. He’s got long hair and a scraggly beard, and he’s in a psychedelic folk-rock band.
But this is Elkus’ home, and you don’t expect people to knock on the front door of your home looking for drugs.
“It wasn’t only the People Like You bus, but my livelihood,” he says. “It’s pretty much the same thing as a home, it’s just got wheels on it.”
So, he painted it purple.
“I took 12 cans of spray paint to it,” he says. “It still gets some strange reactions.”
Elkus bought the bus after he and one of his band mates got evicted from an apartment in Portsmouth. He sold his Honda Civic for $3,000 and found the old Chevy on Craigslist. He bought it from a man in New Hampton for around $4,000. Before the New Hampton man owned it, the vehicle had belonged to the YMCA in Concord, Elkus says.
The new ride took some getting used to. Elkus has had a few fender-benders trying to parallel park, but now he’s got it mastered. Some kids once broke into the bus while People Like You was playing at a festival in Vermont (Elkus keeps the rock the thieves used to smash his window on the dashboard as a souvenir). But other than that, it’s been a pretty smooth ride. He rotates between a handful of parking spots, and the police don’t hassle him much as long as he moves it regularly.
It doesn’t handle the New England winters very well, though, and Elkus plans to head west when it gets cold. “Every winter shortens the life of this bus substantially because it’s so old,” he says.
My ride on the bus takes place on a beautiful sunny day in May. Elkus picks me up at the Market Square bus stop. He announces his arrival through a microphone hooked up to an amp under the bench where I sit down. He introduces me to Boog, who seems remarkably well-adjusted to life on a bus, and we’re off.
It’s pleasant and cozy on the bus. A Romanian folk band plays on Elkus’ cell phone. The vehicle seems to suit his lifestyle. He mostly busks for a living, he says, and teaches some music classes.
Plus he’s got his band. People Like You also features Elkus’ brother Max on drums, as well as Andrew Polakow on vocals and strings, Justin Sheriff on keys, Rob Littlefield on bass, and Graham Duval on percussion. They’re at work on their second studio album, which they hope to release this summer. They’re also planning to record a live album at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield. And they’ve got several upcoming gigs, including a slot in the next Barnstormers Festival at The Stone Church in Newmarket on May 28.
Until then, keep an eye out for the purple bus. You might hear Elkus broadcasting tongue-in-cheek hippy messages through his mobile amp while he drives, pontificating about how beautiful life is.
“We play along with the bus stereotype,” he says with a laugh.