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One love, one truck

Special to The Times

Never getting a traffic ticket in Los Angeles is unusual for many drivers. For the Silver Lake duo behind the wheel of a vehicle named Destiny, it’s mind-boggling -- considering that their 1969 Dodge ice cream truck coasts through L.A. blasting classic reggae music.

On a recent trip through downtown, the truck -- painted in the Rastafarian colors of red, gold and green -- attracted a few bewildered looks from passersby but was mostly ignored. Until, that is, driver Aurelito Mercado put the 1982 reggae oldie “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy on the truck’s sound system. Soon, men and women in suits waved at the truck or even broke into dance on the crosswalk.

Shakespeare, a dreadlocked DJ who minds the truck with Mercado, waved back at the dancing office workers.

“We can make a party in the street anytime; it’s a beautiful thing,” said Shakespeare, who declined to give his full name or age. “It’s just too bad you need a license to hold a dance. Why do you need a license to dance in every city and state in America? That’s control of the soul.”

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Mercado, 33, and Shakespeare unveiled the truck two years ago, intent on making every gum-stained sidewalk a disco. It should have been nothing more than an extracurricular activity, because their careers as reggae DJs in nightclubs were established by the late 1990s.

But Destiny made the duo known as Aurelito & Shakespeare the best-recognized and arguably two of the most popular reggae DJs in the city.

They discount the notion that the truck gave them a higher standing in the DJ nation, but it’s been good for publicity. Destiny was pictured on the cover of hipster magazine XLR8R last year, and its image is supposed to appear as part of an album by spoken-word artist Saul Williams later this year.

The majority of the songs on Aurelito & Shakespeare’s set list are classic reggae -- think Bob Marley’s era, not the currently popular dance-hall of Sean Paul. What sets them apart, said Carlos Nino of the show “Spaceways” on KPFK-FM (90.7), is their ability to serve as the consummate hosts.

“They know everybody, and they make everybody feel welcome,” said Nino, who has booked them to play at clubs such as the Little Temple in Silver Lake and Zanzibar in Santa Monica. “That’s a special gift.”

Shakespeare met Mercado when he attended a reggae party at Mercado’s Silver Lake house in 1995. They later co-DJ-ed a party that they judged to be an incredible success and began playing gigs together under the name I&I; Productions. But Mercado wasn’t satisfied with merely spinning records.

He killed time by drawing pictures of a truck painted Rastafarian colors. His fantasy grew more vivid in 1999, when he and Shakespeare recorded a program for the Hollywood-based Internet station Dublab that they announced as if they were DJ-ing from a truck traveling the world playing reggae.

The next year, Mercado’s fiancee, Desiree Valdez, spotted a broken-down ice cream truck that looked like the one in Mercado’s drawings. It was for sale. Mercado bought the truck for $1,500, and he and Shakespeare ripped out the freezers and spent a year refurbishing it. They put in a new sound system and connected it to turntables.

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They quit their jobs to realize their dream. Mercado worked as a set painter for movie studios; Shakespeare was a boutique clerk. “We asked ourselves if we were crazy to sacrifice consistent paychecks for this,” Shakespeare said. “Our families asked the same thing.”

However, they say DJ-ing from the truck is more important than a career. “I pray for this -- it’s going to bring a change,” Shakespeare says of what he believes is the truck’s knack for erasing boundaries of race and economic privilege. “It’s a heavy-duty machine.”

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Aurelito & Shakespeare

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Upcoming dates:

* Saturday, Chocolate Bar at Gabbah, 4658 Melrose Ave., L.A. The duo produce this weekly club night. Cover varies. (323) 860-8873.

* Aug. 21 and 22, Sunset Junction Street Fair, 3600 to 4400 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. The ice cream truck makes a scheduled stop. $10. (323) 661-7771.

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