He's Off to Work Some Magic for U.S. Troops

Times Staff Writer

In a city where public figures have a propensity for sameness, Loch David Crane stands out.

Maybe it's his Buffalo Bill look. Or Merlin look. Or cowboy look.

Or his motorized three-wheeled Star-Trike (Captain Kirk is also one of his personas). Often seen on local freeways, the trike is capable of high-speed wheelies, back and front.

Crane, 56, is best known locally as the clown prince of municipal politics. He's had five unsuccessful -- but highly entertaining -- campaigns for mayor.

But he is also a master at sleight of hand, and this weekend he took his magic act to Europe to begin his annual Tricks for Troops tour to entertain U.S. military personnel and their families. He said he'd even go to Iraq if he could get permission.

In his many campaigns, he's run on platforms outside the mainstream of local political thought, such as combating ozone by smoking marijuana. And sometimes during debates, he casually opens his wallet, which then explodes in flames.

He disappears from public view sometimes -- he is a magician -- but when he comes back it's usually with something new.

Once he did a Houdini upside-down straitjacket stunt as a fundraiser for a campaign to save the seaside roller coaster at Belmont Park.

No more of that though. Several Star-Trike accidents have left him with some aches and pains.

"I sold the jacket 10 years ago," Crane said.

The last time he ran for mayor he got more than 3,000 votes. "I still get at least two people a week who wave and yell, 'Hey dude, I voted for you,' " he said.

During one of his mayoral campaigns he would pass the hat -- a purple, floppy one -- to gather donations for the downtown homeless programs run by Catholic Msgr. Joe Carroll.

His politics have changed over the years. He started as a "homegrown '60s hippie liberal." Lately, he's thrown in with the Minutemen and their border concerns.

His views may have shifted, but his sense of activism remains steady.

"I've decided to make the military my charity for the next five years," he said. "I always try to have a charity. For a while it was Catfish Club," a local black leaders' forum. "For a while I was even a feminist until I learned I wasn't wanted or understood."

A graduate of San Diego State, he has steadfastly refused to grow up and join the 9-to-5 world. To make ends meet he manages a 10-unit apartment building owned by his family in funky Ocean Beach.

He does magic shows, for kids and for adults. Last week, he did a Shriners gathering ("I'm bad at names but I never forget a fez.").

He taught business English to adults for 14 years before a protracted contractual dispute with his boss. There was litigation and he collected a settlement that he used to buy a Volvo.

On his goodwill mission to Europe, he'll do magic shows for Army and Air Force personnel and their families in Germany and England. He's got a Star-Trike look-alike waiting for him at a motorcycle shop near Stuttgart, Germany.

A good magician is never truly off duty, so Crane will mingle with Europeans in costume. Merlin is popular, the cowboy less so; maybe it's a reflection of the European distaste for the Bush administration, the magician suggests.

"When it was the American cowboy with six-guns, that was cool, but now maybe they see the American cowboy with nuclear weapons, and it's not so cool," Crane said.

The USO has Wayne Newton recruiting headliners such as Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Clint Black and Jennifer Lopez to visit troops.

Lesser names, such as Crane, are partially sponsored by the Armed Forces Entertainment network. Reimbursement is minimal, but there are tax write-off possibilities.

Crane will do nine shows over a month, more if asked. He's planning a visit to a famed biker bar/pub in London, near where he'll do a show for the Royal Air Force.

And naturally there's a side trip to Stockholm for a convention of the International Federation of Magic Societies.

"Those guys are the best of the best," Crane said, with an appreciative laugh. "I'm good with an audience but I'm not astounding, except in my own mind."

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