If your car has a hood spray painted with the Virgin of Guadalupe as an extraterrestrial, chances are you are a little different.
Scott Alan is a lot different — and proud of it.
With long, punkish blond hair, decorative goatee, red toenails and an ever-present dachshund, the 57-year-old Alan complements his art car, which sits around Laguna emblazoned with a “q-eer bug” license plate.
That plate got him into trouble in Texas, but we will come to that in a minute.
It all started in San Francisco in 1998, when Alan had a graffiti artist friend volunteer to improve the looks of his 1961 VW bug.
Alan told him to “wow me.”
That’s when the virgin first appeared.
“I got hell from all the Latinos and Latinas because I’m white,” Alan said. “I’m like, hey, I’m supporting Latino art.”
Before long, Alan turned his car’s hood into a variety of outrageous eye candy, including a Y2K bug, a Darth Maul, a Silver Surfer, Marvin the Martian, a Pandora Avatar (his most popular) and right now, a space dragonfly with lights. He has a total of five hoods that he changes periodically.
As an art car enthusiast, Alan drives to a handful of shows around the Western United States, including those in San Francisco, Seattle and Houston. Locally, there was a recent show in Santa Ana, sponsored by the Los Angeles Cacophony Society, whose tagline is “pranks, street satire and degeneracy.”
“The people who drive cars like mine are of a like mind,” he said, smiling. “We’re a very interesting tribe of people. They’re my second family.”
And like spirited families, Alan has gotten into some arguments with those who don’t quite understand.
“I got a little crap in Austin because I had a queer bug plate on the front of the car because it’s a queer bug,” he said.
It was his first trip to the big Houston car show in 1998. A caravan of art cars had stopped in Austin, and a local elementary school invited the cars to a show-and-tell — up until they saw Alan and his plate.
“This woman came up to me and she said, ‘Would you mind covering up your queer bug plate?’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I kind of would. What’s your problem with that?’
“And she was like, ‘Well, how would we explain that to the children?’
“And I said, ‘Well, tell them to look it up in the dictionary!’”
The school official apparently did not like Alan’s answer.
“I said, ‘Fine, I just won’t go.’”
Then another car owner chimed in, “If he doesn’t go, none of us go.”
So none of them went to the school, and they drove on to Houston.
A negative reaction is somewhat uncommon in Laguna, but not always.
“I have two older sisters; I’m fond of saying I’m the youngest of three girls,” he said, setting the stage for his next example.
When driving around town or parked in store lots, children often will come up and gawk; out-of-town parents — usually in minivans or SUVs — sometimes grab the little ones in a “clutch-the-pearls” kind of way.
It doesn’t happen very often, though, and the positive stories outweigh the negative.
Alan recalls his favorite incident a few years ago in a store parking lot in South Laguna. There was a couple in their 80s admiring the many stickers on the car when Alan got into the car to drive away.
“She said, ‘Honey, you can’t leave yet; we’re not done reading your car,’ and I was like, ‘take all the time you need.’”
Alan waited patiently.
“They got to the bumper sticker that says, ‘Real men wear skirts,’ and she says to her husband, ‘Honey, you don’t wear skirts often enough.’
“That’s one of my favorite stories,” he said, laughing.
For Alan, these kinds of moments are why he has the art car. It’s not the small donations he receives or the chance of winning any car contest. It’s just the pleasure of it.
“Plus, it’s really easy to find your car in a parking lot,” he said.
He shrugs off any rude comments that are sometimes left on the car, which is normally parked on Forest Avenue in front of the Scandia Bakery.
“I did laminate this note that a guy had left on my car. This guy really did not like what I had done.”
Alan said, among other things, the guy wrote, “What are you, 18?”
“And when a friend of mine said, ‘When was the last time you were mistaken for an 18-year-old?’ I said, ‘OK, I guess that’s a back-handed compliment.’
“It’s like taking a negative and turning it into a positive, which is what I do.”
Negative into positive.
A car into art.
Blandness into creativity and joy.
To make his case, Alan points to a long line of drab cars parked on a downtown Laguna street.
“This is one of the main reasons I have the car that I have: white, gray, white, black, white, black, white, white, white — oh, there’s red.
“It’s like everybody wants to drive the same thing. It’s like, why? Dare to be different.”
And being different is what makes Laguna, Laguna.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.