This guest feature was written by Kat Hildebrand who purchased Green Day’s former Bookmobile from Wheels For Wishes after it was restored by West Coast Customs and placed on display at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
Billie Joe Armstrong always asks his fans a question at their live shows: “How many old school Green Day fans are here tonight?” After the stadium erupts with enthusiasm, he leads into hits from their first two albums 39/Smooth or Kerplunk, but most commonly from Dookie, the band’s breakthrough album released in 1994 which has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
I am not able to claim to be an old-school Green Day fan, nor even a fan for most of the 2000s even though I grew up in the bay area at the time they started at 924 Gilman. It wasn’t until October 8, 2009, that I realized how much of Green Day’s material I actually KNEW. I fell in love with their music that night after seeing American Idiot the musical at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. I was instantly sucked into the story of Johnny, Will and Tunny whose friendships meshed and then divided, only to reunite at the end after different life-changing experiences. The plotline, characters, and actors all affected me so greatly that I had to have more and more of the music, and my Green Day appreciation was born.
My first awareness of Green Day and their charitable causes was via Emily’s Army (now called SWMRS), Billie Joe’s older son Joey’s band. Named after fellow bandmates Cole and Max Becker’s cousin Emily who suffers from cystic fibrosis, their goal was to raise money and awareness for the disease. I was impressed that these kids, whose average age was 14, were socially conscious and charitable which they must have learned from their parents. Admittingly I knew very little about cystic fibrosis so I made my first Emily’s Army purchase of a custom designed fabric guitar case signed by the band to support them and their cause and my curiosity grew to wonder what other charities Green Day had supported.
The list is long spanning back to their earliest days when they reportedly donated $25,000 to Food Not Bombs. Their profits from Boulevard of Broken Dreams benefitted tsunami relief, a collaboration with U2 and remake of the Skids’ song “The Saints are Coming” was recorded for Hurricane Katrina and most recently they donated $100,000 after an intimate gig on Facebook live for Hurricane Harvey. It was no surprise when I learned Green Day had donated their first ever tour bus, the Bookmobile, to Wheels-for-Wishes which supports the Make a Wish Foundation that helps grant “wishes” to children with life-threatening illnesses.
Related: Watch the West Coast Customs episode documenting the restoration of the Bookmobile
Last Fall I hit the stereotypical midlife crisis of “What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life and what will my legacy be for my children?” Green Day’s latest album Revolution Radio has one song that sums up our current state of affairs in America: Troubled Times. I found myself angry with society and our administration. I was not proud to be an American and spent too much time watching various news channels trying to grasp our situation. With Hurricane Harvey and the devastating California fires, I felt helpless. Same with watching the news. Just despairingly helpless and hopeless as I watched all of this devastation unfold everywhere around me with nothing I could do except give a little money here and there.
I have always had a fascination with natural disasters and human kindness. Stories that illustrate people at their worst and at their best. I decided I wanted to help people and primarily be a support to first responders. Images of smoky or water laden, tired firefighters and police officers… They were busy taking care of others but who was there taking care of THEM? The same with band members and fellow artists. Who takes care of these people who tirelessly give of themselves ALL the time? I enrolled in a program to become a Community Emergency Response Team member (CERT) so I could be deployed to any disaster if called upon, and in the future will take Emergency Medical Response training to better understand the needs of first responders and what they face. I envisioned retrofitting an old RV with a couple of places to rest, a coffee maker, fresh foods, and a comfortable place for weary first responders to retreat to if needed, and label it as a Responder Relief Station. Then when I was looking online of photos of the Bookmobile on display outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I saw the word “auction” next to “Bookmobile” and everything clicked. What better way to build my own future than by combining my love of Green Day’s music and philanthropy, wanting to contribute to society instead of being a passive bystander, and showing my appreciation to my favorite band and their fans by putting the Bookmobile into service if I had the means to do so?
I contacted Wheels for Wishes and inquired about when the Bookmobile was set to go to auction. I read sometime in the fall but was looking for a more specific date so I could start pulling resources together to see if it was even something feasible and realistic. Two weeks after my initial email inquiry I received a phone call from Jamie Heiligman, Director of Operations. He said if I wanted the Bookmobile, I could purchase it from them. I gave them an offer and they accepted it. Originally the Bookmobile was to be auctioned off at a Barrett Jackson event but after expressing my passion about it they decided I would be a good fit. After some bureaucratic red tape and change in price, I finally signed the papers and received the keys on April 4, 2018.
At first, I thought the Bookmobile would suit my needs as a disaster relief vehicle. Help those who help us the most. In keeping with the altruistic nature of the band, I thought this sort of charitable work would honor them. Thank THEM for their gift of music and what it meant to me. But the more I learned about the history of the Bookmobile itself (it started service at the Chandler Arizona Library in 1983), history of the band’s charitable giving to numerous organizations, and significance of the punk genre in the East Bay in particular, I realized the importance of keeping it intact as a museum on wheels. I started my own charity called PUNK – People Uplifting Neighbors with Kindness – so I could better encompass a mission of helping people locally in my community as well as paying respect to what the Bookmobile represents.
On October 22, 2018, one year and 2 days after I received the phone call that the Bookmobile would be mine, I left Cleveland, Ohio for the 2,400-mile journey back to Los Angeles. It was an adventure I will never forget!! Two friends and I split the drive and drove 8-10 hours a day. What a workout! My whole body hurt after a 4-hour shift because my legs were too short to reach the gas pedal, even with the seat all the way up, so I had to drive with my leg fully extended the whole time. Not to mention white-knuckle driving because that thing is a TANK! Every time another truck would pass by on the left, the Bookmobile would veer right so I had to hold on to not go off the side of the road. Every time a car came, it veered left. My hands had indentations from the steering wheel because I was gripping so hard! Besides constant debris like dust, rust bits, occasional pine needles and leaves falling through every crack, the drive went without incident except near Albuquerque, New Mexico where the starter went out -thankfully at a gas station! After a hundred mile tow and 9 hours, it was fixed and we continued our journey to Los Angeles.
I have always enjoyed crime dramas and once upon a time ago wanted to become a private investigator. I love putting together puzzles and figuring out mysteries. With some sleuthing skills, I managed to locate Frank Wright II, aka “Papa Cool,” and contacted him introducing myself as the new Bookmobile owner. Much to my surprise, he offered to meet me at a gas station along the highway so he could see it. Papa Cool! The 2nd owner of the Bookmobile and tour driver. He and his wife Linda greeted me with big hugs and he was thrilled to see the inside. “Yep! Just as I remember!” He mentioned how after building the 6 bunks in the back he had forgotten to build himself a place to sleep. He attached a board to the side wall and lowered it across the table and benches to make a bed. I can’t imagine it would have been too comfortable but he reminisced over some good memories. Papa Cool gave me some of Tre’s drumsticks, an original Dookie poster, and their travel book from the 3rd leg of the Dookie tour in 1994. What a thrill and honor to meet the one and only Papa Cool.
The following day we arrived safely in Los Angeles to drop it off at a shop for more upgrades and repairs. After 10 days of a runaround and absolutely no work was done to it, I ventured back to Los Angeles from my home in Northern California and picked it back up. On my way out of town, I stopped by West Coast Customs. I promised them and myself that I would not open the safe until I brought it back to their shop. In the episode of Inside West Coast Customs, there is a segment that shows the safe and everyone wonders what is inside. Papa Cool did indeed still have the combination in his Rolodex but with its age and rust, the safe did not open. West Coast Customs used two crowbars to pry it open and I waited 7 months to find out that inside there was….. NOTHING! What a letdown after such suspense.
What is the future of the Bookmobile?
After driving the Bookmobile across the country, and experiencing 3 days of good rain, the Bookmobile needs a lot more work done to it. I expected some minor repairs, and of course knew it would need upgrades like electricity and a generator to support audio, video and air conditioning, plus a new windshield, but the roof leaks. A LOT. Much damage was done as water got into the particle board walls, warped a wooden bunk, flooded the passenger side floor, soaked both futon cushions and one bench cushion, and caused some memorabilia damage. After installing a new engine, transmission, radiator, wiring, and basic innards, I have been quoted an additional $40,000 to get everything else done including better safety measures. $10,000 of that is just the roof to be re-sealed or $18,000+ for a new one. West Coast Customs told me they only half-assed it since they never expected anyone to drive it and that work is apparent. A shame, really, but I will do what it takes to preserve it.
On December 8, 2018, to commemorate the grand re-opening of the Chandler Museum, it will be on display for residents to enjoy and reminisce of the 7 years it was in service as their mobile library. I hope more people will come forward with stories and photos from 1983-1990 to add to my collection of Bookmobile memorabilia.
Second, and which I am most excited about, to celebrate Dookie’s 25th anniversary next year I will take the Bookmobile on the first segment of its original tour route stopping in 38 cities in late spring for fans to see. The Bookmobile is not only iconic as a unique tour bus but is beloved in the Green Day fan community as well. The feeling of what it was like to step inside for the first time and just marvel at what “was” is indescribable, and I want to give others the chance to experience that. I have met some of the most amazing fans from different parts of the world and I want their stories of how the band shaped them to be heard as well. Letting fans experience, touch and see the Bookmobile will inspire narratives which I hope to document.
Third, the Bookmobile will be available for loan upon request to other charitable organizations such as if Wheels-for-Wishes would like it back for a future auction to hopefully drum up more proceeds from sales of other vehicles, or if Project Chimps would like to create more exposure for their organization since Billie Joe and his wife Adrienne are founders.
Lastly and in the future, I will use it as transportation to disaster sites to help bring temporary relief to first responders (fueled by Oakland Coffee!) and other donations to victims as needed.
My goal is to preserve and inspire. Preserve this piece of unique history. Support the band’s altruism. Keep it bio and environmentally friendly which is also in lines with their core values. I do not want the Bookmobile to sit in some garage (or backfield!) to rot away. It needs to be seen and appreciated. I have started compiling a history and timeline of both the Bookmobile and Green Day’s various charitable contributions so its history can be published in a couple of years.
Green Day has taught me many valuable lessons through their music, comradery, and dedication to charities: Never forget where you came from. Always lend a helping hand. Remember the underdog. Explode with creativity and vibrancy. Voice your opinions and be heard. Embrace the earth and each other because it’s all about love and compassion. Because of them I have met people from all over the world and been given travel opportunities I never would have had otherwise. Most importantly, they “taught me how to live.” I hope now that the Bookmobile has been partially restored and able to travel again that more people will volunteer their memories and photos to add to its legacy, and I can contribute to Green Day’s.