Watching Leroy Herr and Heather Platen drive up in their tatted and tagged bus is like entering a time warp. It’s 1970 again, and you can almost hear the Grateful Dead singing “Truckin’.”
Herr and Platen, two 21st century hippies, chose to live off-the-grid and free themselves of all social restraints six years ago. They carry a message of freedom and art, allowing anyone to paint on their bus. It’s a mobile and constantly changing work of art — and that’s exactly the point.
The couple truck from town to town — mostly small towns — with their two young children, living free and easy, without worrying about pesky details like bills, house payments, federal taxes, and indoor plumbing. Their two-year-old daughter doesn’t have a Social Security number.
Herr and Platen wouldn’t disclose their age — they’re not into calendars — but appear to be in their late 20s.
The pair was in Palestine this week with their Dragonfly Bus, including a visit on Thursday to the Herald-Press. Inside the living quarters of the bus is a small stove and not much else. Solar panels provide the juice.
Herr said he doesn’t want to think about money, time, and dates, though his wife said the family still celebrates birthdays and certain holidays.
Herr recalls when he was living on the grid, with a house and car payments. It wasn’t his thing.
“I lived in South Dakota (six years) ago, and I was doing what everyone else did,” he said.
The South Dakota native visited California and decided to change his life. He gave up all his possessions and began living outside, with a backpack, free of the restrictions that encumber, or sustain, most people.
Platen, too, once lived a more conventional life. She studied art in college; for a while, she taught art to foster children. Now, the family lives off Platen’s artwork. When times are really lean, Herr works as a mechanic.The bus tows a trailer carrying Herr’s tools.
While the couple did not ask for money in Palestine, some residents gave it to them, anyway. Platen said the family can get by on $500 a month. One plus: Herr said he doesn’t need to file taxes.
The two met hiking on a trail, then fell in love and had a child. When Platen became pregnant, Herr said they knew they needed a more stable living arrangement than sleeping under the stars. About two years ago they purchased an old school bus for $500.
The bus is covered with art. Some of it comes from Platen, but most of the murals come from people in communities they visit. Several kids have their handprints on the mural.
Platen said they don’t charge people for viewing art on the the DragonFly Bus. That would counter what they teach.
The two never want to return to a traditional life.
“Working six says a week and not seeing my family makes no sense,” Herr said. “Fathers don’t get to spend enough time with their families.”
Rejecting a normal lifestyle, Herr and Platen lived without things, like running water, for two years before deciding to buy the bus for $500. On top of the bus is a micro bus where the family sleeps.
Even so, the family is not totally off-the-grid. The digital revolution has invaded even their insular world. The family has an email account — [email protected] They also use twitter, including @DragonFlyBus and Instagram. They would like a person studying videography to travel with them to chronicle what they are doing.
The couple prefer visiting smaller towns, like Palestine, because those spots need to be exposed to art. They said the bus provides a perfect platform.
Their older daughter, who is 5, has been studying science and math with her parents. On Thursday, she was practicing her handwriting. The couple hope their daughters eventually embrace life off-the-grid.
Although the family is homeschooling their daughter, Herr said the family plans to visit Taos, N.M. long enough to try out school.
“She’s been telling us that she wants to go to school,” said Herr. “We want her to explore that for herself and allow her to have contact and play with kids her own age. I am trying to give my kids as much information as possible so that they can make their own decisions in life.”
“I am trying to give my kids as much information as possible,” he said.
Meantime, the family will keep on truckin.’
Next stop: Austin.
As the family rolls out of the parking lot, you can almost hear the Grateful Dead.