My Hero, Rico Thunder

I got the idea for the West Chester Guerilla Drive-In from an article Kate showed me in ReadyMade Magazine in, maybe, 2001. The story was about a bunch of crazy anarchists in Santa Cruz that were trying to take back corporate brownfield space by showing movies in it, making community happen in it.. you know, doing people stuff in it, rather than just allowing it to be fenced off and barricaded away.

The Santa Cruz group are anarchists in the best sense of the word — they’re thoughtful, sincere, and not afraid to be blunt. My Guerilla Drive-In group is more of an “adventure movie club”, but they’ve got more of a confrontational Abbie Hoffman vibe — Rico Thunder, one of the group’s organizers, has a “Fuck the MPAA” tattoo that he’s not afraid to show (and will be featured in the CBS Evening News story about the Guerilla Drive-In movement, if they ever get around to airing it.

Rico (whose real name is Wes Modes) and I became e-mail friends after I sent them a mash note about how great their group was, and I started my own GDI. We get mentioned in the same newspaper articles, and when new GDI groups start to organize, Rico and I usually provide a spectrum of views for the new projectionists to select from:

  • John: “If you want to be perfectly legal and above-board, here’s how you go about purchasing a non-theatrical license.”
  • Rico: “Licenses? Fuck that shit!”

I’m not being sarcastic, here: between my “Render unto Caesar” .com vibe and Rico’s “Don’t suffer bad laws to stand” .org vibe, I think we’ve got both shoulders covered, providing balance.

But I’m not writing this to talk about the Guerilla Drive-In, I am writing to talk about what an UTTER BADASS Rico and his friends are. Each year for (about four?) years, now, they have made a Punk Rafting trip, which consists of traveling to a campsite, building rafts out of truck tubes and found objects, and then FLOATING THAT SHIT DOWN THE RIVER for two weeks. It’s the Mad Max version of boating. It’s unbelievably awesome. Rico is my hero.

Punk Rafting 2009

For the past few weeks, I’ve been following Rico’s sporadic updates posted from his mobile phone to Twitter: “Raft hit a snag, we almost died”, etc.

Punk Rafting 2009

I love how the rafts look like Conestoga wagons from the outsides when they have all theiir sun shades up. And from the inside, too! Here’s Rico perched on the couch on his raft. I think his raft was one of four or five on the trip:

Punk Rafting 2009

On the photoset (click any picture to go to this year’s pictures), you can see them putting holes in the plywood with a brace and bit, in order to lash the rafts together. This is FANTASTIC stuff.

Punk Rafting 2009

I just finished reading The Road to Woodstock, written by Michael Lang. His book drove home that the festival was made up of .01% True Countercultural Icons, like Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm folks, and 99.99% Fellow Travelers; nice suburban kids that had come out for the show. This is not a bad thing, of course; if everyone was a Hog Farmer or an Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, all of us would be in Big Trouble.

But I feel like I know a True Countercultural Icon in Rico Thunder, and I’m immeasurably impressed by what he’s got going on, out there in Santa Cruz. Rico, congratulations on surviving another raft trip! I’m glad that you take this stuff seriously, and I’m quite sure that one day, I will tell my grandchildren: “Rico Thunder? Hell, yeah, I knew that guy back in the day!”

My Hero, Rico Thunder

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