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January 19, 2018

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Joe Downtown: Bus-driving vagabond helps needy by raising money one signature at a time


Joe Schoenmann

Donny “Skyy” Squires inside the “Magic Jukebox” bus, Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

"TheMagic JukeBox"

Donny Launch slideshow »

In all of his travels over the past two years, Donny Squires can honestly say he hasn’t driven his multimarkered, former school bus into any city quite like Las Vegas.

His 1963 Blue Bird bus — with the shell of a Volkswagen van welded on top and the faces of Shaggy, Scooby and the other kids from the Mystery Machine painted in the van’s windows — has been parked for about a week in downtown Las Vegas.

Pedestrians and people driving stop to gawk at the thing, which is covered in signatures, sayings and encouraging words from hundreds of people. A giant “420,” code for marijuana, is painted in large letters on one side.

Squires, 27 — who goes by “Skyy” — supports legalized marijuana, but he’s not pushy about it. He doesn’t smoke openly. And legalized marijuana isn’t his main cause. He figures that might be why he has been treated so fairly by local law enforcement.

“The Las Vegas police department is the first police department not to harass me,” says Squires, who started his bus journey about two years ago, around the time the Occupy movement began. He has stopped in about 20 cities. “They’ve been just the opposite. That’s just really not an experience I’m used to having with the police. They’ve been great.”

Squires calls his bus/cause/movement TheMagic JukeBox, and he specifies it be written that way because that’s how it appears on Facebook, where he only wants people who have “put hands on the bus” and understand his cause to “friend” him.

Currently, he has about 500 Facebook friends, even though he hasn’t posted on it for about a month because he hocked his laptop to pay for engine repairs awhile back.

He has a white plastic electric guitar hanging on yellow twine from his neck. He met some people here with whom he already is forming a band. They aren’t at the bus; they’re at their homes somewhere in Las Vegas.

Until he raises enough money for a $2,200 generator from Home Depot, which will allow him to cook hot food, Squires' mission is to provide water, fresh fruit — “bananas are cheap and go a long way” — and fresh socks to those in need.

One of those people, Reggie, is there around noon Friday, asking for socks.

“All right. Green beans, you don’t want that?” Squires asks.

“Gimme some socks, man,” Reggie says. “I just need some socks.”

“OK, lemme make sure I find a big enough pair for your feet.”

Squires rummages through a plastic grocery bag of white socks, none of them appearing to match. He comes out with two ankle-length socks and a white tube sock. He gives the longer tube sock plus one ankle sock to Reggie.

“Gimme those two, those two, man,” Reggie says. “Ah, you just had the good one.”

Reggie goes through the bag himself and finds the other ankle sock.

“One pair a day, you know what I’m saying, brother?” he says, and ambles away.

Why socks?

“I’ve needed them my entire life,” Squires says. “My mom cracked up when I told her that’s part of my mission statement.”

Squires keeps in contact with his parents and sister, who still live in New Mexico; Squires says he has lived on the streets since he was 14.

“They really are great people,” he says of his parents, adding that his dad is a land developer.

“They love what I do. … My dad instilled in me a sense of respect for the environment, a love of science, of doing what’s right. … We just don’t see eye to eye on things.”

Like this bus. Some would see it as artistic-looking; some think otherwise: Walking nearby Friday afternoon, two people looking at the bus are overheard. One of them calls the bus “disgusting.”

Squires says his parents have suggested he give it a nice coat of paint.

“‘Be more professional, sell stuff,’ they tell me,” Squires says, laughing. “You know, it’s like, they’re great. We just have a rough relationship.”

People who sign the bus typically donate a dollar for the privilege. One guy passing by drops a quarter in Squires’ bank, a five-gallon water bottle.

“Basically, there’s a lot of negative energy in my past I’m trying to let go. I’m trying to do good,” he says. “I’m just trying to have an awesome life and help a lot of people because, bottom line, a lot of people have helped me. And a lot of people need help.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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