survey says? where do you pee? what's inside? do you use drugs? that's not a house!
Los Angles Times Logo


Home, sweet...
bread truck?

Keep your apartments and Big Apple rents. Two artists prefer
their cozy 1953 parked Ford.

Times Staff Writer

100 SQUARE FEET OF COMFORT: Sure there's no toilet or kitchen, but look at the luxury seating. Photographer Angel Hess and poet and sculptor Theresa Magario have made a true mobile home out of a 1953 purple truck. They pay $200 to park at a gravel lot in Brooklyn and they shower at a nearby gym.

NEW YORK — Their home is a purple bread truck in Brooklyn, parked between a hearse and a yellow Volkswagen bug. The 100-square-foot pad is outfitted with bamboo floors, solar power and a full-size bed.
     The two artists who live here do so without a toilet or kitchen. When temperatures plummet outside, their seltzer water and soy milk freeze. They cook mini-vegetable pizzas on a wood-burning stove and shower at a nearby gym. They access the Internet on a laptop hooked up to a hand-held Treo phone that serves as a modem.
     Angel Hess, a photographer, and his girlfriend, Theresa Magario, a poet and sculptor, came to New York from small towns to live big dreams. They met, fell in love and fretted over paying rent in a city where a 400-square-foot apartment can run $2,100 a month or more.
     Hess, 28, couldn't afford more than $600, andMagario, 24, could pay even less. Both had bounced from room to room, living with random roommates found online.
     "I was stressed out," said Hess, who also makes jewelry. "I said I'm not going to waste the money anymore. I started thinking about getting a house in another location but I still couldn't get loans. Then I started thinking about trucks, and train cars, and containers — just unusual things that could be a house."
     Hess found the 1953 Ford truck on EBay for $2,500. It was in Eureka, Calif. He saved for three months, then bought a plane ticket for $400 to pick it up. It would become his ultimate art project. Hess painted — his website that details the truck's renovation — on its right side, next to the portrait of a fast food drive-through restaurant.
     It was his first time driving a stick shift. On the way back to New York, Hess stopped off to see family and friends in Arizona and Arkansas. His father helped him tear out the rotten wood in the back of the truck and replace it with oak. Hess carved a skylight in the roof.
     His family didn't really understand his mobile real estate investment.TRAVELING CANVAS: On the side of his bread truck, Hess wrote the address of his website telling the story of the truck's transformation. Taggers have added flourishes to the rolling work in progress.      "Why don't you buy a car, or get an apartment, or get an RV?" asked his father, Larry Hess, 58. "He's always been very creative, you know, as a kid. But this one was pretty strange."
     The couple parked the truck on North 11th Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood. It seemed the perfect place for their bohemian lifestyle. Home to more than 60 art galleries, Williamsburg is a hipster haven of poetry readings, indie music shows, wheat-pasted street murals and overnight draw-a-thons where dozens of artists sketch to live music as nude models pose.
     At first, life for Hess and Magario inside the truck was awkward. The roof and windows leaked when it rained and frigid wind blew through the walls. Drunken bar-hoppers and homeless people urinated on the tires. Hess woke up to the sound of hissing spray cans defacing his home. He pounded the wall until the star- tled taggers ran away.
     Twice a week, street cleaning trucks rolled down the block at 3 a.m. Hess woke up to move the truck across the street, then moved it back after the cleaning crews finished. He fell back asleep, only to be awakened by garbage trucks.
     After two months, Hess decided to rent a spot down the block for $200 a month in a gravel parking lot, and life became calmer. Now the couple's windshield looks out on multimillion-dollar condominium projects underway next door.
     Hess told a nearby church about his living situation. The church gave him a thick down comforter and paid for a gym membership so he and Magario could take showers. Hess installed solar panels, generators and giant batteries for electricity. He carved a hole in the ceiling for the chimney of the wood-burning stove that he bought for $250 online. He put in three layers of insulation.
     The couple decorated the truck with a plastic roll-up fatigue-printed camping table and red-and-green Mexican-style rugs. They hung a pink-and-baby blue Southwestern-style sheet behind their bed to block the drafts. They stored their clothes in plastic bags and lined up their shoes in the driver's area. They bought vegan food from Whole Foods that did not spoil, like falafel mix, oatmeal, cereal and cookies.
     When Hess—who is 6-foot-2— stands up, he has two inches of space between his head and the ceiling. They sit on two folding plastic stools to eat. The camping table is small enough to allow a walkway to the bed, which is in the truck's rear.
     Magario placed a wood-and-newspaper sculpture she had created on the dashboard.
     Hess had moved to New York three years earlier without a word to his family. He left Arizona, where he attended Collins College, earning a degree in visual and graphic arts.
     When his father found out, he couldn't believe his shy son who loved fossils and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks had made such a move.
     "Why would you go to NewYork City?" said his father, who lives in Surprise, Ariz. "I've never been there myself. It's big and complicated."
     Hess wanted to photograph dancers and performers for magazines and press kits, and he figured New York — home of The Juilliard School of performing arts — was the place to start.
     He supports himself with $600 monthly Social Security checks he receives because of his anxiety disorder. He said he earns less than $1,000 a year taking photographs, because he takes most portraits for free.
     Magario had moved to New York from Webster, Mass. Hess posted an ad online for an unpaid photography assistant. Magario, who had been working as a waitress, answered it.
     Hess and Magario became friends, then roommates. In the beginning, it was a relationship of necessity, she said. "I didn't really want to go back and live with my parents."
     The young woman with the boyish haircut soon was drawn to Hess. He was introverted and adventurous, like her.
     "I could tell he had ideas in his head about doing something crazy," she said.
     Hess posted updates on the truck and welcomed donations on his website and on Bloggers picked up on his story. One called him the "Hipster of the Year." Others called him an idiot.
     "williamsburg is so cliche. and if you cant afford that, go home!"
     "If he wants to achieve the ultimate in hipsterdom, he'll have to drive crosscountry and stay in a different Wal-Mart parking lot every night — ironically, of course."
     "Angel is going through his meta phase. Art is life is art and so on and so forth … until he finds out that hunk won't pass emissions." Feeling offended, Hess read all of the comments to Magario. She told him: "People are mean."
     They went back to fixing up the Ford.