Short Bus grows up
Sacramento’s humor and entertainment zine blends a new professionalism with good old-fashioned fart jokes
“I’m trying to get an interview with Ice-T. I was talking to his promoter the other day. I told him where I was from, and he was like, ’Short Bus?’ He just started cracking up!” Chris Acosta, one of the founding members of the locally produced humor and entertainment-oriented Short Bus Mega-zine, was not surprised by this reaction. He represents a do-it-yourself rag named after the traditional mode of transportation for developmentally disabled students, and the current cover proclaims itself “funnier than boobies.” Respect is not immediately forthcoming, but the laughs are never far.
“Two years ago, Sacramento really didn’t have any [zines] other than music ones. I’m a big fan of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon. I wanted to start something along those lines that featured music as well,” Acosta explained. In the spring of 2001, Acosta joined forces with the zine’s other two founders, Tom Cox and John Farmer, and a handful of volunteers to create the first Short Bus.
“It was just 81/2-by-11 pieces of paper folded in half with a yellow cover. Everything was photocopied. Farmer and I ran the issue on PageMaker. We didn’t know how to use PageMaker very well. It looked so cheesy.”
The novice publishers knew they needed a compelling article to compensate for their poor design skills, so they focused on landing a celebrity interview for the first issue. “We got Tommy Chong!” Acosta exclaimed. “We just BSed our way into the Punch Line. We said we were a lot bigger than we were—that we had been on MTV. We totally lied because that was the only way we could do it at the beginning.”
The Short Bus staff distributed the first issue at bars, coffee shops and live-music shows. “As crappy as it looked and as embarrassing as it was putting them next to these other glossy zines, Short Bus was like the girl with the good personality. People liked it,” Acosta related. “I started getting letters, and I thought, ‘Hey! This has potential.’”
Encouraged by their success, the founding members were determined to review larger shows and interview more celebrities, by any means necessary. The wild days of Short Bus had begun.
Acosta used the following anecdote to illustrate the zine’s early method for obtaining press credentials: “We were trying to get into the, well, I guess you’d call it the Sleep Train Amphitheatre now, for the Don and Mike Show. Farmer and I went early in the day and saw what kind of passes they were giving the media. Then we came back home, made some passes on Farmer’s computer, had them laminated at Kinko’s, put them in the same kind of envelope they had at the media tent and hauled ass back out there.”
In order to sneak the newly created Short Bus packet onto the media table, the duo needed a diversion. “Farmer made a big commotion,” Acosta recalled. “He went and kicked over a garbage can or something. While everyone looked at him, I threw our packet on the table. We took off for half an hour, then came back and said, ‘We’re here to pick up our passes for Short Bus Mega-zine.’ The girl was like, ‘Who?’ but she looked on the table, and there they were. We were in.”
“Of course, later,” Acosta admitted, “we got caught by the promoter and dragged out by the sheriffs. It was wild.”
That was not the only time Short Bus staffers were forcibly escorted out of an event. “We went to South Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. We did the same thing, where we scanned the passes and later got kicked out. We’d heard the celebrities were going to Caesars later, but in the meantime, we had no money, and we were starving. So, we went into a Sizzler, and Farmer and I said, ‘We’re from Short Bus Mega-zine. We heard the press was eating here.’ The staff said they hadn’t heard anything about it, but Farmer started pounding his hand on the table saying, ‘We flew all the way here, and our publisher told us this was where to go!’”
After negotiations with the manager and a faked phone call to the zine’s fictitious publisher, Owen L. Bills, Short Bus was treated to a buffet dinner. “And they invited us back the next day for lunch!” Acosta laughed.
“Then we went to Caesars and got kicked out for trying to talk to Charles Barkley while he was gambling. There were, like, 30 security guards chasing Farmer. It was totally scary. We were afraid we were going to get thrown in jail. It was the greatest trip!”
Acosta spoke fondly of the publication’s early days. “We made up for what we lacked in connections and money. We got around things because we were creative.”
Still, like all great epochs in history, the media-outlaw days of Short Bus had to end. “After 9/11, security got really tight,” Acosta explained. “I wasn’t about to go hopping a fence and have some guy with a .45 kill me.”
Around the time these shenanigans became impossible, the founders of Short Bus realized they were no longer necessary. A concerted effort at selling ads had allowed the paper to grow in size and design. Once subsidized by the staff, Short Bus had begun to pay for itself. The continued do-it-yourself efforts of the staff had sharpened everyone’s typing, layout and PR skills. The zine’s list of celebrity interviews had grown to include Kid Rock, Pauly Shore, B-Real, Tiffany and Les Claypool. Further, the increased distribution area had attracted writers, photographers and fans from Los Angeles to Humboldt County (where Farmer since has relocated) who volunteered their time and talents to the publication.
One such contributor was Sacramento writer Amber Kloss, a co-worker of Acosta’s. “I came back to my desk one day, and there was the second issue [of Short Bus] with this note that said, ‘Hi! My name is Chris, and I write for Short Bus Mega-zine,’” Kloss remembered. “I’m hesitant about publications that take themselves too seriously, but I was rolling reading Short Bus. I thought, ‘Oh my God! I’ve found my home! This is for me!’”
“We’ve been lucky with people volunteering,” Acosta added. “Apparently, we’re creating something where people feel comfortable enough to want to help us out, even though there’s no financial reward.”
Today, Short Bus has grown from 150 photocopied pamphlets to a 56-page, color-newsprint magazine with a circulation of 10,000. The issues, which appear roughly every eight weeks, are distributed at stores and live-music shows from Eureka to San Diego. Though the paper has maintained its original blend of conversational entertainment reviews, lowbrow humor and loose editing, the days of forged press passes and fence hopping are gone.
“I’ve compiled a long list of bands, radio stations and managers all over the country,” Kloss explained. “I keep sending them the magazine because I don’t want them to forget who we are. I follow up and send thank-you notes. When they think of Sacramento, I want them to think of Short Bus.”
Of course, Kloss still utilizes a little of the Short Bus ingenuity. “I’ll tell a promoter to call me at my office and give them my number. They’re in New York or Chicago. Are they going to drive by and see I don’t have an office? Then I’ll have a friend answer and say, ‘Short Bus. Ms. Kloss is in a meeting right now. She’ll be right with you.’ I know we’re supposed to be punk rock and DIY, but I want to be as professional as I can.”
Another sign of the magazine’s growth is the upcoming Rock ’em Sock ’em Sunday Short Bus benefit. The event, scheduled for Sunday, May 25, at the Colonial Theatre, features live music from bands throughout California, Supreme Pro Wrestling matches, appearances by many Short Bus Mega-zine characters and a raffle.
“And I’ll be staging a Ho Ho-eating contest!” Kloss added excitedly. “All the bands are different styles, from different cities. The $10 admission is so cheap! It’s like a dollar per band. If you do the Ho Ho-eating contest, it’s free food, too!” As Kloss summarized, the proceeds will go toward “more pages, more color and more issues!”
Though the obvious goal of a benefit is to raise money, like all other Short Bus ventures, money is a secondary issue. Because the staff of Short Bus is scattered throughout the state, this event will be the first time that many of the members will meet face to face. “We’re this distant family,” Kloss said. “I can’t wait to get a group photo with all of us.”
Despite the irreverent and cynical tone of the writers’ publication, their faces glow with pure enthusiasm for their creation. “It feels like it’s your baby, and you’re seeing it grow up,” Kloss explained.
“When the staff comes to pick up the new issues, no one just grabs them and leaves,” Acosta added. “Each person says, ‘Let me have one,’ and we all just sit there and read.”
Though each admitted they would love to publish Short Bus for a living, financial success is not a primary concern. “You know,” Acosta confided, “I was driving by El Centro, and I looked over, and I saw people reading it. They were laughing, and I thought that was better than money.”