This guest blog article is by Kendra Wright.
I have an obsession with weirdness and oddities. It’s probably why I adore our quirky little city so much. When I discovered that a real life Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo was cruising our streets, I was determined to dig up the details.
Next thing I knew, I was dressed up as Velma Dinkley and going behind the scenes with a life sized Scooby to get the story.
If you’ve ever wondered who is behind the brightly colored mystery mobile, you’re about to get an Austinot insider scoop.
Mystery Free Before 2003
Some Austinites may not realize it, but the Mystery Machine has been calling our streets home since 2003. The owner, ironically nicknamed “Shaggy” since the mid-90s, discovered the van up for grabs on eBay and dished out a whopping 3K to call it his own.
A software test engineer by day and a volunteer junkie by night, he saw this as an opportunity to creatively blend his love for contribution and his affinity for the the nostalgic cartoon series.
Since the Mystery Machine relocated from the streets of Detroit to the the sunny city of Austin, he’s been dressing up as Shaggy and taking the van around raising money for local charities.
A Mission Bigger Than Solving Mysteries
You may think the only purpose the van has is to serve up grins and great vibes, but Shaggy and his Mystery Machine have quietly been playing a bigger part in our community for years.
Shaggy, as he prefers to be called, has costumes for the entire cast, including a gigantic life sized Scooby suit. He recruits friends or volunteers to attend events that help raise money for great causes.
The Mystery Machine owner loves that he can impact our community by dressing up as his alter ego. “I wanted to find a fun way to volunteer my time and help other people in any way that I could. This seemed like a pretty fun way to do that and all the donations we make go to charity,” he told me.
I could hear his love for the Mystery Machine radiating from his voice as we chatted over a Jersey style pie at Little Deli Pizzeria.
I asked with curiosity in my voice because I just had to know…what’s it like to be the guy who drives around in the Mystery Machine? (I secretly also imagine all the hilarious first dates he has had.)
“Imagine if your life was a non-stop parade,”he said, with a smile in his eyes.
“The van is such a blessing – especially when I’m having a really bad day. I drive around and people honk at me not because they are mad to be stuck in traffic for once, but because they just want to wave and say hi. They want to take pictures. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I was having the worst day ever and seeing the Mystery Machine really made me smile. Thank you for turning my day around.’ And it’s really two fold because it lifts my spirits too.” -Shaggy
I understand the sparkle in his eyes, because Shaggy and I have already spent the morning together dressing up and hanging out with a couple dozen kids at Texas School for the Blind.
He continued, “Sometimes I forget how many people this touches. One time I had a tire blow out on the way to an event I was volunteering at. I was trying to explain to the technicians so I could make it in time. A lady overheard and said, ‘Oh my god, you own the Mystery Machine?! You helped us raise money for my daughter’s cancer! Have my spot in line!'”
Shaggy goes on to tell me half a dozen stories that make us smile and laugh, but I know every rainbow has its thunderstorms. How does one guy keep a behemoth project like this alive?
Only in Austin Would the Mystery Survive
“I truly believe if it were any other city than Austin, I don’t know if the Mystery Machine would still be on the road. It’s a constant struggle to keep a van nearly 50 years old in running condition. The AC is always on the fritz. Sometimes I even have to tow it to events just to get it there because it overheats. It’s like a hole in the pavement I shovel money into. If I didn’t love it and have support of the community, I don’t know how I would keep it going.”
A passion project with a large price tag, but an even larger mission.
I listen in amazement as I hear the great lengths Shaggy has gone to to keep the van on the road, and how others have come together to help when it was overwhelming.
“I think the emissions guys pass me sometimes just because they don’t have the heart to take it off the road.” We both laugh. “Austin has a big heart. That helps keep the Mystery Machine on the road.”
As the interview comes to a close, I sit in the tiny mom and pop pizzeria reflecting and feeling grateful for many things: To know the story behind Austin’s Mystery Machine and the one-man show that keeps it alive. To my fellow Austinites who have chipped in to help when it was a little too much for just one Shaggy.
And most significantly, to 30 young children from Texas School For the Blind that morning. They gave me an experience I’ll never forget. Even if some of them couldn’t see our faces, hopefully they felt our smiles through our Scooby infused hugs.
It’s only in Austin I would spend my Thursday afternoon dressed up as Velma Dinkley and hanging out with Shaggy and Scooby in the Mystery Machine to help a great cause.
Some may say our city is “losing our weirdness,” but I believe there are so many great treasures left in our funky little city…sometimes we just have to jump in and keep that weirdness alive.
Have you ever seen the Mystery Machine out on the streets of Austin?
Kendra enjoys brownies from the center of the pan and dominating her bucket list. When she isn’t hunting down all the weirdest adventures in Austin, she’s writing words at HeyKendra.com.