Next time you're driving down the street and a T-Bird bearing a dorsal fin, beady eyes and other sharkish accouterments pulls into the lane next to you -- well, just be aware that an art car parade may not be far away. Art cars are vehicles decorated in fantastic ways, from carpeting the entire auto in Astroturf and plopping a mermaid on the hood to crafting an oversize Corona bottle on wheels. Although Houston's art car parade offers prizes, the events are less about competition than a way for folks to roll out their zany vehicles for a day -- and for others to see them. Here are three events that are coming down the road. -- Catherine Arnold
What: Everyones Art Car Parade, part of EV1.Net Art Car Weekend.
Where/When: May 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. on Allen Parkway near downtown.
Back story: Art cars in Houston began with the Fruitmobile, a '67 Ford station wagon covered in plastic produce and donated in 1984 to the Orange Show, a local arts foundation. It generated so much enthusiasm for decorated cars that in 1986 the foundation organized a parade; 12 vehicles were featured. These days, the parade attracts 200 to 250 cars, including dozens from out of town, and 250,000 onlookers. The foundation, now the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, organizes most of the weekend's events.
Highlights: The 2005 parade will include artist Mel Chin's 71-foot-long Weapon of Mass Destruction, a missile-shaped structure on the foundation of a mobile home trailer, complete with vinyl siding and aluminum windows . . . Armadizuki, an aluminum-and steel armadillo atop a Suzuki, will also make an appearance . . . On May 13, check out the downtown street party on Main Street to see a battle of one-man bands and preview cars from the parade, parked a block away at Market Square.
Info: 713-926-6368, www.orangeshow.org/artcar.html.
* San Francisco Bay Area
What: ArtCar Fest, parading through the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.
Where/When: Sept. 22-25. On Thursday, the Caravan drives from Amoeba Music (2455 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) to the store's San Francisco location (1855 Haight St.). The viewing continues at 11 a.m. Sunday, when the cars take part in a parade for the How Berkeley Can You Be? fest.
Back Story: In 1997, art car designers Harrod Blank and Philo Northrup started a parade exclusively for people who drive their art cars year-round. Now ArtCar Fest, an artist-sponsored nonprofit, attracts 80 to 100 cars annually and upward of 100,000 viewers.
Highlights: The 2005 fest will include some old favorites, such as the Camera Van (with 1,705 pieces of photo equipment covering a Dodge van) and a stained-glass Volkswagen known as the Glass Quilt . . . New this year is Daisy Singer, a 2004 Honda Element clad in antique tin ceilings, linoleum and curved animal horns . . . The How Berkeley Can You Be? fest has music ranging from a punk rock orchestra to "cosmic rockabilly" . . . Dancing, food and drink booths, crafts and kids activities will also be on hand.
Info: ArtCar Fest, www.artcarfest.com (update for 2005 due soon). Berkeley fest, 510-644-2204, www.howberkeleycanyoube.com.
What: Art CARavan parade, part of the Baltimore Artscape festival.
Where/When: July 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. traveling north on Charles Street from North Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue (the festival site).
Back Story: In 1992, artist Philip Minion displayed an art car -- a Baltimore rowhouse-themed Dodge Dart with an Astroturf hood and Formstone sides -- at the festival. The following year, 15 other artists showed cars, but it wasn't until '99 that the current parade took shape. Today, 5,000 to 10,000 people watch the parade, which features local cars as well as vehicles from Houston, the Bay Area and elsewhere.
Highlights: Cars parade through downtown to the festival, then remain on display all weekend . . . Standing out in years past: the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, an old Volvo covered in mechanical fish and lobsters that lip-synch to music ranging from Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus to the "Rawhide" theme song . . . Non-car activities at Artscape will include a Billie Holliday vocal competition (Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m.) at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (1212 Cathedral St.) and offerings from Dance Baltimore, Baltimore Opera Company, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Film Festival.
Info: 410-752-8632, www.artscape.org.