KNOX – Luggie is back on the beat, standing up for mascots everywhere

(Image: Victoria Times Colonist)

LUGGIE IS BACK and I am glad. Unreasonably so.

From 1996 through 2003, the carpet-clad Lug-A-Rug mascot was an everyday sight in Victoria, dancing and waving to passing traffic from the Blanshard Street sidewalk.

Then he disappeared — poof — just like Myspace or Paris Hilton, never to be seen again.

Until now.

Fifteen years later, Luggie is dancing again, this time on Douglas Street by Alpha Street. Same plastic head, but a newly carpeted body.

The old one didn’t survive the fire.

The fire? Yes, the Oak Street blaze that devastated the rug-cleaners and a dozen other businesses in 2008. It took a long time to claw back from that.

“It was five really, really, really tough years,” says owner Dusty Roberts. (We can assume all rug-cleaners are named Dusty.)

The business, now known as Luv-A-Rug, did come back. So, now, has Luggie, bopping away near the Beta Street shop.

Luggie was inspired by a mascot from Dusty’s own youth, a man who would wave to passersby in front of the Red Lion Inn while wearing a tuxedo and a top hat that would pop off his head as if by magic.

“I remember going down Douglas Street in the back of my mom’s Buick station wagon, always watching for him.”

Dusty’s first run at designing Luggie was a disaster, he told the TC’s Norman Gidney in 2003. It looked like Jason from the slasher films. “Scary,” he said.

The G-rated costume that made it to the sidewalk was filled by Aubrey Hollemans, unemployed at the time he answered a 1996 ad for a “promotional performer.” Luggie danced for the next seven years.

“We retired him because he was too good for business,” Dusty says. “We were too busy.”

Dusty decided to resurrect Luggie a month ago, although Hollemans, who moved indoors to learn the rug-cleaning business, isn’t going back out. Instead, the mascot is played by Dusty’s son, Martin, who spends part of his day inside cleaning rugs and part of it outside wearing them.

Dancing in a 30-pound costume built around a copper frame is a good aerobic workout, Martin says. “I’m a lot stronger than I was a month ago.”

It can be fun, too. The kids like Luggie. Four had their picture taken with him Thursday. They wave from passing cars, though it was a bit jarring to hear one exclaim “Donald Trump!” Must have been confused by Luggie’s red hat and not-quite-human helmet of blond hair.

Not all reactions are positive. Luggie got pushed over a couple of weeks ago, which appears to be one of the hazards of mascotdom. It happened to the original Luggie, as well. Likewise, a Langford man was charged after downtown busker Darth Fiddler got mugged in 2011. Some people act like there’s not a real person inside a costume.

You see it at sporting events, too: A contestant in a between-periods round of musical chairs at a 2013 Victoria Royals hockey game bodyslammed Marty the Marmot to the ice, then dragged him by a leg while the crowd booed (police dropped an assault investigation after the man apologized and made a donation to charity).

In 2007, a tearful apology staved off criminal charges after a 19-year-old Port Alberni Bulldogs hockey player speared Grizz, the Victoria Grizzlies mascot.

Sometimes it’s officialdom that is the oppressor. In 2013, the Colbert Report grilled Esquimalt councillors after they chased Bongy the Bong Warehouse mascot out of town (the Bong Warehouse soon followed). Victoria’s most famous seven-foot furry feces, Mr. Floatie, made the news from Britain to South Africa after election officials sewered his mayoralty bid in 2005.

Even Luggie The First felt the jackbooted heel of The Man. Back in the 1990s, Victoria had a bylaw that barred sidewalk mascots from waving at passing cars, which is why Luggie would hang out on the Saanich side of Tolmie, figuring there was no point messing with a city (civic motto: “Solving the world through regulation since 1862”) that at various times banned balloon animals, bongo drums and sandwich-board-draped hucksters from its streets.

Except one day Luggie and a cellphone mascot ventured into Victoria, which earned a warning from the bylaw police, which turned into a cause célèbre, which led to then-mayor Bob Cross rolling his eyes, and after that the mascot barriers fell, just like the Berlin Wall.

Anyway, Luggie (Son of Luggie?) is back, and to some his re-emergence is as welcome as that of a long-lost friend. Call it nostalgia, a yearning for a kinder, gentler time when commuters actually gazed out their windows, not at their phones, Facebook was just a Harvard student’s fantasy, not a tool for global domination, and a president could carry on with a porn star without worrying about whether $130,000 in hush money would keep her quiet.

By returning, Luggie is filling a void — and nature, just like a rug, abhors a vacuum.

Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloops lad who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.

© Copyright Times Colonist

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