Clearfield • “There’s nothing more I can do,” Janis Zettel said with a sigh, a few hours before a team of Clearfield city employees would arrive at her house to remove the gutted, painted Volkswagen Beetle named Lucy she and her husband put up in their tree a few months ago as an art installation. “They’ve beaten me into the ground.”
After first receiving a “nuisance vehicle” ordinance citation in early January, the Zettels made an impassioned appeal during a city work session a few weeks later, claiming that the vehicle’s stripped-down state and the fact that it was secured to the tree with cables and bolting made it safe, and that its status up in a tree, painted as a ladybug, made it art.
The decision stood, though — it would have to come down.
“They’ve at least given us almost [another] month to enjoy her,” Zettel said.
Messages to Clearfield’s department of communications were not immediately returned.
At 12:30 on Tuesday afternoon, part of the 1250 East block was closed off to traffic, and half a dozen or so Clearfield public works employees began the process of removing the car. Ladders were set up to attach nylon straps with winching mechanisms. Then, in came the reach forklift, its operator taking care not to graze the wisteria arch on the front lawn as he extended the crane skyward.
Zettel, who had been sitting on a folding stool out in the street, watching the crew’s progress, stood up as the car was lifted a foot or so from its spot, hands on her hips, a look of grim resignation on her face.
Asked what was going through her mind as the lift slowly reversed and the car was extricated from between the branches, before being set down momentarily on blocks, Zettel was blunt: “I was thinking, ‘What a bunch of party-poopers.’”
Some of her neighbors agree.
While Clearfield Assistant Chief of Police Kelly Bennett said last month that “a civilian-generated complaint” led to an ordinance enforcement investigation, a few of the several dozen onlookers in attendance — many filming the car’s removal with their cellphone cameras — expressed disappointment that it couldn’t be left alone.
“I tried to support ’em. I thought it was fun. I think most of the people around here felt that way,” said 75-year-old Errol Thomas, who lives down the street from the Zettels. “… She calls it art, which it probably is. I know some people may disagree. It was OK with with me, it didn’t bother me at all. It’s a different thing — not too many people have a car in their tree. But I thought it was great. It kinda made people laugh.”
Melissa Bowers, 34, said her two children were always clamoring for her to walk them the few blocks from their house to the Zettels’ so that they could play beneath it and take pictures of it.
As she was holding her 5-year-old son, Larry, she recalled his alarmed reaction to hearing that Lucy would be no more.
“When he saw on the news that they were going to take it down, he told me, ‘We have to go see it!’” Bowers said.
Roy Zettel, Janis’ husband, is similarly befuddled.
He said the VW was a birthday present five or six years ago to Janis from their son, who had found it in an online ad. They had initially bought it as a fixer-upper, but upon discovering “the engine block was cracked and it was so rusted out that it was not worth restoring it,” Roy Zettel said, Janis got whimsical and decided to paint it as a ladybug.
Roy, getting into the spirit of things, suggested he could put it up where a broken-down treehouse had once been.
He said the one consolation in the whole situation was that at least he and his wife didn’t get stuck with the bill for the car’s removal.
“They wanted it down so bad — because they’ve been getting so much bad PR — that they agreed to take it down themselves,” he said. “If we had the financial resources, we’d have probably hired a lawyer to look into it for us. But we don’t.”
As a police officer walked around the tree, snapping digital photos for insurance purposes, Janis walked around the car, running her hand along it before it was lowered onto a trailer (which will go in the back yard, as a request to keep it in the front yard and turn it into a giant planter was met with the threat of another ordinance violation). “They did a really good job, so I can’t complain,” she said. “It’s just a little scratched up.”
Meanwhile, Roy gazed upward at the now-empty spot where it used to be.
“It was just fun,” he said, wistfully. “Boy, it looks naked up there now.”