The Life and Times of Crawlrus

Sitting on stools in the kitchen of their home on North 30th Street in Tacoma, Steve and Natalie LaBerge have a stunning view of Puget Sound. On this night, however, the couple’s eyes are trained on the windows at the front of the house.

“There’s another one,” Natalie announces. Outside, a car has pulled off the road in front of the driveway, hands holding smartphones extended out the car’s windows and pointed at the glowing, glittering, and colorful display before them.

The odd contraption — which is almost always parked in the driveway — is “Crawlrus.” Inside the sphere are two small blue seats and a steering wheel (yes, it’s a vehicle). During the day, the creature at the bottom is shiny and brown with large blue eyes, and the sphere looks like it’s made of metal. But at night, when Steve flips a switch, everything lights up with hundreds of colored LED lights.

Crawlrus was made by Steve and ultimately born out of his midlife crisis. In 2009, Steve was turning 50 and felt compelled to tackle one of his bucket-list items, deciding to go to Burning Man — the arts-and-culture festival held every summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and culminating in the burning of a giant effigy dubbed the Burning Man.

In 2012, Natalie started to join him on his annual trips to Burning Man, and would bring a piece of art made by Steve every year. One year, Steve created a “reclining sofa with an enhanced view,” which was literally a love seat with a series of LED lights similar to those on Crawlrus. Another year, Steve created a drivable Venetian gondola, using a lawn tractor base and a paddlelike tiller to steer.

Crawlrus face

Crawlrus. Photo by Joanna Kresge

“You kind of just understand it will probably work out, and that gives you permission to go ahead with something that is really strange,” says Steve.

What started as a fiberglass shell eventually evolved. He wanted to emulate the wings or fins from the back of cars in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, he thought it would be interesting to add a tentacle or two.

“He kept saying he’d only put eyes on if he had time,” Natalie recalls. “I told him eyes are important; it’s got to have eyes.”

So he used two halves of a globe as a form and created Crawlrus’ eyes and, ultimately, its personality.

“You have to look in its eyes,” Steve says. “It’s so sweet. It’s adorable. It just loves you.”

That’s likely the reason it was so well received at Burning Man, and why the community has responded so overwhelmingly since Steve began lighting it up in the driveway at night, or even driving it around his neighborhood.

As they cruise down Proctor, the LaBerges get lots of smiles, cheers, questions, and photographs from their neighbors (and even the occasional Tacoma police officer).

“You have to look in its eyes. It’s so sweet. It’s adorable. It just loves you.”

“I think people think (our society) needs something like this,” Natalie says. “We need a little diversion, something quirky, and everyone gets that, even the police. It makes me just love our community.”


C-FIVE. Photo by Steve LaBerge.


The Crawlrus Chrysalis Cranial Connectivity Crevice

Steve LaBerges’ newest creation is back from Burning Man, and you are invited to stop by the family’s Tacoma driveway to check out the contraption when it’s activated.

South Sound: What exactly is the C-FIVE?
Steve LaBerge: We were so happy with Crawlrus and how its skin looked, but we wanted to incorporate sound and (Crawlrus’ existing) lights into something new. It’s an intimate space in there, and all you can hear are sounds of water.

South Sound: Water?
Steve: There are 10 different water sounds — from a drip, to the ocean, to a storm.

South Sound: Will people stop and sit in it?
Natalie: We asked a complete stranger, if it was set up in our driveway, would they go in? They said no because they’d feel it was trespassing. I think if enough people know they can go in, they would go in and listen.


is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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