“Back in the day if you had a boombox, that meant your parents loved you,” says Russell Goodwine, aka Uncle Shredded Wheat (his rap moniker). But after shopping around for boomboxes for his daughters, he realized “none of the designs were cool anymore.” However, Goodwine found some suitcases at a thrift store that looked pretty cool, and some amps that looked pretty cool, so he decided to use them to build his own boomboxes. In addition to these boomboxes, of which he’s made six, he's also invented several exercise machines and a new kind of keyboard that he wants to patent.
Completely self-taught in electrical engineering, Goodwine says he’s been taking things apart and putting them back together since before he can remember; a photo apparently shows him, age 3, with an electric toy firetruck he’d completely disassembled the day after Christmas.
“At the time I didn’t realize I was making stuff, I just thought I was being a nuisance. Pulling fans apart, blowing out the fuse box, pissing my dad off. My mom used to yell at me, ‘We’re not rich!’ I know mom, you bought my sneakers at the grocery store.”
The podunk town he’s originally from in Florida, Plant City (nicknamed "Itty-Bitty Plant City” by locals), did not have many opportunities for a self-taught inventor/engineer in the '80s and '90s; Plant City is known for its strawberries, the Strawberry Festival, and, starting in 1998, Dinosaur World, one of the country's three outdoor, ride-less, dinosaur theme parks. So Goodwine picked up and moved to Seattle.
After immersing himself in the Seattle music scene, becoming a massage therapist, and developing his own massage techniques in the process (Goodwine innovates in everything he does), Goodwine became a bus driver for the E-Line.
If you haven’t ridden the Aurora Avenue-based E-Line, it feels kind of like if Rob Zombie did a Speed remake.
“Every time I open that door, somebody crazy is coming through it,” Goodwine said. “You can either let that make you crazy, or learn to deal with it.” Unlike most Seattle service industry jobs—which expect minimum wage employees to take on the work of mental health professionals and then fire them for being unable to deal with problems that people are supposed to be paid big bucks to handle—Metro actually compensates their drivers fairly and holds de-escalation classes for drivers dealing with an increase in difficult passengers.
Like his massage therapy training, Goodwine innovated what he learned in the classes. “I have a guy get on, screaming, swearing. I told him, ‘it’s against Metro policy to be blowing bubbles on the bus.’” The upset passenger had no idea what Goodwine was talking about. Goodwine explained, “‘Your bad attitude is like blowing bubbles and it’s getting all over the bus.’” What did this mean? Nothing. But in trying to figure it out, the passenger calmed down and stopped angrily talking to himself.
Goodwine said the E-Line and all other busses with Night Owl routes become “Hotel Metro” this time of year. People in Seattle who, for whatever reason, have nowhere else to go to at night hop on the E-Line and ride it for the entire route, sleeping in the back. In the winter, he's had more than 20 people sleeping on the bus at one time. According to policy, he is supposed to kick them off, but these people literally have nowhere else to go. When Goodwine told me that he makes the boombox suitcases to clear his head after work, I was surprised that he’d only made six, and not six million.
Spreading positive energy is an important part of his philosophy with the boomboxes. Although Goodwine has sold a few, he's more-so hoping they'll inspire people to make their own and take part in his plans for a "Boombox League." If the League ever actually catches on (so far it is just Goodwine), all those people with homemade boomboxes will march around playing positive hip-hop music with clean lyrics in public to combat the city's increasingly dystopian vibe.
Goodwine gets that people can get stuck in a rut. Fortunately, electrical engineering is a field that teaches you to learn from your mistakes and move on. “That first electric burn you never forget and you try to never get burned again.” I concurred; having once jammed a paper clip into an electrical outlet when I was 6, seeing that sphere of electricity and literally getting a taste of what it’s like to be hit by lightning is a pretty memorable experience. He says he hasn't been burned since then. “Once and you’re good.”
The music playing on one of his boomboxes during our interview was from his latest album Journey Into DEEP SUBSBASS, and embodies his hip-hop take on dystopia. It was inspired by Japanese cyberpunk anime film Akira, but infused with an adventurous video game-type energy.
Midway through playing the album, he pressed a button on the large brown suitcase boombox, turning on lights that glowed red, yellow, and green, like a traffic light. “It lights up!?” I asked.
“Yeah. I got the idea from being a bus driver.”