If Jimmy Buffett -- Mr. "Margaritaville" -- sold fish for a living instead of singing pop songs, this might be what his ride would look like.
In an old school bus festooned with parrots and colorful fish and even a pink flamingo, Jonny Rush brings his products -- fresh-frozen, organic fish -- to customers around the Northwest.
For the past 18 years, Rush, who goes by the name "Capt. Jonny," has been buying fish in bulk from commercial suppliers and selling it in towns across Oregon.
Right now, he's parked in Hermiston, at Sergio's at Highland Street and Highway 395 by Safeway. His "store" is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. And if you drop by after 9 p.m., just knock on the door. If he's home, he'll answer. Or give him a call at 503-396-9428.
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He's selling halibut, sea bass, ling cod and salmon. He plans to be in Hermiston until June 8, then head for Florence, Ore.
It may seem like a carefree life, but the vagabond vendor said selling fish is not as simple as just setting up on the side of the road somewhere.
"To sell fish, you need permission from the landowner, a city license from each town you're selling in, and clearance from two government agencies. I'm a USDA-approved store," said Rush, who makes his home in Longview when he is not on the road selling frozen fish.
He is not home often. Rush travels year-round in what he calls "the Red Bus," his 1974 GMC 6000 ex-school bus, which he has painted bright red and modified with eye-grabbing displays and artifacts from fishermen.
Fish and fishing have been Capt. Jonny's life for decades. He began fishing on the Columbia River when he was still in his teens.
"We were gill-netting, and we sold salmon to commercial processors," Rush said.
Not long after that, Rush was traveling in Rapid City, S.D., and saw someone selling bags of fish along the highway.
"I asked if I could work for them for the day, and they said they'd give me a try," he explained.
He was hooked.
"I started out in the 1960s with a Dodge van and one freezer," he recalled. "I learned who the distributors were, and then came back to Portland and bought a retired bus. I filled it up with freezers and 2,800 pounds of frozen fish."
Rush is able to offer significant discounts because he buys his fish wholesale from major seafood outfits, such as Trident and Orca Bay. While major grocery chains charge $23 per 12-oz. halibut filet and $30 per pound for sea bass, Capt. Jonny sells both for $9. He also has ling cod, which he's selling for $9 per pound.
"I specialize in Alaskan seafood," Rush said. "Fish come in whole on barges to the seafood docks in Seattle. Grocery store managers are not going to drive to Seattle to get fish."
Rush buys the irregular shapes left aside after the best-looking parts of the fish are cut out to go to the big grocery stores. But those larger, more consumer-appealing cuts are then treated with heavy chemicals, Rush said.
"I buy the leftover portions and chunks, and the fish I get are all organic. They don't want to waste money spraying chemicals on them," he explained.
Rush pitches the health benefits of fish as another reason to stop by his bus.
"We sell fish to help you improve your cholesterol levels," he said. "Some people call me 'Dr. Feelgood,' or 'Dr. Cholesterol.' I'm like a truck driver, living on the road to make your body feel good with this fish. No matter how young or old you are, if you keep eating hamburgers, you can have a heart attack."
Rush said he has been pleased with the response he has been getting.
One of his customers is Buddy James, manager of Dollar Tree in Forest Grove. James stopped at the bus recently to buy some of Capt. Jonny's halibut, and was impressed with the quality and prices.
"I saw the bus and looked at his supplies," James said. "It all looked pretty good, and he seems like a nice guy."
Although Capt. Jonny likes to offer low prices for his fish, he said he sometimes adjusts the prices depending on where he is located.
"My lowest prices are in Forest Grove and Hillsboro," Rush said. "My highest prices are when I park in front of casinos. If people want to waste money gambling, they can spend an extra dollar on my fish."