Musician has a story, and a mower

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Perhaps you’ve seen the wildly decorated box truck around town and thought to yourself, “I’ll bet there’s a story in there somewhere.”

Of course there is, along with a riding mower.

The truck belongs to Zackary Emerson Roley, 22, Littleton native and aspiring musician. He says his name just doesn’t sound quite right without the “Emerson,” so there it is.

We meet him in a café, guitar slung over his shoulder, Mohawk combed down, his slight but muscled framed scratched up from what he says was a misunderstanding over a woman in a bar. A poet who writes music and lyrics, he’s carrying three newly acquired but used books he’s eager to get to.

Roley says he bought the truck with his school-loan money off Craigslist from a 78-year-old man who’d been running a landscaping company out of it for the last 28 years. He assures us he bought his schoolbooks, as well, in his pursuit of a major in music and a minor in sociology.

“I bought the van trying to quit being a broke musician,” he said. “It’s my vehicle of transcendence.”

He thought he would pay his way through school with the box truck and the riding mower. The man could still lift the mower into the back of the truck alone, so Roley thought it must be good, honest work.

But he didn’t like the truck’s color, and he felt something about its energy seemed off.

Roley admits he’s a free spirit, earthy, ethereal, even flighty. So naturally, the paint job reflects that attitude. In gold glittery paint, he emblazoned peace signs, a Star of David and slogans like “Shine a light, alright.”

He admits he makes his dad crazy sometimes, but Roley might come by his free spirit honestly. After his parents split up when Roley was in middle school, his father and stepmother moved him to Ohio.

“I dreamed about Littleton while I was there, the light, the valley, the river,” he said.

Family issues came to a head, he said, and he ended up back in Denver, a homeless teenager busking on the 16th Street Mall. But when he needed some medical attention, his mom was there.

“I’ve been lucky enough to fall into the right hands during the worst times,” he said.

But then his stepdad, with whom he’d been close, died after a long illness, sending his mother to the mountains to seek solace and quietude.

“She’s taking a little break,” said Roley.

His father eventually ended up back in Littleton, and his grandmother never left, so he splits his time among family and friends, he says.

“I came back here to get back to my roots,” he said. “What I love about this town is the deep roots, and the potential of it. It has a cool spirit, but it’s still rockin’.”

He notes changes around town from his youth, things like trendy restaurants and a regular farmers market that he thinks is improving the quality of life.

“I think it’s a blessing,” he said. “Like anything, it has the potential to go really bad, but because of the way of Littleton, I don’t think it will be anything less than good-naturedness.”

The landscaping gig didn’t work out quite the way he hoped, and he’s since painted over the box truck’s custom paint job.

“I definitely felt like it was cool at the time, and that I had to get back to reality,” he said. “The message had been delivered. Now it’s just chilling, waiting for its next message.”

He’s working construction with a friend and pondering what’s next — more college, perhaps, or a soul-searching journey to California.

“I yearn for a home for my heart, and it’s here,” he said. “I just have to go find the rest of the pieces of my heart that are scattered all over the country and bring them back home.”