As the parent of a two-year-old boy, I've discovered there is little in this world more useful for capturing the attention of toddlers than fire engines and bubbles. But, though my son has recently become adept at both locating and staring intently at Monrovia's Fire Station 101, the big trucks with lights and sirens are hard to come by and rarely around when needed for parenting purposes.
Bubbles, however, are a different matter. A bottle of sudsy stuff and a plastic dipper can be brought to bear in a jiffy to keep the little guy entertained while mommy makes a conference call or daddy writes a proposal.
However, while the little bottle is fun, the Mt. Vesuvius of bubbles can regularly be found in our own Library Park.
Tim Collins, a resident of the Mayflower Village area, is simply amazing to watch. Many weekend afternoons, he can be found in the park with huge buckets and stick-and-rope contraptions that produce bubbles that are measured in feet and stares. Parents stand in awe of not only Collins' creations, which often stretch for many yards, but also the giddy focus of their children.
A recent weekend found kids and parents dipping, waving and blowing under the guidance of the 25-year bubble man. With a restrained but emanating energy, he gently admonishes teens and tweens how to make keep bubbles growing in the slightest wind, all the while coaching toddlers how to merely get their utensils out of the bubble solution most effectively.
Collins happened upon his hobby while on a vacation to San Francisco in the late 1980s. During a visit to the San Francisco Science Center, he became enchanted with floating magic of bubbles, and has been making them every since.
"Sometimes when I'm really stressed at home, my wife will tell me, 'go outside and make bubbles'," Collins said.
Collins makes his own solution, a mix of water, Ultra Joy and a binding syrup. "Glycerin works best, but that stuff is $60 a gallon," he said. On a recent weekend day, more than 15 gallons of his solution floated away thanks to the efforts of kids and parents (and his own bubbles).
The world record bubble was 135 feet long, Collins says, a fete he's never come close to matching. However, he did once have a bubble last for 10 minutes as he watched it float East over Myrtle Avenue before popping on the Verizon building.
When he's not making bubbles, Collins works as a grip on television and movie sets in the area. He'll occaisionally make bubbles during breaks on the set, but declined to name any A-list celebrities he's entertained. However, he did offer that his bubbles are featued in an upcoming fantasy movie.
Collins has stick-and-rope contraptions of all sizes available for folks to use, as well as enormous plastic wands and pans that produce blizzards of giant bubbles.
Regardless of the implement, Collins knows how to produce blizzards of smiles on young faces.