Keep an eye peeled for this banana car before it splits
WASHINGTON — Steve Braithwaite spotted the flashing blue-and-red police lights — and promptly pulled his banana off the road.
Braithwaite, 59, has spent the past two years driving his homemade, banana-shaped convertible across America, offering pay-what-you-can rides to fund his days and sleeping nights on strangers’ couches or in cheap motels. He’s become quite familiar with the police: Officers often pull him over. Friendly but curious, they ask what on earth he’s doing.
So when he saw the state trooper ease onto the road behind him as he was driving down U.S. 223 near Adrian, Michigan, on Oct. 27, Braithwaite thought he knew what was coming.
“We chatted . ... He checked my headlights, brake lights, taillights,” Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite also explained his banana road trip, which he calls “The World Needs More Whimsy Grand Tour.” The trooper took Braithwaite’s license and walked away. When he returned, he handed the license back — but something was different.
“He had wrapped 20 bucks around it!” Braithwaite said. “[Then] he just said, ‘Safe travels.’ ”
The trooper peeled out, and Braithwaite split too — but he couldn’t stop thinking about the crumpled $20. He couldn’t wait to spread the word about the unexpected fruit of his most recent encounter with law enforcement.
Braithwaite didn’t get the trooper’s name, but Michigan State Police posted on Facebook Nov. 22 that the trooper, Bill Strouse, was just a few months away from retirement when he came across Braithwaite in the colossal banana.
“As a trooper, you never quite know what you’re going to see each day,” the post said.
When Braithwaite got to his destination after being pulled over that day, he posted on the “Big Banana Car” Facebook page about it — and things ripened rapidly. The post garnered hundreds of likes, shares and comments, eventually earning write-ups in local newspapers.
Still, news coverage isn’t exactly new for Braithwaite. Since he completed the banana car in 2011, it has been featured on “Good Morning America” three times and drawn the attention of celebrities such as Heidi Klum. It also holds the Guinness World Record for “longest custom banana car.”
Braithwaite, who moved to the U.S. in 1986 from his native England, said he built the ride because he wanted “to do something completely different and ridiculous.” He was living in Linden, Michigan, and selling home address signs: “It paid the bills, but it was kind of boring.”
To break the monotony, Braithwaite recruited a few friends, bought a Ford F-150, and set to work on “the world’s only motorized banana.” Working mostly on Sundays, he finished in about 2 1⁄2 years at a cost of roughly $25,000.
“Plan A was build it,” Braithwaite said. “Plan B is drive it around the world.”
Braithwaite hit the highway in early 2018 and has been zooming across America ever since. He’s working on visiting all 50 states and hopes to cross the globe in his banana.
He typically spends at least a few days each week taking people on rides. He posts his location on social media and pulls into an obliging parking lot. There’s almost always a line awaiting him, he said — longer in the summer months, shorter in the winter.
Braithwaite estimates he’s given “thousands and thousands.” The trips typically last five to eight minutes, and payments vary wildly.
“One gentleman and his two children gave me a bunch of coins that might have totaled 70 cents,” Braithwaite said. “And then the very next rider took his two kids and gave me three $20 bills!”
He’s thought a lot about what to do with the Michigan officer’s $20. He wants to donate it to a kid in need.
“I’ll say ‘This is with the best wishes of a Michigan state trooper,’ ” he said.
Steve Braithwaite poses by the 23-foot banana-shaped car he’s driving across the U.S., offering trips as he goes.