In 2008, Steve Braithwaite was standing in line at a Michigan gas station when a bunch of bananas stole his attention.
The England-native picked one up and began ruthlessly analyzing it. He looked at the fruit's angles, studied its dimensions, noted its color. The line before him dwindled down, but Braithwaite stayed still, stuck in a banana daydream. "I could make a car in this shape," the hotrod enthusiast thought, before a woman tapped his shoulder. She gestured to the line building behind him.
"They must’ve thought I was crazy," Braithwaite recalled to the The Huffington Post. "Like, 'Hasn't this guy seen a banana before?'"
Braithwaite switched gears from distracted to determined. He went home, rang his brother Spade, and the two decided to construct a fully-functioning banana car.
Four years later, 52-year-old Braithwaite, his brother, and photographer Liz O'Neil plan to banana their way around the world. And they're looking for a fourth passenger.
"We've set up a massive eBay auction," Braithwaite said. "The highest bidder comes along with us this summer."
Before these worldly dreams ripened, though, the brothers had to design a vehicle capable of global mileage. They had experience in building hotrods and knowledge of how to make amusement park props. The Big Banana Car married those skills, Braithwaite says. But -- why a banana?
"It's ridiculous, and bananas are funny," Braithwaite explained. "Even saying 'banana' is fun."
Together the brothers stripped down a 1993 Ford pickup for its frame. Over the next two years, with help from friends, they sawed plywood, welded a skeleton, perfected a body, and painted their toy a notorious banana-yellow. By 2011, it was road-ready.
See The Entire Building Process: (Story Continues Below)
The potassium-less car's overwhelming resemblance to the fruit would fool a hungry King Kong. It stretches 23-1/2 feet long and ranges from 8 to 10 feet high, when taking its stem into consideration. Braithwaite has a button to fold down that stem for low bridges. The car gets about 14 miles per gallon and is completely legal.
En route, the car became an instant hit. Braithwaite received invitations to events from Boy Scouts picnics to the World's Largest Art Car Parade in Houston, Tex. For two summers, he drove up and down the East Coast, using couchsurfing.org, where people sign up to house nomads like the Big Banana Car’s crew.
Couch surfing allows Braithwaite to estimate a world trip at $30,000. He believes in strict budgeting. “Even if someone was willing to throw down $500,000, we wouldn't stay in hotels,” he said.
So where’s $30,000 going to take them?
“It's about starting at point A and just heading east till you arrive back at point A,” Braithwaite said. “Of course, you could do that at the North Pole, and it’d take three seconds!”
As of now, the Big Banana Car will start in the U.S., go across the Atlantic Ocean (by cargo ship) to England, “do Europe,” as Braithwaite puts it, go through Asia to Shanghai, China, then cross the Pacific Ocean to Long Beach, Calif.
“If we can find the funding, we’ll add two more continents to that plan,” the 52-year-old said.
Braithwaite mans the wheel, but a love for adventure drives the Big Banana Car. Adding to that is a goal to raise money for deep vein thrombosis (D.V.T.) research. D.V.T., a serious condition where one or more blood clots form in the body's deep veins, unfortunately took Braithwaite’s mother’s life a few years back.
“It was awful, but my mother was the type of person who’d say, ‘This is just what happens. Enjoy your life. Don't mope,’” Braithwaite recalled. “If she knew about this project, she’d be laughing her head off.”
Big Banana Car fans can donate money or – if they’re lucky – pay for a banana ride.
But if he can’t physically give people a lift, Braithwaite hopes to encourage folks to stop living life vicariously.
“I'm an absolute average Joe,” he emphasized. “If this trip can inspire people who are just like me to just jump into the volcano, that's what I'd like to happen. Just go ahead and do stuff.”
The whole idea’s ludicrousness doesn’t weigh on Braithwaite. Once a fourth passenger and funding are secured, he’s set to split.
"This is your life,” he said. “It's not a rehearsal so go for it."
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