Spreading Joy in a Motorized Fruit0
When walking around Kalamazoo, chances are you may have witnessed a giant banana traversing the streets, avenues, and boulevards of our fair city. The sight of this motorized fruit is usually accompanied by the sound of cheering pedestrians and friendly honks from other drivers. Colloquially known as the Big Banana Car, this vehicle’s origin story can be traced back to some vintage tastes.
Influenced by films like American Graffiti and music by Bill Haley and the Comets, Steve Brathwaite has always had an affinity for building and driving hot rods. In 2008, an idea came to him that would end up changing his life.
“I started thinking about what I could build that was completely ridiculous and out there,” he revealed.
After settling on a giant banana, Brathwaite and a close group of friends began the process of converting a 1993 Ford pickup. Two and a half years later, the Big Banana Car was born and ready to fulfill its purpose!
“The Banana Car has always been a two-part plan,” he explained. “I always wanted to drive it around the world while couch surfing and paying for food and gas by giving rides.”
It should be noted that there is no set price for a ride in the Big Banana Car. Instead, Brathwaite accepts whatever patrons can afford and so far, it has worked out fine.
“A gentleman once got in the car with his two children and he gave a few coins,” he shared. “The very next rider gave me three $20 bills, so it all evened out.”
For Brathwaite, the true value comes from the journey itself and the smiling faces he meets along the way.
“The Big Banana Car makes everyone smile,” he declared. “I’ve had parents come up to me and say, ‘My 10-year-old saw your car a week ago and they couldn’t stop talking about it.’ I had no idea how much joy I would get hearing of those kind of stories.”
Brathwaite has also authored a children’s book based on his travels. The book has a few connections to the Kalamazoo area. Its illustrations were created by Portage-based artist Anthony Snyder and a local philanthropist named Diane Lang helped sponsor the project by paying to have 1,000 books printed. In fact, Lang has become a fervent supporter of Brathwaite and his mission.
“I went on the Facebook page and saw that Steve didn’t really charge a fee,” Lang recalled. “I remember seeing that he was going to be at Ritter’s so I visited and gave him $20 to give others rides.”
In addition to buying rides for others, Lang has contributed monetary support to charitable events put on by Brathwaite. A venture that he is extremely passionate about.
“I find families in financial need that have children with medical issues and give rides rides to raise money,” he explained. “The first fundraiser raised $1,000 in just an afternoon.”
While the Big Banana Car will have to wait until the pandemic is over to give people rides again, Brathwaite looks forward to coming back to Kalamazoo soon. Until then, potassium enthusiasts can visit the Big Banana Car’s website for all the latest news!