Silent Partner Rides Shotgun

March 27, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Phyllis Rubin drives back and forth to work with a real dummy.

Thor doesn't second-guess her driving, doesn't talk back, spill drinks on the seat or fall asleep and snore.

In fact, he doesn't do anything but sit there unblinking, stuffed head and all, a silent guard against carjackers and other rogues who populate the streets.

Thor is Safe-T-Man, a latex dummy marketed through the American Automobile Association and Sharper Image stores for up to $119, plus tax, shipping and handling. Legs are extra.

Ms. Rubin drives from her College Park home to her job at an employment agency in downtown Washington with Thor propped up in the seat next to her. If the sun is out, he will be wearing sunglasses. Ms. Rubin named him Thor in honor of the ancient god of thunder, and "protector of humanity," she said.

"I've had a lot of fun with him," Ms. Rubin said, "and yes, I believe he's useful."

Ms. Rubin's route to work takes her down either Rhode Island or New York avenues in Washington.

"Those streets are shooting galleries," she said. "You always wonder if someone is going to try and force their way into your car while you're stopped at a traffic light. At first glance, Thor looks like the real thing."

At second glance, she said, most people laugh and wave. "But not all. Some do a double take, look out of the corners of their eyes slyly, then nudge their passenger," Ms. Rubin said.

"I admit I talk to him. I told him the other day his hands were cold and I was going to get him gloves."

Her parking lot attendants have a good time with Thor.

"They'll say he's in a bad mood and won't talk to them. The other day, one said, 'Leave me $5, he's hungry,' " Ms. Rubin said.

Thor weighs 9 pounds naked, which is the way he came in the box.

"A neighbor gave me an old shirt and tie, and a corduroy jacket," she said. "I gave him the jeans off my bottom."

The Poly-fil-stuffed dummies include five models covering a range of human appearance, from young to middle age, and from light-skinned to dark-skinned. If you get tired of looking at him, a bag to carry him is extra.

You can even get one with a five o'clock shadow, for that virile look.

"I get bored with what he's wearing, and switch things around," Ms. Rubin said. "Right now he's a little warm wearing a sweater, so maybe I'll change to a shirt open at the neck to give him that sporty look."

Raymond George of Safe-T-Man in Santa Barbara, Calif., said about 7,000 have been sold since its new models came out eight months ago. "They're much more lifelike than previous ones," he said.

A young woman, shown a picture of the dummy, said, "He looks better than some of the guys I've dated."

The dummy concept didn't work for the Maryland State Police, who sat one dressed as a trooper -- complete with Stetson hat -- in the driver's seat of a cruiser parked in the median of Interstate 95 in Harford County as an anti-speeding decoy.

Someone broke into the cruiser in July and stole the trooper's uniform shirt and hat off the dummy, emergency lights off the top of the car and an electronic transmitter.

The state police say they don't use dummies anymore.

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