AMID THE LUNACY that has gripped this town since the Ravens made the playoffs, maybe a guy who paints his car purple isn't that big a deal.
After all, I have seen grown men paint their faces purple and black and walk the streets as blithely as a first-grader with a butterfly tattoo on her cheek. When the Ravens played Denver here, I saw a woman in the stands dressed as some sort of witch shake a cowbell in the face of an 85-year-old cardiac patient and scream: "Go Ravens!" and from the way the old guy jumped, you thought for sure he was a goner.
I even saw a man eat purple potato salad last weekend at a party during the Ravens-Titans game. They have made wonderful strides with food coloring, I know. But I would wish for salmonella poisoning before I'd eat purple potato salad.
Still, a guy who paints his car purple - this shows a certain level of fan commitment you don't exactly see every day.
The story of the purple car begins two weeks ago, up in the high Andes section at PSINet Stadium, which is to say nose-bleed territory. This is where Carl Keener and his friends sat to watch the Ravens against the Broncos in the first round of the playoffs.
At one point, overcome with pride in his team and possibly by the effects of the bitter cold, Keener, 36, a computer programmer from Woodbine and a season-ticket holder, announced: "If we win this game, I'll paint my car purple."
Sure, said his buddies.
Right, said his wife, Shari.
And the beauty of the whole thing was, Keener was stone sober at the time. Normally, he enjoys a couple of pops at these games. But it was so cold that day that the thought of an ice-cold Miller Lite didn't do much for him, unless it came with a space heater.
Anyway, as history tells us, the Ravens waxed the Broncos. And when they thrashed the Tennessee Titans the following week to get into Sunday's AFC Championship game against Oakland, Keener called Maaco Auto Painting on Rolling Road in Catonsville.
Brenda Minor, the manager, picked up the phone.
"I want the Ravens special," said Keener.
This came as something of a surprise to Minor, seeing as how Maaco didn't have a Ravens special.
"I want my car painted purple," Keener continued. "You're offering that, aren't you?"
"I am now," Minor said.
After a couple moments of chit-chat, the two struck a deal. For 200 bucks, Maaco would paint Keener's 1989 Ford Festiva purple, with gold trim.
Minor asked if Maaco could add a few other touches to the car, maybe some kind of lettering and a "Maaco Salutes the Ravens!" decal. Keener said sure, knock yourself out.
"I pretty much gave her carte blanche," Keener said.
The fact is, the Festiva was in desperate need of a paint job. Keener had bought it for $1,500 off a blind guy - that's another story in itself - and it had recently been in an accident.
A Festiva, of course, is not exactly a large car. In fact, rolling down a highway filled with 18-wheelers and SUVs, it looks sort of like a cigar box on wheels.
So when the Festiva collided with a truck at 30 mph, the damage was considerable. Me, I wouldn't bet on Keener surviving if the Festiva collided with your kid's Big Wheel. But he walked away from this one with just a few bruises, although the entire front end of the car had to be replaced.
Keener did this by getting the parts from a junkyard and doing the work in his driveway. But when he was done, the Festiva was three different shades of blue and looked like the staff car for a bunch of hillbillies."[But] it's a great commuter car and you get 40 miles to the gallon," Keener says. "And it gives you a certain [status]. Like, if somebody bought a new couch, I could say: `A new couch! That costs more than my car!' How many people can say that in the year 2001?"
Anyway, Keener dropped the Festiva off at the Maaco shop Tuesday morning. Soon, eight employees - including body-men, sanders, painters and detailers - were swarming over the car. Hey, the president of the United States doesn't have this many people working on Air Force One.
"It was a challenge," Minor said of the "Ravens special." "We put four coats of paint on it - two base and two clear. It was a $600 job and we charged him $200. It's a special project, and we wanted to show we could do quality work."
Yesterday morning, Carl and Shari Keener pulled into Maaco at 10 for the grand unveiling, and there was their new-look Festiva gleaming in the sunshine.
Oh, my, it looked grand! The purple paint job was deep and lustrous, with thin gold pinstripes along each side. A fierce, black Ravens decal - donated by the team itself - decorated the hood and both doors. Even the Maaco stickers fore and aft looked cool.
"I'm tickled to death," Carl Keener said, eyes dancing. "It's wonderful! It's a Festiva on steroids!"
"It's great!" Shari Keener said. "We were so afraid it was going to be `Barney' purple."
So pleased are the Keeners, in fact, that their car has now been nicknamed Festiva Maximus, in honor of this inspired Ravens push to the Super Bowl.
And here's the kicker to the story. As Carl Keener left Maaco yesterday in the Festiva Maximus and pulled up to the light on Route 40, a guy in a Dodge van next to him beeped his horn.
When Keener looked over, the guy took off his hat, revealing a full head of purple hair.
"Go Ravens!" the guy shouted.
The two men laughed and then both went barreling down the road. Although for the Festiva, "barreling" is, of course, a relative term.