A movie about a clunker VW bus and a warped contest has spawned a sequel in Baltimore. This real-life saga stars a guy who wins a national contest for "a newly restored VW bus" used in Little Miss Sunshine, a prize valued at $20,000. What he really bags: a jalopy that won't pass inspection and a $7,000 tax bill.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment staged a contest with this come-on: "Is your car a hooptie? ... Tell us why your car is the biggest piece of junk and why you deserve a new VW bus!"
Todd Evans, a Baltimore filmmaker, made a video about his 1989 Toyota van, with "dents and dings and scratches and rust holes, and a 3--foot crack in the windshield, and busted turn signals, and a door lock that opens with any Toyota key, and a radiator with some unidentified fluid in it, no rear seats, dash lights that never turn off and an ignition that was popped by thieves so it starts with a chopstick." Then he posted his mini-movie on the video-sharing site VMIX, as the contest required.
Evans' prize arrived last week in an enclosed car carrier that also held a Bentley, a Maserati, a race car and a $100,000, 12-cylinder BMW bound for some NBA star in D.C. Video camera in hand, Evans stood by like an expectant dad in the delivery room as the truck driver shuffled the fancy cars to make way for the bus. The 1978 VW was so deep in the trailer that Evans couldn't see it. Finally, the guy started backing out. Even before the bus rolled into view, Evans saw it was no prize: A single taillight glowed in the dark.
That proved to be the least of its problems. The engine shudders, the muffler is cracked, and the horn, windshield wipers, turn signals and high beams don't work. The inside handle on the driver's door is missing, so shutting it from inside requires grabbing the door through the open window, a maneuver complicated by the missing window crank knob.
At least the bus doesn't need to be pushed to start, as in the movie. And there's no dead grandpa in back.
Maybe because he's used to having a lousy car, and maybe because he's just a good sport, Evans is amused by his lemon-yellow lemon. What he doesn't find funny is his prospective tax bill - at least $7,000, his accountant says - based on the $20,000 value put on the prize.
"If they'll adjust the 1099, I'm fine with it," he said, referring to an IRS form.
John Cosley, director of online marketing for Fox Home Entertainment, concedes that the bus was not "newly restored" as advertised.
"It wasn't our intent for him to have something that couldn't be driven," Cosley said.
Evans wonders if he got the wrong bus. Just as multiple dogs played Lassie, seven or eight VWs were used in the movie. Could the restored one be locked up with old movie props someplace?
"We're working at finding out what happened," Cosley said.
Cosley said the company will make it right. He wouldn't say if that means making repairs, adjusting the declared prize value or something else. He said this much: "We certainly regret that and want to get it taken care of."
Your call is important to us
A group ticked off with soaring electricity rates is urging every Marylander to call Martin O'Malley's office 72 times to protest the 72 percent rate increase.
(The actual increase since last summer works out to just under 70 percent, but so what if the guy who promised to "stop the rate hikes" gets some extra calls?)
"O'Malley staffers starting to get curt with caller siege," the group's news release says. "But not enough people are calling - the lines are still not being jammed."
O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the office has gotten "a number of phone calls," but at sub-siege levels.
"People understand that a problem that was years in the making can't be solved overnight," he said.
What about the alleged curtness with callers?
"I highly doubt that."
Connect the dots
Dutch Ruppersberger recently challenged congressional colleagues to donate airline miles to a program that flies relatives of injured troops to the military hospitals where they are being treated. One outside-the-Beltway guy with a whole lot of miles heeded his call. Jim Robinson, the film producer and founder of Morgan Creek Productions, pledged 1 million miles. ... Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway turned up the rhetoric in the mayor's race in an e-mail yesterday. "A river of blood is flowing through the streets of Baltimore. What are Baltimore's leaders doing to stem the flow? Planting trees," he wrote. "[Sheila] Dixon is more interested in planting flowers and riding bikes around the city making it more `green.' However, the sad reality is that people are getting their brains blown out which is turning Baltimore `red.'" ... A minor issue, perhaps, in a city saddled with that kind of violence, but Conaway's news release came by way of Dolores Groppe's official Circuit Court e-mail. Groppe is the court's special project coordinator. Let's hope the "special project" isn't Conaway's campaign.