The Art of the Wheel

No matter what you think, your car is not fully loaded

"You are the most visible thing on the road," she says. "If you are in a bad mood, it doesn't matter; you are still on stage performing. You need to smile, you need to wave. You're a performer in your own play."

A performer? An artist? I run those words of McKay's by my father to see if he had such grandiose notions when he drove around with faucets. The idea amuses him.

"Artist?" his heavily accented voice makes the word sound more like "ah-tist." He chuckles deeply. "No. I put them on because I felt like it. I thought it would make the car look good."

Keith Flanagan is an accidental car artist. The 33-year-old truck driver says that he hadn't intended for his car to turn out like it has, but what started out as a joke has become a blessing--a car he calls the "Joy Spreader."

"I've always loved spreading joy," he says. "This is kind of a ministry on wheels."

This one has 69 sets of wheels, to be exact. They're glued to the trunk, roof, and hood. There are Porsches, Camaros, Ferraris, and a vintage Bel Air. Flanagan gets the cars from Toys R Us for $20 apiece.

His was an accidental joy-spreading ministry. While working for Central Freight Line in Irving, he'd pick up small die-cast cars from the Texaco station on his way home and set them on the dashboard. Though he soon ran out of space, he meant to leave it at that.

Then one day four years ago, he came out to his car to find a white scale-model Ferrari glued to the hood.

"I wasn't mad, I just couldn't figure out who did it," he says. "I needed a new paint job anyway, so whoever did it figured that I wouldn't mind."

As he drove home that day, Flanagan noticed that people smiled, honked, and waved at him. At first he thought they were insane--he didn't know any of these people. Then he realized it was the car. It made people happy. He figured if one car was something that could bring joy, then "a multiplicity would be even more so."

In addition to toy cars, Joy Spreader has action figures battling on its roof. Batman is surrounded by the Joker and the Riddler. He is aided by Robin. Two scantily clad female action figures are tossed in the fray too.

"Well, you know where there are a lot of men around, they want women," he says. "So I supplied a few."

Flanagan is an intense man who believes in miracles and signs from Jesus. He's given to rapid-fire sermonettes on the benefits of blue-green algae and the advantages of celibacy (he is proud to point out that he's abstained from sex for the past seven years).

He believes that the mysterious placement of the Ferrari on his hood--which he later learned was done by a friend at work whose child didn't want the car--was the Lord's way of telling him to help bring happiness and peace wherever he goes.

"I didn't do this for attention," he says. "Anything that glorifies Him. He did say we are a peculiar people."

There are days, though, when Flanagan isn't quite up to driving the Joy Spreader--when the attention, the stares, the giggles get to be too much. That's when Flanagan hops in his other vehicle, a plain old truck that he drives on Saturdays and for errands.

"Sometimes you just don't want to be bothered," he says.
There came a time, indeed, when I didn't want to be bothered with Daddy's faucet car. At first, though, I hadn't realized faucets were a strange decorative touch. I thought the car had come that way. I didn't even realize they were faucets until high school.

Then one day I was waiting for Daddy to come get me after soccer practice. A friend was waiting for her parents with me. I heard the rumble of The Big Car before I saw it round the parking circle, chrome faucets gleaming in the hot Miami sunshine. As I said goodbye to my friend, she stared oddly at the car.

The next day, she asked, "Why does your dad's car have faucets on it?"
Faucets? I thought. They're faucets? Oh my God.
It soon got around the school that my dad drove a faucet car. I was mortified. I asked my father to pick me up later and later after games. I prayed each time that he'd be driving my mom's car.

Art cars, it seems, suffer the same ignoble ends of lesser wheels. The Texas Kid's prized truck sits among weeds in Andy Emmons' back yard. Emmons bought the truck with a friend's credit card for $500 during an auction. It needs work. Many of the pictures were missing when he got it. It doesn't run; the steering wheel is gone. He has plans for it that involve a garage and restoration. But those plans require money.

Betsy I now languishes in the carport of Sheryl Ingram's Junius Street home, covered with boxes and various odds and ends. The back passenger panel is a crumpled mess. She still has plans for it, if she can find a welder who's willing to fix it.

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