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If you see a giant pink cupcake zipping down one of Oak Park's streets with a bearded head sticking out of it, go ahead, do a double take. What you're seeing is really happening.
Don Rutledge, 42, first got the idea to build a cupcake car while attending the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada. A group of people from the Bay area have been bringing the muffin mobiles to the desert event since 2004.
"We always loved them because they're just so adorable, especially because at Burning Man there's like 12 of them that are running around together in a pack," he said with a laugh.
He returned from Burning Man in early September, and set about making his own cupcake car, putting the icing on the cake just before Halloween. Completing the vehicle required resourcefulness. The tin foil bottom is galvanized steel that he had to specially bend himself. The seat inside is from a wheelchair, the motor from an online scooter supply store, and the handlebars and front wheel are from a kid's bike that he bought for $5 at a garage sale down the block.
Rutledge finished things off with a pink-colored material from Jo-Ann Fabrics and white ping-pong balls for frosting and sprinkles. The cupcake can get up to a speed of about 16 mph, but the legality of driving it on local roadways is still fuzzy. Rutledge believes he meets most requirements, other than needing "operable pedals." He says adding those will be his next move.
Friend and fellow Oak Parker Mike Reust, 54, also went to Burning Man, and is working on his own cupcake. Right now, he's ordering the parts, and would like to see the vehicles featured eventually in a local parade.
Reust isn't sure, yet, how he'll flavor his car.
"I like cupcakes more than muffins, so I'll say that much," he said, "especially chocolate ones."
Also worth noting, Rutledge said, is the environmental friendliness of the cupcake. On just 8 cents worth of electricity, the car can travel for about 20 miles. He hopes to eventually fit his garage with solar panels to bake the cupcake with energy during the day.
The 18-year Oak Park resident isn't looking to make money off the project, just have some fun and a way to get to Farmers' Market on Saturdays (though you can buy your very own cupcake car on Neiman Marcus' website for $25,000).
When he's not cupcaking around, Rutledge is a stay-at-home dad to his 9-month-old daughter, Solaya. He is also an apartment building owner and husband of five years to Soleak Sim, 36.