You’ve seen the car on the streets of Lake Mary – now meet the crew that goes Ghostbusting for a good cause
Robert Bauer’s replica Ghostbusters car has pulled into the parking lot of Lake Mary’s Target store for all of 20 minutes, when two women approach and ask for a photo. It’s the kind of attention Robert and his proton-pack-carrying partners are accustomed to as they traverse Central Florida in full Ghostbusters costume, turning nostalgia for the 1984 landmark action-comedy into charity revenue.
“Originally, this was a hobby,” says Robert, a former employee of the local Target, who uses the car – complete with sirens, the familiar ghost insignia, and a Dan Aykroyd autograph – as his personal vehicle.
But thanks to the enduring stature of the original movie and sequel and a new high-profile remake that casts women as the spirit-chasers, this has become much more than a hobby. Robert and his khaki-clad buddies Matthew Melnyk and Tony Arena make appearances that delight children, amuse parents, and raise money for several causes dear to the men’s hearts.
On this particular day, they are on their way to an Orlando event to raise money for children’s autism research. It is one of two dozen such events the guys have participated in since they got together in September 2015. All the money they raise goes to charity, which is why Sony Pictures allows these pretend parapsychologists to freely use the celebrated imagery of the movie.
“It was a Pixar movie before there was Pixar,” Matthew says of the original Ghostbusters, noting how some of the film’s sly dialogue was clearly aimed at adults, as their kids delighted in hotdog-gobbling phantoms and a skyscraper-sized Marshmallow Man.
“Timeless,” is how Tony puts it.
These three modern-day Ghostbusters, who say they play themselves rather than any of the movie characters, are too young to remember the original film hitting the screens (they are all in their mid-30s). Instead, they became fans watching the follow-up animated TV series The Real Ghostbusters, which ran from 1986 through 1991, and the blockbuster Ghostbusters II, which hit theaters in ‘89.
Robert and Tony became friends largely through a mutual affinity for cars. And while Robert had long nursed an affection for the Ghostbusters world, it was his purchase of a white 2005 Dodge Magnum station wagon that made him go full tilt. He knew he’d found his Ghostbusters vehicle, and it took him just a month to make the necessary modifications.
The original Ghostbusters Ecto-1 ambulance was a 1959 Cadillac, one that Tony says could easily cost $100,000 to buy and make road-ready today. But Robert has done his best to give his car authentic personality. ”We Believe You,” says one prominent emblem, echoing a line from the movie, and Robert snagged Dan Aykroyd’s autograph on the glove box lid during an appearance at a Walgreen’s, where the actor was promoting a line of vodka.
The Dodge became a Lake Mary fixture when Robert, who now lives in Deltona, worked at the Target. It was a frequent sight in the parking lot while Robert was on shift, and the car still draws a crowd today.
The recent Ghostbusters remake has caused an amusing backlash from some diehard fans of the original. Matthew says even he had some reservations about the new film, but those were vanquished when he and Robert were invited to the movie’s Hollywood premiere. Our threesome all agree the new movie is just fine and actually includes more bona fide science than the original.
The remake has also meant a spike in their charity engagements, and Robert estimates that they have raised an estimated $5,300 in the past year for such organizations as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
It never ceases to amaze the three men that children born more than 30 years after the original movie’s release still respond so enthusiastically to their car, their uniforms, and the “unlicensed nuclear accelerators” on their backs. Clearly, the kids’ parents, and maybe even grandparents, have fanned the flames.
“To look at the kids’ eyes, their enjoyment...” Matthew says. “That’s why we do it.”
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