Psychedelic jalopy turns heads in Salem

Kristin D'Agostino

Ali Weaver is cruising.

She’s got the windows rolled down, the radio turned up and she’s steering her 1989 Dodge Dynasty around town like any 19-year-old might do on an afternoon off. But when Weaver comes down the street, heads turn and people stare and give her the thumbs-up sign. One woman stopped beside her at a traffic light leans out the window and yells, “What color did you write on your registration?”

It’s not every day people see an old jalopy covered from stem to stern in psychedelic graffiti.

“Either they love it or they hate it,” Weaver says. “Families with little children, either they say, ‘honey, look at that colorful car’ or they just pick up their child and run across the street.”

Police, especially, have been known to react badly. In the year Weaver’s been driving the car, she’s had two memorable run-ins with local officers. A few months ago she exited a gas station to find two police officers circling her car taking photos. They bombarded her with questions implying the graffiti was gang-related.

“Do you know who did this? Do you know who did that? What’s your name; where do you go to school?” she recalls, eyes blazing at the memory.

“I have no [criminal] record,” she points out. “I’ve never even been pulled over and for some reason they find it OK to bother me.”

Weaver’s second police encounter was on Dodge Street when she was returning to her car after being at a friend’s house. Two policemen questioned her in much the same fashion, though this time they searched her car, looking for drugs.

“They said ‘we’ve been getting calls about suspicion of distribution of drugs and you’re the only car on this street,’” she says. Was it because of the graffiti? Probably, Weaver says.

For her the car is merely a fun way to get to classes at North Shore Community College, or to her part-time job at Fuel Coffee & Juice Bar on Essex Street. Though she is an artist — she paints murals and oil paintings — she has never done graffiti. Most of her car’s markings, she points out, came preinstalled; the Dynasty in its former life was an art project for a group of Phillips Academy students.

Weaver’s mother, a graphic designer at the prep school, thought the car would make a great first car for her daughter. She bought the car for a mere $200 from a teacher who had adopted it.

At first sight, Weaver thought the car was a “riot.” Driving it was a whole other experience.

“At first I got a lot of looks,” she says. “But, you know, I’ve always grown up being my own unique self so it hasn’t really bothered me. I enjoy giving people a laugh during the day, whether it’s at me or my car.”