It is always about Bud. It was always about Bud. And it will always be about Bud. Good thing Bud is a dummy. And good thing he's such a happy dummy.
Otherwise Bud's wistful poker face, far-away eyes and stiff demeanor would try the patience of Job and anyone else who meets him.
And Bud, a professional tourist who lives to sightsee, has met plenty of people, all of whom he so thoughtfully calls his new friends. The guy gets around -- he's in a perpetual state of summer vacation. But if you think Rehoboth, Whack-a-mole and boogie boarding are Bud's idea of vacation, think again. Last week, he was in Fiji visiting sugar cane fields and then New Zealand admiring sheep and snowfields. This week, he's in Sydney, en route to Uluru, the world's biggest monolith in Northern Territory, Australia.
Imagine, Bud might have spent the rest of his days collecting dust in an attic, or even worse, residing in a dumpster!
A former Montgomery Ward mannequin approximately 35 in dummy years (14 in boy years), Bud was adopted by Baltimore artist D.S. Bakker after a dreary period languishing as an artist's model at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.
In 1983, Bakker whisked Bud away from all that. They drove cross-country to San Francisco, stopping en route at the Cadillac Ranch in Texas, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and other sightseeing meccas. Along the way, Bud -- at times riding atop Bakker's automobile -- made lots of friends and discovered that being a tourist was far more fulfilling than standing nude and anatomically incorrect in front of strangers.
Wherever Bud went, there he was, and more important, there was Bakker or another photographer willing to snap his picture in front of a famous monument or natural wonder. From the continental United States, Bud expanded his horizons to Paris, London and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
In 1986, he even received a works-in-progress grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, enabling Bud to travel to Alaska and Hawaii. Soon came trips to Africa, the Netherlands, Scotland, Canada, West Virginia and other destinations near and far.
"Bud is a tourist, and tourists need to travel," Bakker explains. "He loves to travel to new places and make new friends."
Bakker first scanned "crude black and white images" of Bud's travels into a Mac computer in 1986. Two years later, the pictures became part of a traveling show, "Collecting, Organizing and Transposing," curated by Olivia Georgia, then director of Maryland Art Place. "When the Internet arrived, it was conceptually a very small step to put his travelogue out on the Web," Bakker says.
Bakker lives with his wife and two children near Lake Montebello and creates strange and haunting dioramas in his garage/studio. While very protective of Bud, he ordinarily never attempts to speak for him. Bakker, a cheerfully eccentric fellow whose off-beat creative expressions invite rather than threaten even the most mainstream of folk, firmly believes that Bud, himself a mainstream kind of guy, is his own best spokesman -- even if he does tend to speak in cloying, "golly gee" superlatives about the most trite matters.
As a result, this so-called dummy has become a prolific pen pal, tourist savant and a unique catalyst for world-wide communication with his Web site, "Bud's Travels" (http://hometown.aol. com/touristbud).
In an account of that early trip to Colorado, for example, Bud wrote:
"As Lewis and Clark and their guide, Sacajawea, made their way westward across the Rocky Mountains, they encountered primeval forests alive with wolves and grizzlies. Nearly two centuries later, these symbols of the frontier West still survive in the Rockies, along with lynx, wolverines, bison, pronghorn and elk. As Bud made his way westward across the Rocky Mountains, he encountered gas stations, 7-Elevens, miniature golf and Winnebagos."
Bud's site was a Yahoo! pick of the week last September, and since then about 30,000 people have visited, reading his journal entries, writing letters, venturing out on cyber links to countries and topics (Cypress Gardens, Elvis Presley, cave art among them) he has so thoughtfully provided.
Perhaps it is Bud's nonjudgmental ways -- or his relentless good cheer -- that explains why so many people confide in him and seek his wisdom on a bewildering array of topics. Bud is often asked to expound upon historical and scientific matters, ranging from the existence of Druids to the Coriolis effect, the force behind why water drains in the opposite direction in the Southern hemisphere.
And if Bud, typical teen cybergeek that he is, doesn't have an answer, he has a link, even for enthusiasts with the most esoteric of interests. One correspondent, for example, wrote:
"Glad to have found your site -- I am a new collector of mannequins -- and have acquired a few in need of cosmetic repair-- was hoping you would know where I can find the correct paint for mannequins!
"Thanks -- Larry"
Bud told Larry he doesn't know much about paint but suggested a link called "Mr. Mannequin."
"I hope he can help your new friends," Bud continued. "Will you take them on trips with you? I bet they would have lots of fun."
Advice from afar
Bud's friends don't hesitate to offer their advice as well. Christine in Australia urged him to avoid tourist traps and visit the outback on his current adventure.
Bud, always brutally honest, wrote in reply: "I like the places that have tourist hype. But that's because I'm a mannequin and a tourist. Some people call me shallow but that's not true. I am hollow, though."
A quick note from Petra went, "You have to go to Sweden, man."
And Susan, a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, urged Bud to have his picture taken at Lincoln Center with the Chagall tapestries in the background, or better yet, "trying on a hairpiece in the wig department!"
Bud's site has also put him in touch with a long-lost relative, great-great Aunt Nance. (My sister was your "adopted" mother's great-grandmother, she explains in a preface to her letter).
Why not Baltimore?
Nance chastised Bud for not including Baltimore in his travelogue. "My Web site is just about places I've been a tourist in," the lifetime Baltimore resident replied, reminding his aunt that he did have a picture taken in front of the Christmas lights on 34th Street in Hampden.
This week, Bud took tea with staffers in the Yahoo! Australia and New Zealand office. "When he announced the trip to Australia, he began to get a lot of mail from 'Down Under,' and that is what seems to have generated the Yahoo invitation to tea," Bakker reports by e-mail from New Zealand. "Bud doesn't drink tea but he thought it would be polite to go anyway."(Bud, by the way, is underage and doesn't drink beer either, so no Foster's for him this trip.)
All those friends keeping track of Bud's summer vacation know he almost didn't make it. He was left in Los Angeles while Bakker and his 10-year-old daughter, Anna, flew to Fiji. Such are the hazards of traveling baggage class.
Bud has had mishaps before. Once he was nearly devoured by termites in Botswana. Another time, he was checked for bombs by taciturn guards at the Tower of London. And then there was that full body cavity search by U.S. customs officials. But this was the first time Bud had flat-out disappeared.
In Fiji, Bakker spent five agonizing days waiting and checking with airlines. Finally, "I decided to cancel the trip and go home," he writes. "Without Bud, there was no point in spending another dime on hotels and meals." Then, happily, Bud, that rascal, resurfaced in a baggage cage ready to roll.
"My relief was torrential," Bakker writes.
After a whirlwind tour of Fiji, Bud left for New Zealand, where Bakker has relatives and the skiing's reportedly the best it's been in years. Bud's friends around the world will have to wait until he returns next week to read about his latest and most picaresque journey. He promises to write as soon as he returns.