Most people look for a few basic things like reliability and fuel efficiency in a commuter vehicle. Ellie Frederico is different.
Nearly every day, she drives from her home in Florida to the St. Mary’s Hospital campus in a hearse.
“I guess I have a good sense of humor,” she said, adjusting the pink scrubs that match the shiny new coat of “Furious Fuchsia” paint on her hearse.
A plastic skeleton is propped up in the passenger seat with a straw hat resting on its smooth skull at a jaunty angle. In back there’s a genuine Civil War-era wooden casket she bought from the classifieds.
Frederico is a licensed practical nurse for Dr. Karen Tan’s family ear, nose and throat practice. It’s not exactly the ER, where life and death routinely hang in the balance, but for anyone in the health care field, a hearse is a strange choice of vehicle.
“We’re all going to get a ride in the back at some point,” she said. “I get to ride up front, which is much more fun.”
Frederico’s husband, Michael, bought the car as a surprise about a year ago. He went out on a camping trip and came back $500 lighter and one hearse richer.
“My husband has always built hot-rods,” she said. “Since we got married 15 years ago, he’s been promising to build me one. I told him if he was going to do it, it had to be exactly what I wanted.”
Considering her lifelong love of Halloween, “it just had to be a hearse.”
The vehicle is a 1986 Buick LeSabre. It has transported many to their place of eternal rest under the care of a funeral home in Brant Lake. Over the past few years, it sat in the weeds under private ownership — that is, until Michael brought it back to life.
“It didn’t have too much rust,” he said, motioning along the wheel well in the Medical Arts parking lot, “but the guy who had it before us painted it with a brush. The whole thing had to be sanded.”
The two have put in a combined 350 hours of nights and weekends rebuilding the old LeSabre. A huge pink intake scoop rests where the engine caught fire and ruined a section of the hood. Twin exhaust pipes shudder and moan when the car is fired up. The coats of pink paint alone cost $1,000, twice as much as the vehicle itself.
With the new paint, souped-up air scoop and harbinger-of-death, winged-rat hood ornament, the hearse is eye-catching in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way.
Diane Vannostrand stopped in the parking lot Tuesday afternoon to snap pictures with her camera phone.
“I was lost, just turning around,” she said. “I spotted the scoop first, then I thought, oh heck no.”
Frederic said it turns heads wherever she goes; she recalled an elderly lady in a Walmart parking lot who said she felt harassed just looking at it.
But it was actually back in pre-hot-rod condition when the hearse attracted the most attention.
Part of the upcoming Ryan Gosling film “The Place Beyond the Pines” was shot at a house and auto garage on Washout Road in Glenville that belongs to Michael’s parents.
“My dad told [actor] Ben Mendelsohn about the hearse the day we got it,” he said, “and they said they had to have it in the film.”
Frederico’s daily commuter vehicle will be visible in a few scenes, up on a maintenance lift, still the color of grey primer.