A Tesla Cybertruck owned by Travis Carter, of Portland, sits outside his Vice Cannabis dispensary on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A Tesla Cybertruck is Portland’s newest celebrity.

Tennis players stop midswing to get a glimpse of it. Children want their pictures taken with it. It’s a trending topic online in the Portland subreddit.

On the road, the electric vehicle is the frequent recipient of middle fingers, thumbs-downs and slammed-on brakes. People gawk, roll their eyes and yell. It’s gotten spat on and been scratched.

Only two Cybertrucks are registered in Maine – this one in Portland, and another in Scarborough. And the stainless steel, angular, cyberpunk-style machine stands out in a sea of Subarus and regular-shmegular pickup trucks.

By extension, the same can be said for the truck’s owner, Travis Carter, though he swears that’s an unintended consequence. Carter says he has never hankered for the limelight.

“I don’t like attention. It wasn’t an attention-seeking move,” Carter said Thursday at his Portland marijuana dispensary, Vice Cannabis. “People have taken my picture so much. I’m shy, so it has been a weird experience, where you pull up to a red light and every single person stares at you.”

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Carter was one of the first 5,000 people to reserve the truck, out of about 2 million vying for the keys, according to a September 2023 count by InsideEVs, an online publication that writes about electric cars.

Tesla told him in January that he could be Maine’s first Cybertruck owner. Carter jumped at the chance – for $100,000.

For now, his truck sticks out like a sore thumb in Maine.

Travis Carter, of Portland, walks to his Cybertruck on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

He’s still down to clown, though, and is amused by reactions to the truck. He tries to let the negative ones roll off his back. He knows there’s no such thing as bad publicity for a business such as his Forest Avenue marijuana shop, where the truck is prominently parked most days.

Carter loves the thing but still questions whether the hot wheels are worth all the attention. If he had to go back and click “place order” again, he’s not sure he would.

“I didn’t know it was going to turn into this. I’m sometimes like, ‘What did I do?’” he said. “But sometimes it’s positive, too. I take the time to talk to people, because some people are genuinely excited to see it.”

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‘IT’S SO UGLY IT’S CUTE’

The Cybertruck was dreamed up by controversial Tesla founder and social media tycoon Elon Musk.

He envisioned a riff on the Ford F-150 pickup truck, a “supertruck with crazy torque, dynamic air suspension, and corners like it’s on rails,” he told CNN in 2014.  In 2019, Musk made the big reveal of the prototype, which looked like something out of the movie “Blade Runner 2049” and garnered comparisons to the DeLorean time machine from “Back to the Future.”

Musk promoted the Cybertruck as bulletproof and unbreakable – though the model truck’s windows shattered in a demo during the unveiling. Tesla says the electric vehicle can drive up to 340 miles on a single charge, tow 11,000 pounds, and shoot from 0 to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds when it’s put in “beast mode.”

When Tesla started taking preorders in November 2019, Carter repeatedly clicked the reserve button to get through. He put down a $100 deposit, then forgot about it as Tesla repeatedly delayed the EV’s release.

At the start of this year, the Cybertruck reservation finally popped back up on Carter’s radar, and though he says he hesitated, he couldn’t resist.

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Carter comes from Kingston, a small city in upstate New York. He moved to Maine seven years ago and opened the first location of Vice Cannabis with his wife, Phoebe, on Forest Avenue last year.

He knew the truck would be an eye-catcher in Maine. But he wanted it for its uniqueness.

“It’s so ugly it’s cute. It’s like a French bulldog,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the most attractive car in the world, but it’s different. And I like to be different.”

DROPPED JAWS, BIRDS, LOOGIES AND SELFIES

“The aliens have landed,” someone wrote about Carter’s truck on Reddit’s Portland forum, just after he returned from picking it up at a New Jersey Tesla facility.

When he first started driving it here, passersby seemed stunned.

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“In the first week or two, people were hanging out of their cars taking videos, even in the pouring rain,” Carter said.

As Carter drove up Forest Avenue through Deering Oaks Park on Thursday, a jaywalking woman stopped in the middle of an intersection facing oncoming traffic. Her jaw dropped. Carter came to a halt. He sighed – it was nothing new.

Passersby react as a Tesla Cybertruck owned by Travis Carter, of Portland, passes them on the corner of Federal and Temple streets. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Some of the shock value has worn off. But anger has taken its place.

Carter once found a large, fresh glob of spit on the car when it was parked in downtown Portland. As he pulled up to a stop sign Wednesday, someone started yelling at him. A driver in front of him once slammed on the brakes.

What’s his most frequent reaction?

“The middle finger,” he said. “In passing, at red lights, people walking by.”

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While walking down Congress Street on Saturday, Alex Hanson noticed the parked truck with a swiftness.

“What in the hell,” she said to a friend, laughing.

Hanson, 20, used to work at a repair shop, fixing up cars. She was more focused on the aesthetics.

“It’s so ugly,” she said. “It looks more like a sculpture than a vehicle. Elon Musk has a lot of of money, and I think that he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.”

To account for the buzz around his vehicle, Carter says he has become one of the most careful drivers on the road.

“Now, I’m on stage,” he said. “I have to be very courteous.”

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He feels like maybe the anger’s easing, but he still gets plenty of eye rolls.

“Do you have any insight of why people are so negative?” he asked. “I’m really shocked at how angry people are.”

Carter’s truck might be a symbol of Musk and his near-constant stream of controversies. Musk has been accused of transphobia, antisemitism and racism. He’s promoted conspiracy theories. And white supremacist and Nazi rhetoric has spiked on X since Musk assumed ownership of the site formerly known as Twitter.

People gather at Post Office Park in Portland to get a look at Travis Carter’s Cybertruck. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Redell Kells, who drives a Ford Escape, is angry because he believes the Cybertruck is dangerous to other people on the road. Safety experts have raised concerns about the truck’s stiff, stainless steel exterior.

“I’ve been waiting to see this one,” he said while standing next to the truck on Congress Street. “If I knew who owned it, I’d probably complain.”

Tesla had to recall all of the 3,878 Cybertrucks produced from November through the end of March because the accelerator pedal can get stuck, although Carter doesn’t believe his car was impacted.

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He said he doesn’t let the hate get to him, and that only about 25% of the interactions his Cybertruck provokes are negative.

Many are neutral – curious and inquisitive. Most people who walked, drove or biked by on Saturday merely craned their necks to get a good look.

Travis Carter, right, opens his door of his Cybertruck so that Jay “Heyman” Robinson, a Portland Public Works employee, can take a look inside Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Aron Bishop had never heard of the infamous Cybertruck before. But he was intrigued. And like many on Congress Street, Bishop stopped to snap a picture.

“It’s pretty cool,” Bishop said.

Cool enough to get one?

“Probably not,” he said. “A bit expensive.”

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SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY

Carter loves spending time with friends. With strangers, he’s a bit more demure. Call it introversion or even social anxiety.

Either way, owning the Cybertruck has been a trial by fire. On some days, Carter interacts with 50 to 100 strangers because of it.

So three weeks into ownership, Carter slapped a sticker on the truck with a QR code. It links to his marijuana shop, and he hopes that it might drum up some business.

People look out the window of an office building on Middle Street at Travis Carter’s Cybertruck. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“People have come in to see the truck and then bought something. It’s grabbed their attention,” he said.

For now, Carter’s truck has Portland’s attention. And he figures he might as well make the most of it.


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