It was below freezing outside but Kevin Gabriele was sweating behind the wheel. He was parked at the border between the United States and Canada and had no money to pay taxes on his latest purchase.
While the guard approached, Gabriele recalls regretting that his favorite television show was “Border Wars.” Pieces of a 7-foot-tall robot were in the back of his car. Gabriele fibbed about his new buy and said, “Just picking my robot up to have it fixed.” He flashed a freshly minted business card: “Silverbolt, A Party Robot for Hire.”
But holy motherboard, the old “fixing my robot” trick worked! Gabriele was waved through. He cruised back home to Richmond, feeling like he was 51 going on 15.
Then something clicked. Taking a cue from Robin Hood, Gabriele decided to place his black-market robot in the service of others. Look out for Silverbolt during the next few months, Gabriele says, because he’s planning to party hard — for good causes.
“Speaking of heat,” he says, “I gotta stay out of direct sunlight when I suit up.”
That’s right: Gabriele gets inside the robot, walking around and talking to onlookers in a disembodied voice. Each finger can move separately. The eyes light up and the chest protector opens to reveal a plasma lamp. Smoke pours from a jet pack.
“There’s nothing like this around,” he says. “Thing is, the parents are even crazier about it than the kids.”
At this stage in life, Gabriele says he’s “all about the fun, with or without the pay.” He used to work for Bounce 2 the Moon, a local company that specializes in carnival rentals. On weekends he and his girlfriend would take off to Virginia Beach, posing for pictures with their wolf-husky hybrid named Bailey.
Now Gabriele works late nights at a local trucking company and returns home by day to work on his robot. Silverbolt’s different voices, which pour out of Bluetooth speakers, are controlled by laptop apps. It makes for quite a mad scientist scene, buried in sunny suburbia, and Bailey usually ends up hiding in another room.
“Kids, charities and the Humane Society are all big things to me,” he says of his plans for Silverbolt and its umbrella company, Midlo Bots. “To think, some of the guys out there charge five dollars just to be in your picture, and their robot costumes are far inferior.”
Silverbolt’s next charity appearance will be at Scares That Care in Williamsburg, July 24-26. You may already have spotted him at the Richmond Kids Expo, engaging with autistic children. Silverbolt’s a supporter of keeping the Richmond Flying Squirrels in town (he recently mugged with Nutzy) and he hopes to show up at Richmond Kickers games this season. He’s also looking to take a selfie with the Fonz at Wizard World Comic Con in Richmond, July 31-Aug. 2.
“I guess I showed up at the right time for this robot,” Gabriele says, “because the original owner had already turned a bunch of people away.”
Marc De Repentigny, who worked in Quebec’s aerospace industry, built Silverbolt in 2013 while he was injured and out of work. But an appearance on the Halloween edition of the game show “Deal or No Deal” netted Repentigny $120,000.
Repentigny was understandably reluctant to sell Silverbolt. He’d been invited to Dubai for the red carpet premier of “Transformers 2.” But Repentigny declined because expenses wouldn’t be covered for the paid help he needed to accompany him. Gabriele, on the other hand, was eager to take Silverbolt out into the world.
Gabriele, who says he’s “into things that are different,” notes that Midlo Bots is plural. In other words, he hopes to assemble a robot army. On MidloBots.com, which is delightfully ugly, you can even read robot fan fiction. The site’s crunchy design is a refreshing break from the slick personal branding that tends to rule today’s Internet.
“[Silverbolt] is a true believer in the Autobot cause,” the website states, cartoon flames swirling near text. “Back before the war Silverbolt loved watching police procedural and forensic video fiction.”
Transplanted to Richmond, Silverbolt will hang out at your party for $200. A corporate meet-and-greet is $100 an hour. “Believe me,” he says, “your head will turn.”
But Gabriele’s secret wish for Silverbolt? “I want to get on stage with Dennis DeYoung and Styx when they play ‘Mr. Roboto,’” he says. “Life’s too short for all work and no play, you know?”
To that we say: Domo arigato, Mr. Gabriele. S