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This Minivan Won’t Let You Down: How Jay Pegs’ NFT Gave Birth to an Absurd Universe

I was told there would be explosions.

There haven’t been any explosions, though, unless you count blown minds.

As everyone else in the NFT space heralds a new era in art history, a loose crew of about 10 degens took over Crypto Twitter for a week, recruiting an army of memesters to pitch the world on a simple message: There is simply nothing more desirable than a South Korean minivan that’s older than Bitcoin.

Jay Pegs Auto Mart is an NFT project that’s been churning out images of 2007 Kia Sedonas with little variations, like logs or eyeballs for wheels, garbage bags or traffic lights on the roof or wagons of various intentions attached to the bumper. The auto mart is a subsidiary of NGMI Global. What’s real and what’s part of the game gets blurry once 2007 Sedona NFTs are on the line. NGMI may or may not have more distractions in store for the blockchain world, but it definitely loves Pinterest.

Jay Pegs has driven a long metaphorical road in the used car business before he finally found his purpose. He’s a good Christian, a Floridian, a man who loves Skittles and cool sunglasses.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in crypto, more “serious” NFTs are coming out and the space is working overtime to sell these new drops as choice picks for a forward thinking art collector. And some of them probably are works that will stand the test of time, but many probably not.

“It’s hard to believe that everything that people put out there as the greatest thing since sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Colin Platt, CEO of creator platform, Unifty, and an avid member of the Jay Pegs Auto Mart Community told The Defiant. “There’s no pretence that a picture of a 14-year old minivan is a great work of art,” he said.

That’s the revelation at the heart of Jay Pegs Auto Mart. “If you take this space seriously, you’re not going to make it,” a member of the Jay Pegs team, Salesman #2, told the Defiant in a phone call with several other members of the sales team. They work, on behalf of Jay Pegs, proprietor of the eponymous auto dealership in Florida. Salesman #2 is one of several recent additions to the Jay Pegs sales staff, from a group of creative developers who have relished artistic hijinks for a while and, now, reliable used cars.

Nexus of Affordability and Quality

Jay Pegs has driven a long metaphorical road in the used car business before he finally found his purpose. He’s a good Christian, a Floridian, a man who loves Skittles and cool sunglasses. But what so attracted folks like Salesman #2 twas Jay’s mission: to get people into a vehicle at the nexus of affordability and quality, a 14-year old minivan that still won’t let you down.

Pegs already had the vision when Salesman #2’s cohort found him. They just brought a new way to get out the word about these cars.

The shorthand name for the whole project has come to be “DONA,” and DONA echoes CryptoPunks, both of which can be viewed as either 10,000 procedurally generated NFTs or as a single work that was fractionalized into 10,000 pieces.

But here’s the difference, CryptoPunks stopped at the collection of images.

The art that is “Jay Pegs Auto Mart” might be the DONA, the NFTs, the Twitter feed… the whole campaign that has landed an ERC-20 token called DONA into the hands of 1,363 people and left them chattering online ever since. It’s all been a performance, a comment on this moment in this very new industry, one that invited observers to become collaborators. That’s how another of Salesman #2’s collaborators, Based Money God, talked about it when he first told me about Jay Pegs.

That’s also when he told me there would be explosions. I was promised that if I came to Boston a few days after the auction closed they would have some actual Sedonas for participants to take if they wanted. But if no one took them, the Jay Pegs team would blow those used cars up.

Endless Shill

The trip fell through and no one blew up anything. I was told the cars might even be in New York City that day, but I called a ton of people looking for them and no one had seen any.

But the guys behind Jay Pegs Auto Mart are in possession of very real 2007 Kia Sedonas (they won’t say how many), or so I have been repeatedly told. I even got a little tour of one during a Google Meet video call — maybe one that would have been blown up if things had gone another way?

As I turned this all over in my mind, here’s what I realized: There is art that makes people stop and think and some of that is among the best art in the world. But there’s another kind of art, and the whole DONA phenomena is this kind of art. It’s work that someone looks at and then they (or at least some of them) know what to do. 

Blockchain technology may very well transform the world as we know it, the art world included, but everyone’s stated confidence in that future is belied by the fact that no one ever stops shilling. Shilling is not confident behavior.

“I had this image of all these crypto-rich people fighting for a 14-year old minivan. It seemed so stupid that it must be worthwhile.”

Colin Platt

So the DONA stans are laughing at the endless shill that is the NFT space, but it’s self-deprecating laughter, too. It’s not like the NGMI gang hasn’t completely bought into this industry themselves after all. And that’s why DONA is fun, even for insiders.

Platt got it right away “I had this image of all these crypto-rich people fighting for a 14-year old minivan. It seemed so stupid that it must be worthwhile,” said Platt.

But it’s not merely a satire. It’s a LARP that’s taking on a life of its own. Like Dom Hoffmann’s LOOT project, DONA may also hint at a future where large groups of strangers can be coordinated toward a unified-but-not-predetermined end by a clever nudge and some digital objects that could be worth real money if everyone plays nicely together

After having played along for a while, Platt’s come to a deeper conclusion. “It’s a way to put a monetary value on the lore that forms in a community,” Platt said.

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The 2007 Kia Sedona came with a standard V6 all-aluminum engine, dual sliding side doors and of course tri-zone air conditioning, which means separate temperatures for each row of the van — imagine that for your family’s comfort! It’s known both for being impressively quick as needed while also offering a smooth quiet ride.

There’s still plenty of Sedonas from that model year on the road, and that’s why Jay Pegs has devoted himself to selling this one car. On September 15 as he ran the ask-me-anything ahead of the token auction on SushiSwap’s Miso platform, Jay Pegs told listeners:

A Token Called DONA

“This is real simple. I’ve been in this business give or take 38 years. I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve sold other cars here in Kenansville, Florida. It’s been a long journey. But you reach a point where you find what you need. You find quality.”

Of course Jay Pegs wasn’t really pitching an actual Kia Sedona. He was pitching an ERC-20 token called DONA. That token would later be transferable for an NFT evocative of 2007’s dream machine.

The specifics of the sale were first announced on Craigslist.

Starting with an ERC-20 token was a twist on today’s minting process. “They have a unique process that I think is quite cool,” Platt said. The Jay Pegs NFTs would work a lot like other NFTs on the market today, in that users were only buying the rights to some random NFT in a set of 10,000, but this way users escaped the shakes-inducing minting process that destroys NFT buyers’ wallets in gas fees.

Further they were able to guarantee that everyone paid the same price. They used a sort of modified Dutch auction that collected bids over several days and then charged everyone the highest price that would clear all 9800 DONA in the auction (200 were set aside to open a pool on SushiSwap). Everyone paid the same.

That’s really quite a deal when you consider the promise Jay Pegs made as he pitched the auction in the AMA. “I can prove to you that this vehicle is going to change your life, Lord willing. That is a promise,” he said.

So then as the sale closed down, a new chapter opened in the story: all their 865 ETH got stolen, apparently by a disgruntled developer that had worked for Sushiswap — maybe.

I wrote about this at the time, but to recap: The sale ended, the ETH wasn’t where it should have been. The gang freaked out. Jay Pegs fans started dropping and re-dropping the hashtag #PrayFor Jay. They looked at the address holding it, sorted out who it was, sent him some soup, sent him a lawyer and eventually the ETH made its way back.

The team even sent him a DONA after he returned the funds.

The Hacker Just Showed Up

It turns out that the hack helped to provide a beat the team had been looking for. The Jay Pegs NFTs were always bigger than the mint. It’s a story. It’s like playing a giant game of D&D on top of the Ethereum blockchain, but instead of slaying dragons players are shilling the greatest minivan this land has ever known.

“There was this loose script going into it. We can partially write that script but we also wanted participants to write that script as well,” Jay Pegs staffer McGhoul said.

So on that note, “We wanted to have a villain in the story,” McGhoul said. “For the villain, we thought about doing a competing dealership from across town.” But then the hacker just showed up.

McGhoul said that it “became part of the storyline” and they didn’t miss the opportunity to use it to reveal a little bit more about the character of their hero, Jay Pegs.

It’s like playing a giant game of D&D on top of the Ethereum blockchain, but instead of slaying dragons players are shilling the greatest minivan this land has ever known.

To that end, when the matter was resolved, Jay wrapped up with a statement: “Listen up computer whiz. I know in my heart you’re a good man and that you got off on the wrong exit.”

But, you know, if you’ve come to love the good Mr. Pegs, it might make sense to continue to pray for Jay.

McGhoul said, “He’s got a shit heart. He’s not in good health.” Another auto mart employee, Amazon Prime Member, said, “He’s got a good heart, but it’s not working too good.”

BasedMoneyGod said, “He likes Shoney’s too much.”

If any of those handles sound vaguely familiar, that might not be an accident. This is not the first rodeo for the guys now shilling DONA.

They don’t make much of it now but it’s not hard to connect the dots. Many (if not all, it’s hard to say) of the staff participated in one the great Weird DeFi experiments of 2020: Based Money, a game that used Ampleforth’s rebasing mechanic to give users a shot at easy gains, if they could guess market moves correctly. It was a game of Chicken, but for profit, not glory.

Ghouls in the Machine

In September 2020 there was $3M worth of BASED token moving each day as users tried to guess when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

But since then, the Jay Pegs team told The Defiant that they’ve just really become sold on getting people into a high-quality, reliable car, one that eschews the showy frills of a more insecure man’s vehicle. Such as the Lambo.

“We kind of went from finance to used cars, as weird as it sounds,” BasedMoneyGod told The Defiant right after the hack. “Our goal is to bring an affordable vehicle to the masses that is unparalleled in reliability and is something that you can really get your family into and pass on through the generations.”

But that sense of meme-loving play we all got to know in the Based.Money era is still in full effect in the time of DONA. Anyone who visits the Jay Pegs Telegram group will find two things in abundance: handshakes and roof slapping.

The handshakes are handshakes, but the roof slapping has more to it. “We have on-chain proof-of-slap,” Salesman #2 said.

The Jay Pegs smart contract has a roof slapping function (“roofSlap”) built into it. Anyone with an Ethereum wallet can call the function for any of the Kia Sedonas and it will permanently log that its roof has been slapped by that wallet address. Slaps recently became visible in the auto-mart’s UI.

The team expects slaps will factor into value. What might happen to an NFTs value if it’s roof had been slapped by Vitalik, for example, or 0x_b1? Or what might happen if it’s the Sedona with the most slaps? And what are other NFT makers going to do when they see the roofSlap function and decide to riff on it?

But the tech, the auction, the hack, none of that is the true game. The true game is the LARP, taking on a role in Jay Pegs universe and playing your heart out.

“I really liked the juxtaposition between used car salesmen and selling tokens. Because everyone is kind of a shill in this space,” BasedMoneyGod said.

But most people can’t play a salesman — not yet. “You meet a lot of people who LARP as middle-aged people buying family minivans,” Platt said.

Tell Them Jay Sent you

And play they did. Amazon Prime Member said that they knew they had found people who clicked with the game when the Ask Me Anything started on Sep. 15, just before the token sale. People didn’t come on asking prospects for price appreciation or projections for an NFT floor price. They came to talk about 2007 Kia Sedonas, about tri-zone air conditioning, about its 172-watt stereo and its cupholders.

“The people that were coming on, all of the questions were like, ‘What about the rug? Does the rug come clean?’” Amazon Prime Member said.

“The juice of this thing is the way people are reacting and responding on Twitter and reacting in the Telegram,” McGhoul said during our post-hack interview.

Similarly, readers may have spotted the cool ‘80s sunglasses all over Crypto Twitter last week. That all happened organically. It started when a member of the Jay Pegs community put those on a photo of Jay. The sales team then spun up the DMV photo center, so that fans could do the same.

And for one member of the community, that willingness to play along is much more serious than silly.

Junior Sales Associate

“I’ve really come to believe that LARPing is a legitimate skillset within crypto,” Lumi Valuemancer, a pseudonymous alum of the “Don’t buy $MEME” era and something of a DeFi philosopher, told The Defiant. “I think we’ve yet to really broach the conversation of the power of LARPing.”

But new roles may be opening up. Some members of the community may jump from vehicle buyers to vehicle sellers. Around 500 people submitted applications to participate in a tournament to become Junior Sales Associate at the auto mart.

The sales team played us a sample of one the contestants entries and let me tell you: people are putting their hearts into it.

“Some of these good contestants. They might be walking away with their own real 2007 Kia Sedonas,” BasedMoneyGod said. “The good Lord has been bountiful, and there’s going to be a Kia Sedona on the ground out there with a Jay Pegs sticker. And that means quality.”

So the DONA is in circulation. The DONA hack is past, and 5,446 DONA had been burnt in exchange for a 2007 Kia Sedona NFT, as of Monday morning. So more folks are driving off the lot with their used Sedonas every day.

What’s left to do? Is the Jay Pegs Auto Mart story over?

Evil Corporate Behemoth

“It’s not done. Jay is a small business owner. He runs one business inside a whole universe,” McGhoul said. “NGMI Global is kind of the evil parent company controlling that universe. He’s not the only small business owner.”

They promised that the Sedonas will be useful again in some way as this world evolves.

So NGMI Global is behind everything we’ve seen so far, and it will be behind everything we see in the future. We don’t really understand how Jay Pegs got in bed with this faceless company, but it might not have been the best day of this good Christian Floridian’s life. Who knows?

The point though is behind all this fun and memeing there’s been an evil corporate behemoth purely “focused on premium yields,” as its website says.

Which means the story could get much darker as it goes, so pray for Jay — I know I will be. The good news, though, is that a malevolent corporate overlord might mean I get to eventually see some real explosions after all.