Saturday, March 07, 2009

When Driving Fast Was Cool (2007)

I'm old enough to remember when driving fast was cool.

I came after the American Graffiti era, of course; but when I saw the American Graffiti movie in the theater, none of it was strange to me. We'd tinker with our elderly American cars, and occasionally we'd race. We lived in podunk. We raced right on the spur of the superhighway that was just finished that started noplace and ended nowhere. At night you could do any damn thing on that road. The police didn't even bother to go there.

I still remember the sort of sinking feeling we got the first time we opened up a car hood and saw this sort of metal octopus atop the engine block. No more tweaking the points and condenser, tinkering with the carburetor, nothing. It was all idiot stickers and towel bar air dams on ricers after that.

Racing, real racing, made a kind of sense then too. It's like its contemporary, country music. Neither one is worth a crap now, because they are just a shiny plastic imitation of the chrome and dirt thing they replaced. They are both so popular that no one goes there any more. No one like me, anyway.

With racing, it ended, like so many things, when too much was achieved. At first, there was an interesting race to innovate the technical aspects of the car and marry it to a maniac driver that had been running moonshine ten minutes before. Now third generation metrosexuals in footie pajamas covered with mercenary scout patches drive cars that are engineered to make sure they don't go too fast. Too fast? There's no such thing. Not one of them could beat me home on Friday night after work. Country music died when it forgot what the hell country the "Country" was referring to. And no, I'm not "Ready For Some Football," you penthouse hayseed.

A car is just a box to ride around in now. It has the vibe of a European tram, if it has a vibe at all. I don't even understand the need for "cars" anymore. A two door car is a joke to me now. A vehicle is a utilitarian device. People talk with disdain about "SUVs" as if they're wasteful or something. They're just station wagons. At least they function as what they are, a big cart to haul people and things in. What's a Pontiac Sunfire, exactly? And everyday cars are all different brands of ugly, more or less. Face facts. A F-150 Lightning pick-up truck will blow the doors off a sports car. The speed limit is 65. What's it all for?

You could make a whole bowl of cereal if you went through the backseat cushions of our little wagon, and you could fit that wagon inside my truck. Our vehicles are there to do things. Not be things. Do things. How can they hope to capture your imagination? Every third song on the radio then was about a car. Every third song on the radio now is ... more than I'd care to listen to. We traded Wolfman Jack for Rush Limbaugh.

Cars? I remember fondly when we wondered only what was possible. And what we could get away with. It's over. Face it.


Sissy Willis said...

The fresh breath of Florence gives way to the heavy breathing of Rome?

Oh, and yes, your tribute to your papa left me in tears.

misterarthur said...

You're right. I think the magic's gone because cars are too "good" technologically. There are no stereo buffs any more (the average stereo is really good these days) No shutterbugs. It all happens when you can't tweak something very much. Plus the difference between an inexpensive car (say a toyota corolla) and an expensive one isn't that big anymore. They're all good. Time was, there were really terrible cars. (Read a Car And Driver from the 70's for proof). You're absolutely right. The magic's gone.

lohwoman said...

Funny you should mention this. Last night I was driving home (in my 1997 Corolla which is troublefree and which I expect to remain so) and I saw an orange '68 Camaro. It was all souped up with some sort of little device on the back end for drag racing. I didn't know what it was for but that's what my husband just told me. Anyway, we're at a stoplight and the driver keeps goosing it to keep it from dying. It was really running rough. When the light changed, he roared off, way ahead of me, of course. But I saw him later a minute later in the Kmart parking lot. Had the hood up. He looked like he didn't have a clue. I thought about my old dream to have an orange Firebird or Cougar. I'd still like to have a fun car before I die (let's not count that crappy '67 LeMans which looked so good but was no fun to keep running) but I'd also like to have a vehicle someday that four adults could sit in without getting leg cramps. And the Corolla just keeps on running.

Z said...

I saw your piece about your dad at Carol's blog and just had to comment, though you had no comments available. Sorry, but I had to tell you I thought it was one of the finest pieces of writing I have EVER read and you have my sincerest condolences on the loss of an American hero. America is less for having lost him.
I'll never forget that..thanks.
You are SOME writer.

MarmiteToasty said...

I cant remember how I stumbled through the door of your blob yesterday..... but however it was, Im so glad I did..... I have scrolled back and read and read and read...... what a beautiful heartwarming wonderful place you have here......

The post on your dad has deeply affected me..... tears even now as I type.... thank you for sharing such wonderful things.... fank you...


SippicanCottage said...

Sissy- Thank you.

"The fresh breath of Florence gives way to the heavy breathing of Rome" is inspired.

Mister arthur- I think I like the steampunks because of this. They tinker with the untinkerable, to try for a kind of elegance.

lohwman- Sometimes I'm wistful for my 1966 Fairlane. I could fix everything on that rustbucket. I know I could, because I did. Twice.

Thanks, Z

Marmite- Thanks. I think you're on to something, calling this place a "blob." Couldn't have said it better myself.

Buck said...

Ah, yes. I blew (in retrospect) my first reenlistment bonus on a brand new 1967 350hp SS396 Chevelle in late 1966. And raced it three or four nights a week on Floradale Ave just outside Lompoc, CA. It was the same story all over these United States back then... GTOs, Z-28s, Roadrunners, and so on. Nostalgia can be good sometimes.

Beautiful piece about your father, Sippican. My father flew in B-17s over Europe in Big Bang Two; he passed on 20 years ago. Your tribute to your father pulled my heartstrings as I still miss the Ol' Man... he was quite a guy. They ALL were. Thanks for that.

Golden West said...

You did your dad proud.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

The old days aren't gone; just harder to find.

I have a '69 Thunderbird down in the basement. There isn't a system I can't fix on that car. Yes, it seats 4 adults in comfort, 6 in relative comfort, and still smokes a rice burner from the light (which tends to cause the youngsters heartburn). I break it out whenever I can afford the 110 octane to make it run and I am feeling nostalgic for the rumble of a big block V-8.

It ain't a kid’s game anymore; the money has ruined the idea of tinkering with an old rod like we used to when we were young.

And you have my sincerest and deepest sympathies on your loss. I lost my own Father a few years ago and still miss his company. Just keep him in your heart, and he'll always be there for you.