Thursday, June 5, 2014

Running on borrowed nostalgia...

This is about cars. I am not a car guy per se, though I do enjoy an episode of Top Gear now and then.

My dad was a car guy. Sorry, I should say my dad was a Car Guy. He collected books on the history of cars, he collected model cars, he took pictures of every interesting car he ever saw (often from multiple angles) and kept binders of these photos to refer back to. He could rattle off specs and production dates and designers and engine sizes like other kids' dads could rattle off baseball statistics. He could tell model years apart by the shape of their taillights and tell you what someone got wrong on a restoration. He wasn't a gearhead, mind you, he couldn't repair one if his life depended on it, but my God, did he love the automobile. For him it was about aesthetics and culture, a trip through an art museum held less for him than a walk through a car show. And oh my, did he take me to car shows.

Not just old cars either, dad loved cars, period. Every year when the new models came out, he would send me into the showrooms of the local dealerships while he waited out in the car to collect the new pamphlets for the coming models of Ford, Dodge, and Chevy and Toyota and whatever else came through town. More than that, I sat beside him more than once while he dickered with car salesmen just for the fun of it over some car he had no intention of buying.

My dad's Karmann Ghia looked exactly like this one, except
it was brown. Even I can see what he saw in it, I think...
Source: Wikimedia Commons
 Personally, I'd rather have a voluntary root canal than go through the process of picking out and purchasing a car.  It would be cheaper for one thing...

In case you ever wondered why I don't write much about the cars my characters drive, this would be it.

Amusingly (to me at least) it wasn't me, but my sister who finally caught the car bug from dad.  But I'll get back to her in a minute, because how she caught the bug is important to this story.

My first car was a 1985 Nissan 4x4 pickup. I was 16. It was chocolate brown with a gold-fleck in the paint and a roll bar bolted in the back. It was awesome. I was proud of it as any 16 year old would be. And I crashed it in the middle of a Valentines Day ice storm a week after we bought it and dad was livid, as you might imagine, but we got it fixed and back on the road and I drove it all through high school.  Most of the vehicles I've owned since have been small pickups by Nissan or Toyota, but never was quite as much fun or saw quite as much mud and gravel roads as that one. Partly because I moved to a series of decent-sized cities, and partly because I got it out of my system early.

That truck was fun, but it wasn't ethereal. Even when I was jouncing down a rutted path or bogging through a muddy field or driving a freshly-waxed and vacuumed version of that same pickup with a pretty girl in the passenger seat on a date... even in those moments, I never had that "It doesn't get better than this, I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS CAR" moment.

My sister's Mini looked not very much like this one, but 
isn't it cool?  She probably felt like she was pulling the
Italian Job every day on the way to work...
Source: Wikimedia Commons
My dad would speak wistfully of his favorite car, the one in which he fell in love with the automobile. He had a scrapbook's worth of pictures of it, naturally: It was a brown convertible Karmann Ghia that his dad bought for him at an auction. Karmann Ghia, I was informed, was an Italian-designed sports car maker, who basically built a roadster on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. It was oddly beautiful, with rounded fenders and swooping lines of the sort you just don't see anymore. It was just the thing for bombing down the winding back roads of rural Missouri.

Then, as the story goes, he woke up one morning and his dad had traded it for a tractor (I told you we were from rural Missouri). Dream over. Move along. Nothing to see. Chores to do. Carry on. But his feelings about that car were so strong that I still feel a whiff of borrowed nostalgia every time I see one.

But I've never felt that. Not firsthand. Not ever. Today, I was talking about cars with my sister because our old Nissan is about to give up the ghost and we need something more fuel efficient and earth friendly, when she told me she'd felt it when she got in her 2004 Mini Cooper for the first time. Which gives me hope that some day, a car might be something other than a means of conveyance from point A to point B.

But I won't hold my breath.

In the mean time, I have a root canal to schedule... er... I mean I need to find a car that won't fall apart half way to work in the morning.

This is the definition of "First World Problems", I guess.  Ah well, maybe I'll spot an old Karmann Ghia at the back of the car lot and get a whiff of my old man's nostalgia once again. Might tide me over through the interminable cultural dance that is car purchasing in America...

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).