Friday, April 16, 2010

Cruising Around in Cars

At a recent concert Katie and I attended, one of the two cowboy singers jokingly remarked, “I hear there are two kinds of transportation here in Green Valley, golf carts and ambulances.” He forgot to mention Buicks. I’ve never seen so many Buicks in one place. There are old ones and new ones and all are driven by people I would estimate to be 75 and older. Who’s going to drive all these Buicks when they’re gone.
In the US our cars are not simply a primary form of transportation, but a bold and visible statement about who we are as individuals. I’ve liked cars since I was a kid. Growing up I knew every car on our block. Most were family type cars and not very exciting. Mr. and Mrs. Howard, the elderly couple who lived right next door had a 1956 Plymouth with no radio. They were a wonderful older couple, in fact they were like grandparents to me, but no radio? The first exciting car I remember on our street was a black 1954 Chevy Bel Air convertible. It had thin white pin striping around the front and back Chevrolet emblems and two shiny chrome exhaust pipes sticking out the back end. It was owned by a teenager named Jay who lived up the street. He didn’t have it for very long. He traded it in for a white 1957 Chevy with a continental kit. This was also a great car, but that ‘54 Chevy was my favorite. It was a big chunk of a car with chrome on the sides and shined up like a piece of onyx. Jay looked very cool driving it too.
The first car I bought after turning 16 was a disaster. It was a 1954 Ford sedan. I bought it from a friend’s father for $50 and it lasted less than a week. Several of my friends came over to experience its maiden voyage. I had cleaned it up inside and out and it looked pretty good for an old family sedan. The guys piled in with high expectations and off we went to cruise through the local hamburger stand. We hadn’t traveled more than two blocks from my house when a loud metallic noise stopped the car dead in its tracks. We all got out and looked under the hood. None of us knew much about mechanics, but couldn’t miss the metal rod sticking out of the engine block. It was obvious the engine was ruined. I paid $25 to have it towed to the junk yard.
Shortly after this incident my parents bought a brand new 1964 Chevy Malibu Super Sport. It was pale yellow with black interior, bucket seats and 4 on the floor. It had a 283 cubic inch V-8. I remember wishing they had gotten the 326. Instead of the small chrome V on the side front quarter panels, it would have had the two rally flags just like the corvettes. The 326 was way more power than this small light car warranted, but I guess that was the point. I didn’t feel I had very much personal power at this stage of my life. I was small, thin and looked young for my age. With the purchase of the Malibu, my family for the first time owned two cars. Both my mom and dad worked and each needed their own transportation. Our other car was a Volkswagen bug. I was not allowed to drive the Malibu whenever I wanted, but if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, like chores and homework, my parents occasionally let me drive it.
Cruising around in cars was the main weekend evening activity for high school kids, unless you had a date, which I rarely did. So mainly it was getting together with friends, listening to the radio and looking for some “action”, which we rarely found. All cruising behavior in our area ended up at the Jennings Steak ‘n Shake. Each suburban community had a specific place where local kids would gather. Usually it was a hamburger stand and the Steak ‘n Shake restaurants were perfect for this activity. The restaurant was in the middle of a wrap around parking area. The teenage cruising etiquette was to enter on the right side of the building and then drive around in a counter clockwise fashion. The cars backed in away from and facing the restaurant. This was somewhat of a challenge for new less experienced drivers. With the eyes of the other kids riveted on you, you had to back into a relatively small space with one decisive and fluid motion. If a car horn suddenly honked, you could bet that some poor fool misjudged his back in and nearly slammed into another car, very humiliating. Once safely parked, a carhop came out to take the food orders. Often the carhops were kids we knew from school.
One weekend evening I was allowed to take the Malibu. None of my friends were available, so I went out alone. That particular night all the spaces at Steak 'n Shake were taken and all the cars seemed full of energetic kids. On the way out from my pass around the circle, I met another car coming in the opposite direction. I had to swerve to the right to avoid him. Our two cars ended up side by side. I could have reached over and touched the guy driving. He was older and appeared to be what we called back then, a greaser. My friends and I wore our hair hanging down in front like the Beach Boys. His hair was combed back, Elvis style, and his short sleeves were rolled up exposing an impressive bicep. He looked a lot like my neighbor Jay. He was driving a stripped down ‘56 Ford, no chrome, no paint, just bare grey metal. The car had big oversized tires in the back. It pulsated like a giant heart. I was irritated that he almost caused an accident and felt justified to tell him that. After all he was going in the wrong way. Our eyes met and I noticed a relaxed and confidant look on his face. Before I had a chance to set him straight, he said to me in a not unfriendly way “Hey hotshot, did daddy let you have the car tonight?” I quickly replied with something lame like, “No, this is really my car.” But he just smiled and pulled ahead. I decided to go home that night. Cruising wasn’t much fun alone.
Lately I’ve been cruising around Green Valley listening to the oldies station and trying to avoid the golf carts, ambulances and Buicks.

1 comment:

  1. mike:still enjoy your life,you seem to be living the nam era,i do too.I have to go in for bypass surgery soon caught me off guard on a stress test because I had trouble getting my breath when I ran.I"ll let you know how it went when I can.Keep the faith.Dooley