I realized that I have never been to a car show. Somewhere along the way I should have indulged myself in this wonderful experience, but I never did.
As a kid my dad would take me each month to one of those real old-time barbershops that had a revolving barber pole out front and a barber who smelled like hair cream and had a couple of long thin black combs poking up from within his breast shirt pocket. For the pre-cut waiting ritual, before the next barber chair opened up, I would grab one of the car magazines from the table and look at all the latest designs. I was enthralled. I loved the colors and the modifications. To this day whenever there is a car show on television I have to pause my channel surfing long enough to see what's new. But I never went to a car show in person.
I graduated from bicycles into the official family ‚ “car starter and backer out of the garage person”‚ somewhere around fourteen. Our Sunday routine of going to church would have me hitting my dad up for the keys to the family car, an Olds 98, at about 10:15 a.m. Church began at 11 a.m. I started the car earlier than needed just to savor the experience. I tuned the radio, checked my Vitalis soaked hair in the mirror and then backed the monster of an automobile out of the garage at a sub one mile per hour reverse speed. This went on from about age 14 to the arrival of my learner's permit at age fifteen years and six months. When my learner's permit came my younger brother Dwain took over the sacred duty. It was one of those manly passages of life.
When I finally got my learner's permit I became the perpetually begging chauffeur for each and every family outing. “Mom, I know you just got back from the store, but you know we only have about five gallons of milk ‚ I think I need to go get you some more. Wanna go for a drive?” I wonder to this day how my parents survived the experience, in fact, I am in awe of their patience. Cars to a young man are the single most important legal experience he could involve himself in. Cars change everything ‚ even getting to back them out of garages or chauffeuring the family around town on made up errands. You transitioned into the American definition of manhood behind the wheel of a car.
Today, I saw a banner that advertised the ‚ “32nd Annual Southern Oregon Rod and Custom Show”‚ at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Medford, Oregon. Something of that kid in the barbershop started to stir within me and I found myself in line with a bunch of other aging Baby Boomers getting ready to shell out 7 bucks to see some really beautiful cars. What I didn't know when I bought my admission ticket was the chain reaction of memories and emotions that would visit my mind.
When I entered the exhibit hall I experienced one of those “Wows!”that is similar to a kid on Christmas morning when they wake up and run into the living room to see what Santa brought them. I had the same feeling about five years ago when Jan said yes to the purchase of a new motorcycle. I tried to hide my trembling excitement as “we” made the purchase.
Before me eyes were row after row of the most beautiful custom and historic evidences of the American car culture I had ever seen. Coupes, roadsters, concept cars, reworked cars that resembled little of their original plan and a few unaltered and highly buffed stock models.
I like to do exhibit halls systematically. I usually start walking the outer ring first and then work my way, row by row, towards the center of the exhibit hall where the crème de la crème of exhibits is usually stationed. I think you have to be invited to pay more for this cherished position.
As I started to walk down the rows of cars something unusual began to happen. I would stop to view a car and immediately a person I once knew, who had owned that kind of car, would come to my mind. I began to recall the good times I had with those people. Then a mental equation began to take place. I would see a car then add a memory of a person and then that combination became the equation of a prayer for the car's owner.
For the last few years I have begun to explore the purpose of memories and why the memory of a person enters our minds. I have come to believe that God likes to remind us of people to get us to pray for them. Maybe someday in heaven someone will walk up to us and say, ‚”Do you remember that day when your had that thought of me at the car show? I was going through a life-altering event and only needed one simple prayer to put me over the top into hope and victory and your prayer was the one.” I like to think about those possibilities.
With all of this going on in my mind I knew I needed to take some notes so I exited the exhibit hall and went to my car to grab my notebook and a pen and came back inside. I flashed my red ink readmission stamped left hand at the door and reentered car heaven once again. Now with a notebook in hand I could chronicle the different cars, plus the people, the memories and what I might think and pray about them. My exit to get a note pad proved I was a novice writer who still did not understand that you go nowhere without something to write on.
As I began to walk among the cars I began to do my car show math of “car plus people equals a memory of something a long time ago.”
First off I saw a Studebaker Avanti and it reminded me of the day my dad took me to a car showroom in downtown San Jose to look at this new and strange car design. This car was only produced in 1962-63 and looked edgy for the time. Dad is with God now so my prayer was a simple thanks for the trip that day long ago with my dad to the showroom and the burgers we ate together on the way home. I loved to hang out with my dad.
A 65 Mustang reminded me of a kid named Mark in my high school whose parents actually bought him one. None of the teachers drove a car that nice. I prayed that God would reveal Himself to Mark. I didn't know what else to pray.
Then I saw a 1967 GTO, a “Goat” to the lovers of this muscle car. The sight of it brought another high school friend named Bill to my mind. Bill's dad bought the GTO for Bill at an auction real cheap because someone committed suicide in the car and they didn't find the car for a few days. It needed a little work and some airing out. I asked God to touch Bill wherever he was.
Near the entrance to the exhibition hall sat a 1943 World War II vintage Jeep, that was actually used in the battle on the island of Iwo Jima and then later for the U.S. post war occupation of Japan. The Jeep reminded me of my uncle Chick who lived in Napa, California. My uncles real name was Charles ‚ but Chick was way cooler. He had a little 1940-something military jeep he used for deer hunting trips in Nevada. When I was a little guy we would all pile into uncle Chick's jeep and ride the hills of the wine country above Napa. Uncle Chick is long dead, but I thanked God for the great visits we had as a kid. Thanksgiving at uncle Chick and aunt Edith's place was the best ever.
The show displayed a 1966 Austin Healy Sprite, a very little sports car, like the one owned by a friend in high school named Dick. Dick was, and probably still is, the most handsome guy in the world. Girls fell over when Dick walked by. He was what people today would call a chick-magnet. Add the sports car to it and the sky was his limit. I liked Dick. I prayed that whenever he was that life would be a blessing for him.
Then I saw a Thunderbird - one of the early models. This 1955 T-Bird was something to behold. You could fall into the paint job and never get out, it was that deep. It had some huge engine under the hood and the exhibitor actually placed a mirror beneath the car to make sure you knew that he actually polished that place too. At the car show there was always someone polishing something. Ronnie, my growing up best friend who lived behind us in Campbell, California, had one. He dropped a 427 engine in the frame and took me cruising the main drag of San Jose late one Friday night. We completely destroyed any car that wanted to drag that night. You can use the word “we” when you are a passenger in a really fast car. Passengers are responsible for looking bad during the pre race cruising so they share some of the glory. Ronnie and I got in lots of trouble. I prayed that he was doing well without the trouble. Thanks Ronnie.
I never thought of a Chevy Corvair as a show car but there was one in front of me. My bible college roommate, Doug, owned one. Doug was from the Watts area of Los Angeles. He was multi-ethnic, like about 4 or 5 nationalities. He also owned a dog named Amos who had the exact hair color and texture as Doug. If you put Doug and Amos in front of you, except for the face, they looked very similar. Doug loved the Corvair, especially when it started.
I remember taking my future one and only wife, Jan, on a date with Doug and his girlfriend Linda to Burgerville USA in Portland. It was fun riding in the Corvair with two cute girls and Amos and having no real responsibilities in life. Doug ended up in Italy pastoring a great church and blessing the nation of Italy with his faithfulness God anoint my friend today!
At the end of one line of cars was a 1952 Chevy two-door coupe - the same car our neighbors had on Dardanelli Lane. I grew up on this street when the Silicon Valley had not yet been affected by the silicon and was an orchard filled place of beauty. Bob and Betty, our neighbors to the right, were pretty cool to a 6 year old kid. They owned a Chris-Craft ski boat and always had a tan. I am sure they are dead now. The last I heard about Bob was that he barricaded himself in his lake side cabin, with his Chris-Craft moored at the dock, and the Sheriff's Department coaxed him out of the standoff with a six-pack of beer. I prayed that any kids he had would not repeat some of their father's mistakes.
My grandmother owned a 1951 Ford F-1 pickup truck and there was one at the car show. Grandmother was different than most people I knew. In fact she was the most different person I had ever met. She actually hand painted her 51 Ford pickup with a paint brush and house paint one afternoon. Each fender was a different color - pink, turquoise, green and blue. I forget what the body color was but the truck was a real show stopper in town whenever she went a callin' in Los Gatos. The Beverly Hill Billies show in the 1960's never did surprise me much because Grandma preconditioned me for that experience. I thanked God for a colorful grandmother who really loved my mom. and helped me understand what it was like to be a divorced single mom in the Deep South in the 1930's trying to raise a couple of kids without a man around.
The vehicle I paused the longest in front of was a 1966 half ton Chevy pickup. Dad had one he used as a contractor. That truck carried our family of four on its single bench seat into town on Friday nights to eat Broasted Chicken. This truck was a poor mans RV and each summer it would transport us to the world of camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Into this truck I would slowly climb each summer morning with my brother Dwain, neither of us yet fully awake, ready to spend the entire day on the end of a shovel at some job site serving as familial slave labor. Thank you God for pick up trucks and dads. And for broasted chicken.
Car shows have lots of cars that in their time were pretty boring. The 1964 Ford Falcon is what my wife borrowed from her dad to deliver a freshly-baked Strawberry cake to me while we were in the process of breaking up. This car show had one on display. On the day of the cake delivery Jan missed a turn, hit a telephone pole, and launched the cake into the dashboard. She still has a little scar on her lower lip from that attempted delivery. Everyday I thank God for this woman. She still makes everything in my life good and has brought me things more important than cake for the last 35 years.
I learned to drive on my uncle Dan's ranch on Lewis Road in McArthur, California. My brother and I would spend a few weeks during the summer on the ranch sneezing from hay fever while we helped Uncle Dan harvest his hay. Uncle Dan had a 1949 split-window Chevy pickup truck just like one at the car show. Uncle Dan's truck was a dark forest green. That first summer I learned how to launch a vehicle forward in a succession of bronco like lurches as the clutch and gears tried to find their way together. I remember one time actually getting into third gear and going way too fast for the ranch road and getting chewed out by my uncle. Thank you God for putting Uncle Dan in my life and helping me grow up to not be irresponsible with other peoples property.
And then...their she was. The car of all cars, my first car, a 1957 Chevy two door. Ah, the memories that flooded in as I beheld her beauty. Mine was competition red, with a 283 and a Hurst linkage. A four barrel Holley carb fed that motor loads of cheap gas. The seats had a black leather Tijuana tuck and roll upholstery job. I can still smell the inside of that car. I can feel the clutch tension and the way the gears went together. I can almost hear the sound of KFRC radio playing on the AM dial. There was a lot to pray about regarding the memories associated with this first car. Forgive me God for ditching a Los Gatos city cop late one night. Forgive me God for trying to hit on my girlfriend in an inappropriate way. I found out later that cars, and clothes, don't make the man. Forgive me God for actually selling it for $275.00!
As I walked the hall and bumped shoulders with other aging men like myself, most of us wearing baseball hats and jeans, I bet a lot of memories were firing for more people than just me. I am learning that memories are something we are supposed to use. The memories at not just a mental kaleidoscope for our enjoyment. Memories have purpose. My purpose, actually it was God's purpose, was to get me to pray for people. Sometime I find that I have a memory and savor it without acting on it. Today, I live differently.
As I left the car show and walked out into the parking lot I saw a lot of cars like the one I own, a Japanese import, cars probably not destined for fame. But then I thought that the cars in the exhibit hall, in their past, brought their owners to other events like this one, where similar memories were discovered. As I got into my Subaru Impreza and fired it up I hoped that someday when someone I know visits a future car show, and sees a restored Impreza like mine, that God will bring me to their mind and they will pray for me. I am finding that our memories have a hidden assignment.
In case you are wondering, I would trade my new Subaru Impreza for my old 57 Chevy in a second.