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Dads and Cars

Been awhile...

Busy few weeks, but now things have slowed down enough for me to come down from orbit. Zoe's graduation was followed in lockstep by her going off to Europe for her ballet tour. She was more than ready to finish high school. She said she probably would have skipped all the grad partying if she had been around just because she felt she'd closed the book on high school long before. Indeed, I noticed that she'd checked out emotionally around Halloween.

So different from my own graduation. My friends and I hung out with each other that summer after graduation and only fragmented when a few of us went off to college. This was back in the day when it wasn't a given that everyone you knew went to college after high school. About half of my friends did. The rest went straight into the Chrysler factory, or the GM plant or US Steel, and there was no stigma. In fact, my working friends felt bad for me because I hardly had any money while they were driving new cars, lived in new mobile homes and had money to buy beer, pot and concert tickets any time they wanted. Ted, one of my life-long friends, even parlayed his factory earnings into ownership of several duplex rental units and eventually a high rise apartment building before I managed to score my BA.

Today is different. True, the school that Z-girl graduated from is college prep, so it's no surprise that 100% of her class were accepted to university with 90% actually going. No factory work for these kids; these are the fireballs. The ones that are gonna blaze through college and light up the world like New Year's. I hope it happens for them; it would be fun to watch.
I'm covering at work for some co-workers that are going to see the Michigan 400 NASCAR race this weekend. Lots of stock car fans at work. I'm the odd man out; I like Indy and Formula One. It comes from spending junior high and high school living about an hour from the Indianapolis Speedway. My dad was a car mechanic before WWII broke out and he joined up. I knew him as a gear head all my life and by osmosis I too grew to love cars and driving fast. I never got into working on them much like my brothers did. My dad always called it "tinkering" with cars. When I was going through high school I remember my dad perpetually being in the garage "tinkering" on some vintage MG, Jaguar, Triumph or other European sports car. If I had something I had to talk to the old man about, it was always me lying on the garage floor or leaning under the hood to chat with him while I handed him tools. Like a nurse handing a surgeon instruments.

I can only remember myself actually working on a few cars. I remember spending a nightmare weekend with my dad trying to sync the duel carbs on a Jag XKE that, at that point, was only a frame with a few rusted body panels. Six months later my dad had worked it into pristine shape and sold it for many times what he paid the junkyard. I never got to drive it. My dad wisely forbade any of us boys to drive it, and he himself only took it out for a spin a few times with my mom before selling it. I'm pretty sure the money went to my oldest brother's first semester at law school. The car I learned to drive in was a Triumph TR3, which was a mistake on my dad's part. Looking back on it, I don't know what my dad was thinking letting a 16 year old boy drive a sports car with the potential to go over 100 MPH in the blink of an eye. But I'm glad he did. The first car that I paid for with my own money (and even worked on a little) was a Triumph Herald. A small British sedan or "saloon" that I absolutely adored. I spent a lot of time and money tricking it out with a rockin' 8 track tape and speaker system. The Triumph had a 6 volt system rather than the normal American 12 volt system, which made installing a stereo a challenge. I did it though - where music is concerned I have always found a way to enjoy tunes wherever I go. That car got me to work and into a lot of trouble over the few short years I had it. My friends called it the "Nimitz" after the implacable US Navy admiral and they always wanted to pile in and go places in it regardless of whether there was a larger, more practical vehicle available. The car was just plain fun to drive and to ride in, although if I got more than four of my friends in it, the pick-up was non- existent and gas mileage went to pot. Literally.

We Americans are sometimes defined by the cars we drive and have driven. I'm no different. I can track the strata of my life with pinpoint accuracy by simply remembering which cars I've driven and owned. Like a song that comes on the radio which transports you to a time and place, so does the memories of vehicles past. As Z-girl wings her way around Europe; I'm amused that this auto-nostalgia is something I happened to get stuck rattling around in my mind. I wonder what her generation will have for a memory trigger decades from now and can only smugly think to myself that whatever it is, it probably won't be nearly as sweetly satisfying as the memory of driving an old 50's era British sports car flat out on Old Sycamore Road in Howard County, Indiana with a dew-eyed, brilliantly smiling Hoosier farm girl riding shotgun.


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Jun. 18th, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
Hsppy Father's Day. And how appropos to reminesce about time with your own father. Cheers.
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