I have always had a love for classic cars. I imagine it comes from my father, who has always loved them as well. Classic cars and car culture are quintessential parts of Americana and of what we imagine as this idealized America. They are part of our identity.
While I am glad that we are finally working towards greening things up more in the world, it’s a shame that so much of what was good about early car culture has been lost.
The idea of communal experience with kids cruising – something I did with friends when I was 18 and looking to meet girls, woof! – of going to drive-in movies, and of just being out together on the roads. Sure, folks still cruise, but it’s not the same.
Or is it?
This is a blind spot for me, the idealized car culture from television and movies, because little of that is ever true. It wasn’t cool kids in cool cars being cool. It was haves and have nots. Rich kids with nice cars and poor kids with beaters. It was segregation because I am sure that the suburban White kids didn’t welcome Black kids into that scene because it was still a time when America felt like there needed to be a separation of the races.
Classic cars are wonders of engineering and design but they only represented a dream of America, not the place itself.
I still find myself drawn to classic cars though.
This week is a huge car show in Flint, one of the biggest in the country. It’s a shame that there is so much national negativity towards our city, because it’s events like this that show off what we can be more than a water crisis or crime stat can show. You have hundreds of thousands of people coming into the city to park and show off their cars, to cruise the downtown, or to just come on the weekend to check out everything that’s parked here. The folks from the neighboring towns and cities that insist they’d never step foot into Flint for some vague fear they have of crime that isn’t realistic, find themselves drawn to the city to see all of the cars. The very history of American automotive genius on display.
The city needs events like these, events that remind us that there is more to us than headlines and crooked politicians and crime stats. This is a place of art, manufacturing, and of dreams. So many people uprooted their lives to come to come to Flint and to this area for work. Family trees were uprooted and planted here and many of the seeds of these families remain.
Yes, we have our problems, and a car show with cars that are worth more than some houses in Flint doesn’t take those away, but it’s the ability to get together and to gaze at these hulking reminders of the past that lets us all dream a little together. Dream of warm days, familiar music, and the feeling that we can go anywhere and do anything.
It’s a shame that, in the evolution of the automobile we choose first to get bigger and wider, and then to become more plasticized and generic along the way and have lost our automotive identity. A car is a car. A truck is a truck. They are tools. They are ways to move from one place to the next. Still though, they are more than that, aren’t they?
They are where we get our first kiss.
They are what gets us to our first job.
Takes us on our first date.
They are what brings our child home from the hospital after they are born.
They are what we leave home in.
They are what we drive away from a job we lost, or after a breakup.
They are what many of us take to get away from everything.
They are a part of us.
It’s a shame they’ve lost so much of their identities.
We can do better.
We need to do better.
In their design as well as the way they run because we cannot keep pretending that oil won’t run out.
We can’t keep pretending that we aren’t destroying the planet and as much as I love car shows and cruising there has to be a middle ground. We should be able to get these cars out and get people together without running them like it’s the 1950’s again. Sure, it’s enough that they exist and are still used, yes, but there is a middle ground where both sides can have most of what they want without one losing it completely.
We need to be more earth-friendly and conscious of what we are doing but we also need to allow for the things that give us our character and personality to remain.
I hate that we’re JUST getting to a point where cars are being made to be less reliant on gas. I just wish the darned things had more character, darn it.
I am not sure we’ll celebrate the cars of today but if there’s a world ahead then it doesn’t hurt to look back at the era of the steel machines that prowled our streets and gave birth to so many dreams.
Sure, the dreams were rarely spun into reality but dreams don’t always have to come true to spark something in us that lasts.
It’s car week in the city of Flint, and I for one look forward to looking back.