Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.

PHB

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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at www.peterbehrens.org I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Owl's Head: Galaxies, Corvairs, and Country Squires

I entered my second-ever car show yesterday. The first was in Ventura, Calif. some years back when I had the 1969 Brookwood wagon, and everyone else had rat rods and lo-riders.  Yesterday we 3 drove down to Rockland ME in the 1976 Sierra Grande 15, to a pre-1990 Chevy & Ford meet at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum.  The truck is of course a GMC, not a Chevy, but I figured they would let me in, and they did.
           The Museum is a gem. They have a Smithsonian-calibre collection of cars, trucks, tractors and planes. Everything is very well displayed, the staff and volunteers are knowledgeable and friendly: it's a serious museum that's a very fun place to spend a couple of hours. One of the things you learn--or are reminded of--is our era's capacity to drive full-speed ahead on technological change, once we take a couple of millenia or so to get the basic platforms and concepts down. I was looking at the reconstruction of a  Bleriot X1 airplane from 1909, which is fabric and rubber and varnished wood, bicycle wheels, and what could be the engine out of my lawn mower, plus a lot of daring, hope, and glue. It looks like a big bug. Staring at it, I found myself thinking that, yikes, 40 years after this machine flutterd briefly across the sky, at a couple hundred feet of altitude, men were zooming around in Sabre jets. And twenty years after that they were docking vehicles in space, and landing on the moon.
      
         The show was open  to everyone. I expected more exhibitors to turn up but the weather was daunting, the way it's been all spring: foggy, with a  8 knots of SE wind blowing more and more cool grey stuff off the ocean. Still, we parked beside a nice little 1961 Corvair wagon.


...and there were some more interesting cars and trucks in the show.
             But I have to say, I long ago tired of looking at the 1955-57 Chevrolet cars, especially the over-restored ones, which I find about as exhilirating as a brand new Hyundai; i.e., not very. And I'm kind of bored with the whole "nostalgia-1950s" trap which a lot of old-car culture seems to be stuck in. Let's move on. I never want to hear "At the Hop" again, please.
          I guess my favorite era for cars is the early Sixties. I was six years old in 1960. My assigned place in the family car was directly behind my father, and when I wasn't looking out my window, I was watching his hands steering the car, and trying to figure out how he did it. I developed an obsession with steering wheels. My father's hands on the wheel...that, clearly, was where the power was, and that's where I wanted my hands to be: the confident captain in control of the ship.  Maybe that period of early-middle-boyhood is always going to be a car guys' favorite era; the one that really settles in deep.  Boys/fathers/cars: it's a complicated relationship and I've explored it a little in a essay called Love Cars. And I'd like to post some contributions from other writers on that subject.
           When I left home in 1973, in a Ford Pinto from a drive-away agency, heading for Alberta and a job on a cattle ranch, the last thing my father said as I was going out the door was, "Don't drive at night. That's when all the nuts are out on the road."
           Of course I had to title my first book Night Driving.
             I was lucky: American cars of my early middle-boyhood, 1960-63, had recovered their cool from the cranky excess of the late 1950s. They were smooth, modern fliers, not chrome-laden gunships. So one of the beauties of the Owls Head show for me was this sleek 1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner.



My other favorite at the show wasn't even in the show: it was this 1968 Country Squire wagon, which belong to the Owl's Head Museum, and which has never been used for anything but picking up pilots who land on the museum's airstrip in private planes, then ferrying them to the exhibits. Hence the orange checkered flag and the rooftop light. It has less than THREE THOUSAND miles on the clock and is lovingly maintained by volunteers in unrestored, original condition. It has the 390 engine. Seatbelts are still covered in plastic from the factory. I've always had a thing for station wagons, and this is about as good as it gets. I love good vinyl interiors ("investment-grade vinyl", a friend calls it) and resent that it has been displaced in car-world, first by yukky velour, then by low-quality leather from a zillion Chinese cows.
          When I bought the only new car in my life, my 1997 Volvo 850 wagon, was really tipped me over was a) finding a station wagon with a 5-speed manual transmission and 2)vinyl seats--not velour, or leather --which is something I've never seen an another 850 of that era.





BB and HBB came along on the 90-minute drive down to Rockland and Owl's Head, which made the whole day a fun adventure. The fact that BB is willing to tolerate this car/truck thing and even, sort of, enjoy it, says a lot about the renaissance woman she is. She would really rather be looking at art, or making art, (late afternoon we went to the opening of  Cig Harvey's photography show at the Dowling Walsh gallery in Rockland) but BB is always willing to consider the aesthetics of Fords and Chevys; and to lust for faux-woodgrain station wagons; and to co-pilot elderly pickup trucks down the coast of Maine in chill May fog.


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