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Car Shows

Studebaker. Chevy. Ford. Big as a house. Red and green. Matte black. Muscle cars. The sound of gasoline. Chatter, conversation. Sounds of the 50s. Volkswagen. Bug. Convertible. Bus.

Old guys walking together sharing memories.

“Do you remember when we used to go to the show?”

“Yeah, and the football games, too.”

“When we took the car on the road trip to California?”

“Remember, when Bobby, Sally’s brother, fell out of the trunk?”

“Oh geez, that was so funny. That kid was always crawling into spaces.”

“I remember that first date, borrowing my dad’s car and sitting close in the bench seat, turning on the music on the stereo speakers and singing along quietly.”

There is such a vibe that goes with a Saturday night car show. More talking than texting. More hand holding than normal. As I stand and wait for Cooper to get to the baseball tournament, I see some couples park and then walk in to see the cars.

The first couple is fit and freshly showered. The dude is carrying chairs and the wife says — oh, honey, we can just sit on the deck, leave the chairs in the car. He sighs and says, are you sure as he turns around and returns them. She walks a few steps further and waits for him. Flashes me a genuine smile. As he comes back by, he smiles, too. They will make their way in — he’ll have a beer and she’ll have a scotch sitting on the deck overlooking the field, they will talk about their first cars the way they have for years. They are snowbirds that stopped flying home. They endure the heat now and enjoy these cooler May nights — this will be the last car show of the season. As the sun sets, they see a car that reminds them of their first date, and they smile and hold hands. Off they go to look at the cars.

The next couple backs in their electric green jeep, they get out and walk towards the gate. The woman looks like she got dressed up to go out and the husband is wearing a political t-shirt three sizes too big. He seems proud of his cargo shorts and his controversial tee. He’s wearing house shoes and I get the sense that he didn’t test for blood sugar before they left the house. They see the sign that says $4 per person and immediately start to get flustered. I get it. I was raised in a world where we often lived paycheck to paycheck. $8 can be a lot when you are planning to spend the next day at the swap meet. They talk to the 17-year-old working the gate and I can’t quite hear what is being said but I see them turn around and head back my direction. She looks sad. They’ll head home. He says, “There are plenty of free car shows.” She nods. “Yeah, I think there is one at the Kmart parking lot.”

The sun starts to set, the air is cooling. There is Cooper. I head to watch baseball. But wait, I see a man smile, one of those smiles that is so engaging you can’t help to smile back. He’s carrying a giant big gulp and says, “Oh no, no outside drinks.” His wife, says, NO!!! It is obvious they had just stopped to get drinks thinking it was warm out. I laugh a little and say, don’t worry, they will let you in — just go. They stop at the table and rearrange, it’s obvious that the husband is more Tim than Denise and the wife takes both drinks while he walks up to pay, nothing is said, in they go with their cokes.

As I walk away, I think this is an end of an era. The car show. It is a throwback that is dying. Who is going to go to a car show and look at the 73 different versions of a Tesla. Not me. Not my dad. Maybe but I don’t think so. My friends and I will go look but we can’t slow down enough to enjoy the car show culture. We want to work on cars, but we can’t, we are distracted, we are busy, we are a mess. But the next generation, those millennials that we are always talking about, the ones that enjoy their lives, are moving slower, choosing to do what they want — those ones — they could save the car show. They love community and space. If they could get past the gasoline and fossil fuel issues, if they could bridge the gap with the anti-Biden t-shirt wearing crew, the car show might survive another 50 years. Can’t you just see it: a Kombucha stand and hemp t-shirts with a classic Corvette? Can’t you see the 20 somethings with their babies in slings coming alongside the grandpas and talking about cars? I can because they see the memory making as it happens. They enjoy the moments. Isn’t it interesting how it skips a generation. My grandpa and I would hang out, go for ice cream, really connect. In my heart, I believe, the millennials can save the car show. And that would be nice.

I remember the Buick my grandmother drove with the after-market mirror installed all the way across the windshield so she would not have a blind spot. My brother bought it from her and drove it for years.

And my first car was the beast, a 55 Chevy that I bought for $1400 in cash because my dad saw it for sale at the gas station across from his office. It was light blue, and I was the third owner. It had a giant indention along the right side because the original owner lived in San Francisco and took a right turn too tight and ran it along the curb. I remember taking 14 $100 bills out of the bank and handing it to the owner and getting the key. I also remember that you could turn it on and take the key out and the car would still run. I got the dent fixed and had it painted green and crème to match the original colors and the inside. It was beautiful and classic.

I wish we had kept both those cars and entered them in a car show because it would be nice to sit and talk and enjoy the cooler weather and to hear the memories that the cars would elicit.

But alas, I’m a Gen X kid and I didn’t have time to sit and work on the Beast with my dad after I left for college. He continued to put money into it and look through the catalogs that would come each week. He replaced the insides and got the seats recovered. He relived his youth through that car, and I can’t help but think he’d love to walk the car show tonight.

The car show. Americana. Can we find a way to incorporate it more into our todays? Is there anyone out there that can help?

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