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HOW IN THE WORLD

My brother and I as kids, we’d sit on a high stone wall that separated our property from the two-lane and dangle our spindly legs over the edge. We’d knock our rubber heels into the stones so that our feet would shoot out randomly. Sometimes we had Cokes or a cool, green bottle of 7UP. It was a noogie for him; a knife-sharp elbow in the ribs for me, and so it went until what we were awaiting for inevitably came into view. But you could always hear them before you saw them, so you could prepare for the complete, uninterrupted panoramic view as they rolled by.

There were lots of cars on the West Road, even in the early ‘50s, in a soon-to-become another Jersey bedroom community for Manhattan. When we moved there in the late ‘40s, cows roamed free right up to your front door and Old Man Wilkes was the only cop in two towns. Most of the really noisy fast cars we heard late in the darkness when we were supposed to be asleep, tires moaning before they hit the gravel or scraped the wall, but during the daytime, the pace was much slower (I think the nursery school next to us was the reason for that) and you could really see the detail that accompanied their curious identifying metal. To a ten-year-old girls began to matter, but cars were still the coolest things.

We rankled constantly. I was stealing his dollar bills and fifty-cent pieces. He was batting rocks and doing Red Barber play-by-plays for untold hours out in the sun. If I taunted him, he’d throw the rocks at me. We both liked to watch the cars, though, each brand and model immediately identifiable. Each had a face of its own and its own persona. You never got a Ford mixed up with a Chevy.

We had two favorites, but they were seldom seen. One a perfect bottle-green ’50 Fraser sedan pedaled by a little old woman who honked at us every time. The other was a ‘54 Kaiser-Darrin, that fiberglass trap with doors that slid forward into the fenders so you could get in and out. The guy would even have the door open and waved with long fingers when he passed us by.

That was a story from the analog age. Returning to it is as easy as twisting that dial in your head. What did we learn from hanging out on the wall? The good stuff comes if you wait long enough. Sometimes nothing happens. Most people drove a Ford. We thought we’d be able to see up women’s dresses in the car. We couldn’t. Those were the best days of our lives. No experience, just vivid and omnipresent imaginations. Television was still quite new, but much more than a novelty. It began to change the way people thought about a lot of things.

We participated in ridiculous nuclear air raid drills, scurrying like cockroaches to the underground boy’s “lavatory” just in time to see the inevitable mushroom cloud rising over Manhattan from a grimy basement window. The real cockroaches never lifted a leg. Commies were everywhere. J. Edgar and his weasel-oil subordinates had a field day. It was on TV. Like it or not, the cathode ray tube in millions of households forever crossed the boundary of American prudence like it was a line of chalk. The Korean War came home. The enemy was portrayed as being less than human. The Vietnam War was on 24/7, inevitably inuring us to the supreme violence and the insanity of the shameful debacle. The whole thing was a lie. Kids who’d had their buddy’s brain blown all over them got spit on for their allegiance to country and were summarily stuck in the closet by the government that sent them. I believe that was a ratchet point in history. The sky fell, but the pigs never flew. Innocence became experience in a bloody heartbeat.

That was nothing new to Americans, of course, but for the first time we were seeing it on the tube rather than listening to accounts over the radio or see the propaganda that so handily propelled the Movie-Tone News every Saturday afternoon. Too Much Monkey Business, The Big Lie, too much revisionist history, call it what you want, but it’s been going on for many, many long years. We know it. We abide it. We joke about it but that’s as far as it goes. All this Homeland security business has virtually removed our right to privacy, but at least our phones aren’t bugged. Are they? You know about the 22,000 man Blackwater army in Moyock, North Carolina, too, right? These guys have no sanctions, answer to no one, and operate in “zones of interest” with complete impunity. Now if you ask me that smacks of SS pathology.

I may be an alarmist. I may be a tad paranoid. But all this stuff has me concerned. Too many natural and man-made cataclysms all at one time. I have no answers. I have only hope. I wish I was back on the wall with my kin, waiting for the lady in the bottle green Fraser.

Max Chevy covers all automotive things Chevy. A new issue of MaxChevy.com is published every other month and is updated weekly.

 

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