Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Take a Kid to a Car Show

I like cars, new, old, not so old, but especially really, really old, and the more original the better. However, I get bored at car-related events. After two hours, I am ready to leave. Then again, I bore easily. Sometimes, during sex, I am ready for a sandwich before my pants hit the floor. As I said, I bore easily.

Recently, I have been to two big car events, one was a swap meet and car show, and the other was a car show, and I observed some really odd behavior at both. Well, for those of us who go to car shows, the behavior may not seem so odd, but for those who have never been, you would immediately notice how self-absorbed some car collectors can be.

I, for one, am not self-absorbed, which is why I have a blog where I talk about myself all the time. Only one thing holds my attention for a reasonable amount of time – Milton Stern.

For the first time, I went to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the 2012 AACA Eastern Regional Fall Meet, but for those in the car world, we simply say “Hershey.”

“Did you go to Hershey?”

“I didn’t see you at Hershey this year?”

Before I go on, Pennsylvania seems to have more car-related events than any other state in the region. They have Spring Carlisle, Chrysler Carlisle, Simon Carlisle, yet they have the worst roads in the country. When I was doing the research for my book, Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady (shameless plug), I remember crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania and immediately hitting a pothole. Even the color of the pavement changes from a lovely black to a sort of beigy-gray – the same color of a cadaver that has been refrigerated for more than three days.

How do these guys in pre-war cars stand it? My father said that if you ran over a nickel in a car from the 1930s, you could tell if it was heads or tails – the nickel not the car. Can you imagine driving a car with a solid axle, leaf-spring suspended front end over a highway in Pennsylvania? They do it; they drive from near and far. Ironically, when they arrive at the car show, they will not park on grass or let anyone touch their cars. I am surprised they make it there without knocking off the headlights and all the trim or losing a few fillings. But, don't go near that car!

Back to Hershey. Now, Hershey as we in the know call it, is held in a Giant Supermarket parking lot that is about twelve acres square. Actually, it is Giant Center, but I swear that looked like a supermarket. You park across a highway in a field that belongs to a man sitting on his porch holding a shotgun. Police direct you as you park your car, but that old man doesn’t take his eyes off you or let go of that shotgun. His bloodhound sleeps through the whole affair.

Then you walk across the street to the world’s biggest vendor fair and car coral. OK, it isn’t the biggest, but to me it was the biggest I had been to in a long, long time.

While many car nuts love vendor fairs, I don’t. They are like giant flea markets selling crap I don’t need and cannot use. The problem is I am an independent car guy. Yes, big surprise that the kid whose mother said, “Why can’t you be like everyone else?” is more interested in independent makes like Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Willys, and the older the car the better. I especially like cars from the late 1920s to early 1930s. Therein lies the problem. Ninety-nine percent of the vendors deal in GM, Chrysler, Ford parts, and a great deal of them sell Mustang parts. Oy vay.

Want to turn me on? Tell me you are into cars.

Want to turn me off? Tell me you always wanted a Mustang.

How original. How creative. How nice for you.

A lot of thought went into that choice. You want to piss off a Mustang guy? Tell him after driving his Mustang that it rides and handles just like a Falcon, which in reality it is. For the record, I love Falcons. I have owned two of them. And yes, I told a Mustang guy that once after driving his car. He still is not speaking to me, and that was thirty years ago.

I have a friend with more than thirty Cadillacs along with several Lincolns and Imperials, and one Nash Rambler. The first time I went to his house, I walked past all those luxury cars and toward his car port to see the Rambler. When asked why, I said, “Any queen can own a Cadillac.”

So, I managed to see the whole vendor section in about forty minutes. I know people who walked the vendor section for eight hours a day for three straight days. Oh my God! You know how quickly I shop (and if you don’t, buy my book). If I go to a vendor fair and stay for more than an hour; it means I died in there. Call my brother. He has all the paperwork for my pre-arranged funeral. As they clean up after the event, they will find my skeleton the same way they find every hoarder’s cat skeleton.

I then walked over to the car coral, where every make of car is available for sale. This is also where all the weirdoes are. Not the spectators, the owners. Naturally, I walked past every Ford, GM and most Mopars, and walked right up to every independent make. If you think spending eight hours a day for three days looking at vendors is a bit much, these people selling their cars sit either behind them or in them for the entire event, so they won’t lose a potential sale. They don’t move. You have to tap some of them to see if they are still alive.

You have to be pretty fucked up in the head to sit in your car or on a lawn chair behind your car for three consecutive days. I wouldn’t do that for Barry Manilow tickets, and I absolutely love Barry Manilow.

Let me tell you about a couple of them. Please, allow me. There was the guy with the 1963 Rambler American 440 Hardtop. This is a one-year only and very rare survivor. I looked inside his car then proceeded to ask him a few question since I own a 1959 Rambler American (or at least I think I do since it has been in the process of being restored for last three years). He answered every question with a grunt. Granted this was Friday, and he probably hadn’t moved from his car the entire time, shitting and pissing himself in the process, so he wouldn’t miss a sale, but he had serial killer written all over him. For once, I did not ask to look into the trunk.

Have you ever noticed that when someone with a luxury car opens the trunk the first thing people ask is, “How many bodies can you fit in there?” Why is that? Do all of us have a secret fantasy about committing a mass murder and stuffing all the bodies into the trunk of a 1958 Lincoln? Apparently, so.

My favorite, however, was the family in the Studebaker Scotsman. This was a car Studebaker manufactured in 1957 and 1958. Today, a name like that, especially for a totally stripped down car, with painted bumpers and hubcaps and paper upholstery that sold dirt cheap, would be considered offensive, but this was the age of the Dodge Royal Lancer La Femme, a car that came with a lipstick holder, matching pink umbrella, and maxipad dispenser, or something like that. To see a Scotsman in person is a rare occurrence indeed, and everyone who walked by wanted to check out this car for sale, but no one would dare go near it. Why? Because the entire cast of Deliverance was sitting inside the car looking at everyone with suspicion. I swear I heard banjo music when I walked by that car.

Now, I will forgive the Hershey folks for sitting next to their cars and never looking at anyone else’s cars because this was a used car lot if you will, but the next event was unforgiveable.

The Rockville Antique and Classic Car Show is an event that draws more than 500 cars a year, and while there is a car coral area with some vendors, the main focus is the show itself, and here is where I get annoyed.

My car was one of two AMCs at the show, one of which is always an AMX. Being a vintage four-wheel drive and an independent and not a particularly pretty car (yes, it’s ugly, clean but ugly), it generates a bit of attention from the some of the more curious and dubious attendees. One guy actually insisted he have his picture taken next to it. He was pretty hot and made my car look a little more attractive. However, I don’t sit by my 1983 AMC Eagle waiting to give its history and thanking its many adoring fans. I have to look at my wagon every day, and I drive it at least twice a week. I have seen my car. I know what it looks like – a tarted up Concord in stilettos. I don’t even bring a lawn chair.

I go to Rockville to see all the other cars. Have you noticed I have not referred to Rockville as the armpit of Maryland? That is because for this one event, Rockville shines brightly. It reverts back to armpit status the following weekend.

I like to spend a couple of hours walking down the aisles, looking at all the cars and taking pictures. I managed to get pictures of every car, mostly group shots. What amazes me is how many people never leave their cars. Seriously? Are you that self-absorbed? Do you really think your 1978 Dodge Coronet is that special that everyone will ask you about it? I like your Model A, but there are sixteen others just like it.

Want to teach your kid how to be a narcissist? Take him to a car show.

Of course, these are the same car people that know no other makes except their own. Walk up to a Corvette guy and ask, “Did you see that 1962 Studebaker Lark?” He won’t even answer you. How can he? He's been sitting in a lawn chair next to his yellow Corvette for six hours. Never mind the fact that there are five other yellow Corvettes parked next to his. I will bet he doesn't even know what a Studebaker is. I’ll tell you this. A Studebaker is a far better built and easier to drive car that is less expensive to maintain than a plastic sports car with transverse leaf springs.
Oh no, she didn’t!

Do you really want to have fun. Say in your loudest voice, “I don’t understand the appeal of Corvettes. All of them look alike. I’d rather drive a Falcon.” No need to run. Corvette owners have bad knees and backs as a result of driving a car that sits two inches above ground with the visibility of a turtle shell covered by a shower curtain.

Before I sign off, I have to share the funniest thing we heard all day. A guy around my age looked inside an absolutely gorgeous custom bodied 1931 Cadillac (yes, even I liked this Caddy) and said in a voice whose volume would make Ethel Merman proud, “What do you know? This car has a manual transmission.”

For the love of God, buy that guy a book on the history of the Hydra-Matic, and don’t let him attend another car show until he reads it and passes the quiz!

Do you sit by your Chevrolet Cavalier all day hoping someone will ask you about it? If so, follow me, join me, and buy my book about a home with axles and wheels.

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