Thursday, June 30, 2005

Where is Grandpa's automobile?

Last Saturday was the 13th annual Greenwood Car Show, one of my favorite combinations of cornball civic event and red-blooded 'Murrican passion for any damn thing on wheels. I've been attending for close to a decade, now, and the show has gone from a handful of hobbyists to an astonishing 15-block stretch of street rods, classic cars, and virtually any mode of transport that can be considered antique, unique, or some degree of both.

The best thing about this show, actually, is that it's open to all comers; while many car shows are exclusive, limited to British classics or muscle cars or whatever, Greenwood takes anybody that has the $20 for the registration and the commemorative t-shirt. Got a cherry '65 Mustang convertible or an outrageously customized, pearl-pink '49 Chev? C'mon down. Vespa? Sure. Colossal Mercedes UNIMOG? You're in. One year I saw a lovingly restored General Lee of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame, one of the dozen or so Dodge Chargers the show had had for alternate takes on the gully-jumpin', still-crashin', hood-slidin' antics of the Duke boys. The owner had driven the car cross-country, and provided a photo album of snapshots of the General, posed in front of various landmarks: the General Lee at the Grand Coulee Dam, the General Lee welcomes you to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada.

Sis has been showing her vintage MINI at Greenwood for three or four years, now. She has a 1963 Riley Elf; it's one of several models built on the MINI chassis, and in the Riley's case features a trunk about the right size to put a croquet set in. It's a deep turquoise with a white top, so it looks like the Pyrex casserole dishes of the same era. It also features right-hand drive; she taught herself to manage the stick shift lefty style. Whenever I ride with her, I always feel vaguely fretful, as if I ought to be doing SOMETHING over there on the left to help, with all that naked dashboard in front of me.

I live a few blocks from Greenwood Avenue, so Friday night we had a Thirty-Something Slumber Party, which involved going out for Indian food and then smearing on our respective wrinkle goops and conking out by 10:30. Girls gone wild! Of course, we had to get up at holy shit o'clock to convoy to the site with the rest of the local MINI club. The processional was pretty awesome, I have to say: fifteen wee British automobiles creeping down the block in a row, the air thick with diesel fumes and Krispy Kremes. I could feel individual brain cells fizzling out in all the exhaust, but nonetheless it was cool. In the other lane, Model A Fords and tricked-out GTOs trundled past us. One guy joined our group in a tiny two-cylinder Mazda hatchback, the only one in the U.S. according to him. It looked like a cross between a Honda Civic and something that Fisher-Price people would tool around in. "What the hell IS that?" hollered a knot of tattooed greasers who'd already chosen a spot, with their deeply-cuffed jeans and their matte black hot rods.

And then...it's eight hours of sitting in camp chairs behind your parked car, getting sunburned, eating chicken wings, shooting the shit with approximately 7,000 clones of My Dad, and everyone's dad. It's a little ridiculous, and a little boring, and a lot of the straight-up evident love love LOVE Americans have for their cars. Does this translate to other cultures, I wonder? Holly, are there classic car meets like this in Munich? It is so dorky and tacky, and somehow I adore it so. There is musical entertainment: good, like the Dixieland jazz combo that set up across the street from us, and...less good, like the pudgy bar band down the block, laboring through the "Grease" soundtrack with gusto if not so much talent. Enterprising little kids come out to hawk lemonade or Tollhouse cookies sealed in individual sandwich baggies, 25 cents. ("Do you want change?" the cookie girl asked me politely when I handed her a dollar, and whoever taught her to say that was a genius because what stingy bastard is going to demand 75 cents back from a third-grader? The kid was raking in bills.) The Masonic Lodge grills weenies, which you can get with chips and a pop for an amazing $2, and they'll give you the most-burnt one if you ask nicely. The boys down at Fire Station 21 have hot dogs, too, and hold an open house for neighborhood kids to climb on the truck and stagger around in giant fire helmets, or take turns aiming the hose down 73rd Street. (Every year, I tell myself this is the year I ask, "Hey, can I play with your hose?" and every year I wimp out and slink past, gawping and trying not to run into anything. Hot firefighters! Damn! Can't form sentences!)

We were chillin' with the MINI club when we noticed a woman gently running her hands over Sis's car. This is a pretty strict no-no for 98% of the show, what with the untold hours most owners spend on blood, sweat, tears, and buffing. I know from experience to peer daintily through windows and under hoods with my hands clasped behind my back and my purse secured in an armpit. But then we noticed the woman's companion, fingerspelling into her hand: she was deaf and blind.

Mom's an interpreter for the deaf. She went over and introduced herself, and took the woman's hands in her own, began telling her about the car. Sis joined them and opened the driver's door; Mom translated between them, as the lady traced the Riley's little cartoon shape, slipped into the seat, gleefully turned the wheel like a toddler would. Her face, Mom's face, Sis's face...all lit up. There was a guy across the street with a 30s Caddy; he'd refused to let her touch it, the man with her said. But she'd really wanted to "see" the MINIs. She beamed, sitting in my sister's bubble-sized toy car. They went to the car show every year, they told us.

That was cool.

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