CRUISIN' MEMORY LANE
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast we host an event and spend one week each year reveling in antique cars. Cruisin' the Coast has grown to be on par with, if not bigger than, Mardi Gras, the Peter Anderson Festival, and the Shrimp Festival. Also, for many, romantic reminiscing arises in conversations about how life was back in the day when the classics were not yet antiques.
I don't have a classic car but I came within 7 years of having one. I once had an off-white Chevrolet El Camino. Bought it as a demo. After several years I had it painted a metallic charcoal gray with fine trim. It looked sharp. Interior too. After 13 years it developed a series of mechanical problems with each passing month. So I sold it and picked up a Jeep Cherokee which ended up taking a swim in Katrina. But if I'd kept the El Camino for another 7 years I could've been proudly driving it around town as a classic in the Cruisin' the Coast festivities.
The first classic-to-be automobile I owned was a Chevy II Station Wagon. It had been the family car and when my Dad thought we needed a bigger station wagon (seven children) he donated it to charity (me). I was proud to have it since it had four wheels, a motorized engine, and would afford me a newfound independence, far and wide, which for an 18-year old is the main aim in life, or one of them.
One day I asked my Dad if he'd loan me the money to get it painted. I was surprised when he agreed since having a car painted was not considered to be on the necessity list. At that time there was a franchised auto paint company called Fact-O-Bake. A paint job then cost $120. So when my Dad brought me down to have the job done, as a Christmas gift, when the guy asked me what color I wanted it painted I pointed to the orange on the color pallet. The guy looked at my Dad, my Dad looked at me, and the guy said, "You sure!?" To which I said confidently, "Yes, sir!"
There was a reason for the orange. In 1969 Pontiac came out with a muscle car that year named "The Judge", named after a comedy routine by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In TV show where they repeatedly said the phrase "Here Come de Judge". Among the outstanding features of "The Judge" was its color. It was orange. But GM called it Carousel Red. When I attended Perkinston Junior college a classmate from Gulfport had one and I and others hung around hoping to get a ride -- which he was glad to do, and did often.
And so orange it was painted, this frumpy Chevy II. Because even though the curves of this family wagon were nothing even remotely similar to those of the "The Judge" at least I could pretend it might be if only the car were the same color. Silly, I know, especially now, but I was 18.
So I rode around in an orange Chevy II Station Wagon for several years. I'm sure old classmates reading this remember it. Then eventually I moved on to something else never really intending to restore in perpetuity the ones I had.
The restoring of old antique cars, I think it fair to say, is something primarily of a guy hobby. I'm sure there are more than a few women out there who can pull a transmission, overhaul an engine, and the other stuff. I mean we even have two women who recently passed Army Ranger School. But I think it is fair to say that it's primarily men who involve themselves with such a hobby and in turn are avidly supported, or tolerated as the case may be, by their devoted wives.
In fact, there are some men who have wives who've been with them maybe even longer in years than their beloved classic cars; wives with whom men have journeyed farther and longer than these cars they so cherish -- on life's roads with twists and turns that only a loyal mate could help him navigate. I got to thinking how nice it would be where one week out of the year men would revel in appreciation of their wives of many years, classics in their own right, who have carried them, figuratively so, in the same way their beloved classic cars have carried them through the years. The wives having been the source of so much joy in their lives that they would look forward to honoring them for one week.
I can imagine the events. A parade of beautiful open convertibles in which the wives would sit atop the back seat, the Gulf breeze wafting through their (for some) radiant gray hair, smiling and waving to the admiring crowds. Crowds mainly of mature understanding adults but also of probably young people who some no doubt would giggle, somewhat bemused, but perhaps not near understanding the meaning such a jewel has in a man's life as he proudly rides her around.
And then there would maybe be a large festivity at the Coliseum where the ladies would be seated and their husbands would bring them their food and drink. And they would do it willingly, lovingly, and with promptness. But mainly with appreciation.
And then there might be, perhaps at the end of the week's events, a night where everyone met and each man took turns on stage and extolled the virtues of his wife of many years, giving testimony of the support she gave him during the dark days, the rainy days, through the thick and thin.
And all of this would last one week.
Ahh, yes, I know this is a pipe dream. But perhaps the dream is a caricature of sorts because of the sad realization that the social mores that would induce such "wifely honor" in long-term relationships are the social mores of a time long gone, perhaps like the movie, gone with the wind. But it's not so trite for those couples who figured out long ago that staying together requires subordinating one's self-interests to those of self-giving -- all the while cruisin' down life's lanes, creating fond memories -- and in the end happy and fulfilled, leaving others in the dust to wonder "How'd they do it?"
Yes, such an event might be something of a pipe dream. But, oh, what an interesting Cruisin' the Coast that would be!
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