January 07, 2008

On foot in car-land

Woke up this morning and took a walk. (Needed the exercise). (Probably need much more). Down the road from where I am is a car museum, and I decided to walk there. Some random observations follow.

On the back of the big traffic signs ("JCT 40", for example) are tiny printed notices that I had never noticed before. Among other things, they warn the reader that: "Defacing or theft of this sign is a crime".

For some reason I don't fully fathom, I spent a few minutes speculating on what would happen if the font sizes of the two sides were reversed. "JCT 40" in tiny black font you have to get up close and personal with; the warning in huge luminous letters.

There are two abandoned gas stations, next to each other. Fading paint, peeling plywood on the doors, rusting beams and pipes, these are the signs of abandonment. But there's also a fading wooden sign painted with "Mastercharge" and "BankAmericard"; as far as I know, both names vanished years ago. There are also the pumps. The display says "Cents per Gallon", with three tiny windows showing "6", "9" and "9/10", respectively. Like those clocks that stop at the precise moment of an earthquake, here's a time marker in its own right. Of a time when gas was 69.9 cents to the gallon (I don't have any idea when that was); a time when it was not even conceivable that gas might need a fourth tiny window to tell you its price. When "Dollars per Gallon" was still a fantasy. (These Americans had it good).

Oil prices touched $100 a barrel this past week, an event that has been commented on by everyone from news jockeys to radio talk show hosts to Hillary Clinton. It seems somehow fitting that I should run across these time-warped pumps right now.

A large yard has several cars for sale. Vehicles, I should say. An old US Mail jeep, two fire trucks, a crumbling Cadillac Fleetwood wagon from the glory days of car excess, a Buick Special Dynaflow with a magnificently curved body and a forest of chrome in front, a tractor, an ancient tow truck without an engine ... who's going to buy these?

Answer lies across the street, the car museum.

30+ "classic" cars, beautifully restored, some for sale. A 1970 Plymouth Road Runner ($38,000). 1931 Auburn ($45,000, "purrs!"). Dazzling red 1963 Chevy Corvette, 4 speed, license plate says "2FAST4U". Barge-like 1950s Cadillac Coupe de Ville. 1956 Chevy Hydramatic pickup truck, two trophies in the back (both for the 2006 Run to the Pines Show, 1st place in the pre-1949 Street Rod Trucks sponsored by Bob's Bang Room, and Mayor's Trophy sponsored by Town of Pinetop-Lakeside. I'm still trying to figure how a 1956 model won the pre-1949 segment of the show). 1978 Nissan 280Z, 5 speed ($7,500). 1956 Lincoln Mark II, V8 ($45,000). '57 Chevy, lime-green, license plate says "1FINE57". T10 Chevy 4 speed, among other things it has "Hose of Koler Tangelo Pearl Paint", which is clearly a synonym for "bilious orange paint". A 1940s Chevy Special Deluxe with a copy of Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower on the front seat (I highly recommend his earlier In the Heart of the Sea).

And several editions of the car I once lusted after, the Ford Mustang -- two 1965s, a 1967, a 1972. None for sale.

Walking back, the wind has picked up to gusts of 30-40 mph, and it's uphill a lot of the way, so I'm straining against the wind. I certainly get my exercise. What I'm puzzled about is the clanking sound inside each of the lamp-posts as I pass.

One more point: there and back, over a mile each way, I'm the only person on foot. The owner of the museum even remarks on this -- "I noticed you walking," she says in wonder. "You walked all that way to get here? And you'll walk back? Wow!"

And that reminds me of the remark by a police officer that I quoted here: "Ideally nobody should have ventured out of the hotel on foot in that way but these people come from a different culture due to which they did and the incident occurred."

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