Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Take Me Riding in the Car-Car

I first fell in love in the backseat of a black Buick Roadmaster convertible circa 1950. Miss Buick was shiny, curvaceous, and had a toothsome grin—and I could stretch out along her smooth upholstery and watch the sky whoosh over my head as we streamed along the roads on her spinning whitewalls. Dad loved her too, but in ways I didn’t understand—she was the symbol of post-war prosperity, and apparently she was lovely to drive, something I experienced many years later in my sporty Nissan with the sunroof—the thrill of mobility and control in the open air.
I don’t remember what Dad drove after the Buick, but I remember the green wood-paneled Ford station wagon, loaded to it’s gills with family and camping gear, that carried us on journeys throughout the West. Dad and Mom traded off driving the long distances and we three kids sat on the bench seat in back, playing I Spy or cards, or just gazing out the windows. I hated when I had to sit in the middle because the hump of the drive shaft made it uncomfortable. But the utter exhilaration of traveling across the ever-unfolding land, made even that worth it. I remember how it sounded to hear the rush of the wind flooding through the open windows and feel it on my face. When we stopped, I could still hear the roar in my ears, feel the tingle on my cheeks. “I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, racing in the wind and the feeling that I'm under!” I wonder how I ever combed the knots out of my hair.
Our family car trips probably started in 1959, but the first record I have is in 1960, the year I received a Brownie camera. I have fading black and white photos of Bubbles the pilot whale, jumping from a giant salt-water tank for fish held by a trainer decked out in a white sailor suit, complete with the black tie and white cloth hat, at Marineland of the Pacific, Palos Verdes.
Bubbles the Pilot Whale
It was the following car-trip that marked the second time I fell in love. This time not with the car but with the travel. Still 1960, and later in the summertime, we packed up and toured the pristine forests around Crater Lake, looped up to Wyoming to see Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, then dropped back into California through Virginia City, Nevada. I loved the bubbling mud pots, the sulfuric stink, and the live bears of Yellowstone; this was the real deal—so much better than Yogi and Boo Boo. The majesty of the Tetons awed me, but the most memorable single image I have of this trip is of Bear Lake, Idaho. A turquoise set into the chaparral of high desert. By now my photos are in color, but no photo can compare to my remembered glimpse of this little lake.

For the next several years, we car-tripped to the California Missions, to Death Valley, to Disneyland, to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair—I’m holding my “Eye of the Needle Certificate” that certifies, I Ana Manwaring, “has dined in the sky high merry-go-round restaurant at the top of the Space Needle.” Shot through the steel railings enclosing the observation deck, my photos show the landscape of the fair spread a dizzy-ing 520 feet below. On that trip I fell in love once again—in Victoria B.C. at the Buchart Gardens. Now, give me a car to drive and a garden to visit, and I’m in Heaven.
What is it about our cars that we love so much—the potential for adventure or the promise of freedom? Have you ever counted the number of love songs written about cars and the road? I’m a woman of means by no means, Queen of the road! And how regal I’ve felt, passing by the golden Gateway Arch on my first transcontinental “progression” in a ‘57 Chevy, and later, navigating my ‘69 VW pop-top camper, tricked out with air shocks and red leather Cadillac “thrones,” on the back roads of Mexico and Belize.           

The era of long car trips may be coming to a close, but you can still hear me humming  “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure in whatever comes our way,” even if gas is over $4 a gallon, the windows are up and the adventure takes place in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain.
Is that my Prius I hear revving its hybrid motor?
Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brrrm.

Don't miss A Salute to American Grafffiti in Petaluma May 19th