Sunday, March 2, 2014

I sing the body mechanical

"America's love affair with the automobile" used to be the most noticeably overused cliche in the the American idiom and indeed, starting with the 20th century few things transformed private life and personal liberty like the automobile. Few things contributed so much to economic growth From the end of  WWII and through the 1960's everything was about cars.  If you're one of the dwindling part of the population who remembers first hand, I don't have to explain.  You'll remember the car culture and you'll remember how it made the USA run.  Our youth was about the freedom cars brought.  The status of our families was displayed in the driveway and our introduction to love had a lot to do with the freedom of the road and the secluded areas it led to. It's gone. It's strip malls and plastic signs and Japanese designs. It's people locked safely inside, staring at little screens.

What would have happened to Jack Kerouac, who would have heard of Ken Kesey if this had been a nation where people gleefully chose some soulless transportation appliance chosen for cheapness and that simply took you places safely and economically without your participation?  Where do you find America, how do you get there but on the road?  Why even have a road if we can live in a hive?

I can't understand the mania for taking away our cars, for looking forward eagerly to cars that differ from Subway cars only in the passenger capacity --  that run on electronic rails?  Safety and economy and the vision of  a future without back roads, the crunch of gravel, the wind in your hair on Summer nights, the smell of gumbo in road houses you pass as the V twin rumbles between your knees or the V8 sings as you change down from 6 to 5 to pass that Toyota safetybox with blacked out windows nd the 'Star Safety System' and the airbags.  I sing the body mechanical -- the music of the night and of freedom. The poetry of machines.

Soulless appliance, we don't know how it works and don't care -- a place to wait and text message and facebook and link to Linkedin and watch American idol as the soulless matrix sucks the life out of you in perfect safety.  What the hell has happened to us?  Are we really heir to the termites, the moles -- timid troglodytes  living in plastic tubes and breathing filtered air -- too timid to take control?

Pardon me, I'm making myself sick.  It's a beautiful Saturday and in the garage, my new Harley gleams, a symphony in Blue -- and route 714 waits, just over the bridge, leading west out to the big lake under miles of  trees, arched over the asphalt like a cathedral knave and the air smells the way most of you have never smelled it.  South along 441, along the levee, the live oaks and Spanish moss and fish camps and orchards and road houses and kids that still wave from front lawns as you ride by.  America, I'm still here, and I still remember. Of thee I still sing.


  1. Two of my late teens, early 20s boyfriends won my heart not just because they were handsome rogues and could recite bad poetry, but because one drove a white (with red interior) convertible Chevy (but not to the levee), and the other one drove a red convertible (with black interior) Chevy with fins that reached to the moon and back and was the best looking car at the submarine races.

    Mighty fine writing here, Capt. It brought me back to a lost time. Bravo!

  2. I enjoyed your prose as well Fogg. And Shaw is right. A cool car and a fancy style of driving was a pretty good way to make an impression.

    I will never forget the neighborhood cars of my boyhood. Buck had a big huge early 1960s Buick Electra 225. Then he bought his wife a 1965 Mustang and himself a 1967 Riviera. Dad still had his 1956 Chevy Standard, but Christmas of 1966, we got a black 1965 Skylark with a Wildcat 365 c.i.d. motor. That car was light and fast. Bucket seats. Sports console. Wire wheels and a vinyl top. A wealthy family from Texas moved in across the street. The son had a Pontiac GTO. Driving around in Pacific Beach, we used to see a bright red Mercedes Gull-wing. In 1970 my friend's dad had 1967 and 1969 coup DeVilles. He actually garaged them both side by side. All the boys had fast go-carts or mini-bikes. And a lot of guys built dune buggies with their dads. It was a golden era. Even my Fairlane 500 was as fast as any cop car and could do 111mph going north and 109 going south. But I do believe that the best part was the cheap gas. Even in 1976 dollars, 59 cents a gallon was dirt cheap. Just being a kid with a part time job, I could afford to drive pretty much any where I wanted to go. I think I explored just about every country road between Julian and Banning. Nowadays, every hundred mile trip costs thirty or forty dollars just in gas.

    You should have that problem licked with a cycle. 96 c.i.d.?

  3. More like 74 - 1200 cc. Supposedly it gets 57 mpg highway. Yes cheap gas had a lot to do with it. I remember pumping Texaco in the summer of 1962 at 26.9 cents.

    change is inevitable, but not always good and I mourn what we have lost in the interests of consumerism and the obsession with safety and the fracturing of American culture which benefits o one but those who exploit our fears.

    Do we really need cars that park themselves, drive themselves, take over the brakes if it doesn't like how you use them? Isn't it bad enough that even in this climate paradise I live in we're all sealed in black safety boxes breathing chilled and filtered air following instructions from an electronic voice while the machine reads our constant flow of text messages? Open road? Where? Dump me anywhere in the US and it all looks the same and our kids slump in the back seat of some huge safety box watching videos, listening to iPods and texting their friends while the glory of life passes them by on the other side of tinted glass.

    An engine and wheels and the joy of life and what more is there?

  4. Sometimes I feel fortunate I'm older, you're fine prose reminded me of one of the reasons.

    1957 Chevy's, 1960 Corvettes, and the 1970 Plymouth Baracuda all rocked.

    Thank you for writing this Capt

  5. Thanks. The thing is that kind of excitement is gone forever because not only has the world's population doubled, the rest of the world is now buying cars and there's no room for anything but little boxes where we sit and purchase more entertainment while the computer takes us places to work or to purchase more entertainment while life goes by unnoticed.


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