I remember when, growing up in Compton, down south, a lot of the teenagers around town made it a priority over everything else, including studies and sports, to buy a car and cherry it out with a candy apple paint job and glass-pack mufflers that made a sputtering, crackling noise that disturbed adults and tuck-n-roll seats best inserted for a low price in Tiajuana and angora dice hanging from the front mirror, all of this a lure for the pretty girls who looked right past a hard-breathing tom like me to nuzzle up to these dudes with their sideburns and duck-butt hairdos who sat low in their seats and cooly just barely nodded at you if you were somebody but ignored you if you weren't.
Every year I take a quick stroll through the hundred or so cars and observe the owners in their Cayucos Vintage Car Show T shirts and their ball caps and white mustaches and droopy guts as they sit in comfy portable chairs in front of their gleaming cars and beside their white haired weathered wives and wearily like jaded superstars accept compliments about their cars and prefer mostly to meet with other vintage car owners and talk shop.
Garage moles, a subterranean species.
These old boys recognize me for what I was, a guy who played sports and hated fucking cars and felt the fawning over them was ridiculous and asinine and pathetic, which is why back in the 1990s when the same people held the same vintage car show in Morro Bay, where I was a bartender, I stomped the grand prize winning trophy for best over-all vintage auto into the pavement and mangled it beyond recognition.
Thing was, my boss, who owned the bar I worked, had been a huge sponsor, booster and organizer of this Saturday event, and, since none of the contestants spent one dime in his bar on a Saturday night I worked, but flocked to functions where they could freeload, exposing them as cheap Sams and faux celebrities, I decided to smash the trophy right in the middle of the intersection during award ceremonies, creating a bit of havoc. (I was fairly drunk, of course). The next day I had to apologize to my boss and pay for the trophy, a cheap over-priced plastic piece of crap that cost me $17!
I remember back in Compton in 1959 I finally did get a car, because I was making deliveries at a job and also needed it to drive to different surrounding towns to play American legion and Connie Mack baseball games. The car was a basic heap, a pig, a 1952 Chevy Powerglide coupe. It took me about a month for the beast to acquire a few dents, and it was never washed or waxed, and then it was kind of lopsided from going full speed over dips and bumps and uneven dirt shoulders when I passed on the right.
In those days the guys with the cherry cars and the hot chicks hung out at drive-in restaurants all over the area, and I would cruise them in my beast, sitting low in an imitation of my cool peers, my dusty, dented disgrace a stain on their procession of shiny gems, and nod at them, and, as they stood around their cherries yakking, they flashed me the finger with threatening emphasis, and instead of giving them the finger back I just chortled and moved on, because had I given them the finger they would all have gotten in their hot fast cars and run me down and pulled me out of my wreck and beaten the shit out of me, because most of them belonged to car clubs like the Cruisers and Creepers and Street Sweepers and so on, so my only pleasure was giving them the satisfaction of giving the finger to a person who was not cool and was essentially a nobody, a punk, driving around a filthy pile of tin.
Right now I hear the car show going on downtown, 3 blocks from where I live. An official makes announcements over a loudspeaker and a band plays oldies, “Cathy's Clown,” “Wake Up, Little Susie,” the white-bread opera of my generation. I kind of liked the pop hits of that era, but later transitioned into Motown, Jazz and Blues, and have, over the years, driven one worthless dented dusty filthy noisy uncool seriously out-dated jalopy after another---a listing '54 Chevy station wagon, a listing VW bug, a listing Datsun station wagon, boxy 1979 Olds station wagon, a listing, sputtering 1950 Chevy pick-up, a 1976 Olds Cutlass Salon, a 1981 bumperless, corroded, duck-tape flapping Chrysler Cordoba with Corinthian leather bucket seats hocked on TV by Ricardo Montalban, a 1984 Toyota Tercel that I blew up, a 1992 Honda Civic with 306,000 miles, and now a 2002 Toyota Camry which, like most of my past cars, smells of dog, a big dog who spends an hour each day on the beach.
A couple decades past, back, when the vintage car participants in Pismo Beach lined up and cruised through town, I joined them in the Cordoba, and received not a few dirty looks. Today, since the show downtown Cayucos is all cordoned off, I cannot drive any of my cars near, and would not anyway, nor would I join a procession, if there was one (there's not), because I don't wish to embarrass myself as a citizen of Cayucos anymore than I already have, and besides, my mechanic, the best and most honest in the county here in town, has run the event for decades, and also managed for a very fair price to keep my heaps healthy and afloat.
Anyway, I decide to walk my big old dog Wilbur downtown to observe the show. I am immediately stunned by just how old and wizened the car owners have become, these ancestors of the American Graffiti 1950s and early '60s. They are hardly mobile, scrofulous, white hair protruding from under ball caps, most of them slouched in chairs, and I doubt at this point if they even drink, much less freeload in bars. One guy who seems a tad younger and surprisingly jolly stops to pet Wilbur, and moves on. I spot a 1954 enameled Chevy station wagon, a replica of my old monster, and I see the owner, a kind of ferret-faced, withered old twig and wait for him to cease talking about engines with another fossil, and tell him how I had his exact wagon and drove it around the country after getting out of the army in 1967, how I slept in it, put over 6,000 miles on that trip and the only trouble was when some bad gas in Appalachia flooded the carburetor and a mechanic who fixed it by replacing the diaphragm for nearly nothing told me that Chevy engine, which served army vehicles in WWII, was “bullet proof,” the only engine that could withstand such evil gas.
The ferret just stared at me, nodded, and turned back to his pal, obviously aware of that guy who drove his battered wreck through Jerry's Bar b Cue drive-in on Long Beach Boulevard in Compton 58 years ago and received an aggressive finger for his services.
I quickly headed home just as somebody over a loudspeaker announced the award ceremony was coming up in ten minutes and the geezers and their geezettes limped and trudged toward the award area with their portable chairs. I tried to count the trophies and stopped at around 75 as the band came to a halt.