Saying that we Americans have a love affair with cars is about like stating that fish seem to have an affinity for water. Which is why it was so difficult to resist her when I heard her siren song.
I was driving along when I spotted her from a distance, a derelict languishing in a patch of weeds. But I could still see traces of a bygone elegance; her racy silhouette caused my heart to thump.
A 1957 Chevrolet! Four doors, 283 cubic inches, three on the tree. A car that was built the year I was born!
My sister owned a 1957 Chevy when I was in high school. Seeing a '57 never fails to invoke warm and fuzzy feelings associated with growing up and becoming independent. We also looked indisputably cool when we cruised.
But as alluring as this weed patch car might be, I realized that she came with some troubling baggage. Yes, I could overhaul her engine. But her seats are ruined and her headliner has sagged to the point where holding it up involves one's actual head. I haven't the foggiest notion how to fix such things.
The imagined expenses soared at a pace normally associated with the climb rate of a fighter jet. And all for what? So I can cruise around a bit and indulge my sense of nostalgia? And maybe take her to a car show, where I would probably spend most of my time drooling over the astounding restorations accomplished by the more accomplished?
It would be cheaper and quicker to get my classic car fix by simply attending a car show. Thankfully, I know a guy who can hook me up.
My cousin Mike Jorenby is an automobile aficionado extraordinaire. He is also coordinator of the Arlington Car Show, held the third Sunday of each August.
A couple of years older than me, Mike was born with a bum hip. When we were kids, Mike seemed to be perpetually hobbling about on crutches, wearing a cast or a brace or any of a series of Medieval orthopedic devices. And through it all, Mike remained unfailingly upbeat and cheerful. I never heard him complain about the hand he had been dealt or the obvious discomfort he was forced to endure.
It seems natural that a person who has had trouble getting around would be drawn to fast and powerful forms of transportation. I recently asked Mike what attracted him to all things automotive, especially classic cars.
"I've always been interested in cars," he said. "It got serious for me when I finally got a job that gave me weekends off. I went to a car show in 1998 and was hooked. But car shows are about more than just cars. They're also a good place to socialize and meet friends."
The Arlington Car Show is in its 10th year. How many cars do you expect will be there?
"We'll have about 100 cars this year," said Mike. "We feature over 25 classes, from cars that are totally stock to hotrod cars and pickups, to cars that have been customized out the wazoo. The strangest one I've seen was a tractor that had a coffin for hood, complete with a 'deceased' mannequin inside. The owner of the tractor was also dressed up as an old-fashioned undertaker!"
I've heard about something called rat rods. I gather we're not talking about rodents on a stick?
"A rat rod is a ratty-looking amalgamation made from assorted old cars. They can be built from a variety of breeds, such as a Ford front end with a Chevy cab and a Plymouth rear end. They're left unfinished, which means they're usually pretty rusty. The only limit for a rat rod is the owner's imagination and creativity."
So you don't have to have a perfect, so-immaculate-that-you-can-eat-off-the-engine automobile to enter the show and perhaps take home a trophy?
"Nope. We have a class for cars that you might call barn fresh. Those are cars that are classic, but haven't been restored. We also have a class for display cars, which are rare or unusual vehicles. Something like a DeLorean or a Lotus might fit into that class."
There are a numerous car shows that take place each summer. What sets the Arlington show apart?
"We hold it in the city park," said Mike. "On a hot summer day, it's a lot more pleasant there than out in the middle of a street or parking lot. I like to point out that our car show is on the grass, in the shade!"
On the grass and in the shade? This sounds leagues better than out in the weeds and under the scorching sun! Plus it fits my price range.