Page H. Onorato: Me and my automobiles
“Oh, boy, I can’t wait ’til I grow up. We’ll have all kinds of fun stuff by then,” I commented to my best friend.
“Yeah, we’ll have refrigerators with spigots on them that give us Coca-Cola and chocolate milk and Orange Crush,” she anticipated. “And we’ll have robots to clean up and make the beds and wash the dishes and food pills that taste like a whole dinner and watches with radios in them.”
“What about picture shows in your own living room?” suggested another of us.
“I can’t wait to get a car that has wings when you press a button and flies,” I said as I expressed my heart’s desire.
We’ve come close; we have ice water dispensers on our fridges and dishwashers and little vacuum cleaners that scoot around all by themselves cleaning the floor. We have a plethora of food pills and formulas to supplement our diets. We watch all kinds of things on our TVs and video players.
But, where, oh where are those cars that fly?
Not that cars haven’t come a long way in the last few decades. Many of us, for example, can remember when our rides were bare bones, at best. My family tooled around town for many years in a rusty old red Oldsmobile sedan with many idiosyncrasies and few amenities.
It had sofa-like seats made of some scratchy woolly fabric that smelled funny and made your bottom itch. It had no seat belts or drink holders or radio/CD players. Signal lights were non-existent; the driver let other folks know his intentions with his left arm out the window: bent upwards for a right turn, straight out for a left turn and bent down for a stop. It had a horn that driving manners mandated you blew twice before passing the vehicle in front of you, a maneuver that would no doubt invite serious road rage today.
The back right door swung open of its own volition whenever we made a left turn, causing our mother to caution, “Now you girls scrunch over to the left side and hold on to the hand strap. I don’t want you falling out of the car.” Our horn loved to get stuck, annoying the entire west side of Center Street. Our engine constantly got itself flooded, and my mother was Miss Gear-Stripper of the year.
The GPS system was a road map in the glove compartment. Remote-control key devices were undreamed of, air conditioning meant rolling the windows down, hybrids were a kind of chicken, but oh, what fun for us children hitching a ride on the running board.
Automobiles weren’t just tools for going places. We took Sunday drives, touring around the countryside just for the fun of it. Teens went for midnight joyrides, pop-starting the family car on a downhill slope and hoping Pop was sound asleep. We dined in our autos at Stamey’s or Kearney’s or The Barbecue Center, ordering burgers and chopped sandwiches and fries and Pepsis curb-service style. Our dates often featured a drive-in movie, ending with a “parking” session out on the under-construction bypass.
Even though our vehicles still lack the ability to take off into the wild blue yonder, we all have special ones that we recall with affection. There was the Rocket, an ancient Plymouth woody wagon whose muffler was attached with a broom stick and duct tape and, if riding in the back seat, you could watch the road fly by through a wide hole in the flooring.
There was Aunt Sadie’s Model A Ford, which she’d get one of the boys to crank and take a carload of nieces and nephews for a harrowing spin down Fairview Drive. It ended up in the backyard barn as a roosting center for her flock of chickens.
A friend of mine loved her first car, a little blue bug, so much that she refused to sell it and still takes it out for a romp now and then. A gang of girls gaped at Elvis’s lavender Cadillac convertible parked in front of the Y and left their fingerprints all over it, happy just to touch The Pelvis’ vehicle.
Folks became choked up over their Beamers, muscle cars, Hummers, 1966 Mustangs, T-Birds and red and white Chevy Bel Airs. Right now I’m pretty happy with a geriatric Honda Accord, as long as it gets me there, even though it doesn’t sprout wings and soar into the air.
Lexington (N.C.) Dispatch correspondent Page H. Onorato is a retired teacher.