Nostalgic Is What It Is
From Vintage Motorsport issue 09.1-Jan/Feb 2009
While no one I know has accused me openly of living in the past, I’m sure a few of my friends might think that I do. There are signs of it everywhere.
I collect old toys by the hundreds, old motorcycles, old photographs, old books. I own an old Morris Minor van, 41 years old. I have saved all my old cameras and assorted odds and ends. I love old trains. I still have the three-foot tall Jerry Mahoney puppet I got for Christmas when I was five years old.
I have every helmet I’ve every owned except for a few that were borrowed and/or stolen. Displayed in my office and garage are new models of “old” cars. Netflix is the way I watch movies, usually old TV series like Combat or Alfred Hitchcock or my recent favorites—film noir from the 1940s and 50s. Until a year or so ago, I vacuumed with a 1959 Electrolux canister because it worked like a champ and reminded me of the day my Dad bought it, when America manufactured just about everything and did it well. How else can you explain a vacuum cleaner that lasted for nearly 50 years?
Topping all of this old nonsense off, I earn my living creating a magazine about motorsport history and old race cars and racing heroes.
But living in the past? Nah! Instead I think of it as being nostalgic. I mean, if I really lived in the past I’d be typing this on an old manual typewriter instead of a Mac G5 and would still be shooting photos with film cameras.
All those old family photos I have are treasures because for me they re-ignite the sense of fun and wonder we had as kids. I was lucky that my Dad had photography as a hobby and consequently shot lots of photos. They are moments frozen in time that if you study long enough, can bring back even more memories, like the finned rear fenders of my grandmother’s ’60 Ford Starliner fastback—Montecarlo Red with a Corinthian White roof—peeking into the corner of one photo I have.
I was 13 when she bought that new Ford and she was 63—a fancy red car for a grandmother. But hardworking she was, a Hungarian immigrant who came to America in 1914, learned English and wanted most to become an American citizen, expecting no handouts. “Katie” worked in a doll factory, cigar factory, cleaned houses and did catering. Her second husband was German and, since neither could speak each other’s native language, they conversed in English. She bought a new car every two years, come hell or high water, and the Starliner was the first she ever let me drive. If I think really hard I can remember its wonderful new car smell. A heavenly scent. Today’s fresh off the assembly line cars smell nothing like they did then, plastic not in the same league as American-made steel finished in fresh lacquer.
Try to find a ’60 Starliner today—they’re just not around, and I’m not quite sure why. Instead, at every old car show, there’s a parade of ’57 Chevy convertibles, always matching numbers of course, and always with the rarest of options. Sure. And what’s with those continental kits the restorers slather on every darn convertible from the 50s? No one with good taste ever put one of those on a car back then and, in fact, we had an expression for the practice that I can’t repeat.
I think my grandma loved that Ford more than any car she ever owned, even more than her step-down ’49 Hudson. I know I’d sure like to stick my head in a Starliner again, sample the Cruise-o-Matic and the purr of that 352 V8.
Yes, photos can bring back those memories, but so can objects. I have a big hunk of Riverside Raceway’s Turn 6 on my shelf, retrieved when they plowed up the old track back in May of 1990. It’s got some white paint on it because it was from the outer edge of the asphalt, and I drilled a hole in the top, mounted a little checkered flag and painted “Riverside Raceway 1957-1990 RIP” on the surface. It’s my little tribute to the track where I raced both motorcycles and Formula Fords. “Normal” people get a quizzical look on their faces when they see it on my shelf, while racers get a big smile when I tell them what it is.
Yes, it’s nostalgia. Much more fun to look at all this stuff instead of watching the news, with the incompetent pompous pinheads in congress and the senate blathering away, making bigger problems out of the ones they’ve already created. I mean, why look at the likes of a Barney Frank or that Illinois governor—who needs a chinstrap for that hair of his—when over there is a number plate that Kenny Roberts signed, a scarred helmet that saved my life and a wonderful photo of Karen and I getting married overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
That’s not living in the past; it’s remembering all the great times, friends and moments that should never be forgotten.
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