Monday, June 01, 2009
This was my first car: my dad's old 1984 Cadillac Eldorado, silver hardtop with red leather interior. You read that correctly: red leather. (This picture is just one I found on the web, but our car looked exactly like this.) I remember the midsummer day when we drove down to the Potemkin dealership in New York City. My dad spent a few hours working out the transaction. My brother and I passed the time sitting in all the Cadillac models in the showroom, messing with the windows and knobs.
My dad bought this car during his period of automotive nationalism, when he strongly believed that all Americans should buy American cars. We bought two Caprice Classic station wagons in a row during this period. Much of my childhood was spent hanging out in the back of those station wagons, sleeping, reading, listening to a Walkman, staring out at the scenery in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island.
When I first sat in the driver's seat of the Eldorado, I couldn't imagine ever being able to actually steer the thing. The hood seemed to run on for miles. The first few times I drove the car, I would steer by using the hood ornament as a target that I would aim where I wanted to go, since the absurdly long hood made it hard to actually see the road. Luckily, the Eldorado handled like an aircraft carrier. Everything was soft and plush: the brake pedal, the steering wheel, and especially the hydraulic car leveling system.
The Eldorado met its end flying off an icy road into a telephone pole in the winter of 1992. Middle Brother Octopus was at the wheel, and luckily was unhurt. But before the end, the Eldorado was a vehicle for fantastic memories: eating Pop Tarts and shaving with an electric razor as I rolled into our prep school in Connecticut blasting Public Enemy and EPMD while Middle Brother Octopus slept under a blanket on the massive back seat, tearing down dark streets in Manchester, South Windsor, and Glastonbury trying to get home before my 11 p.m curfew, driving up to a mountain in Vermont, which I climbed with a friend, and the name of which I've forgotten, and could never find again.
The American auto industry as we knew it is over. It'll continue, but it likely will never be the same industry we all grew up with.
I loved that Eldorado, and I still like American cars. The 2003 Dodge Intrepid I'm still driving has to be one of the most reliable and comfortable cars I've ever had, even now at over 110,000 miles. I know it's past time to let go of car culture as we've known it in America. But today, for me, is a day to remember American cars we've all loved. I know it's stupid and sentimental, but I grew up largely in American cars, and for much of my childhood I buckled a seat belt with that blue GM logo across my lap. Some dumb part of me, the same infantile part that pledged loyalty to the Mets in 1985, still feels that if I do buy a car, it should be American -- though what it means to "buy American" is not such an easy question these days.
I had an American childhood, and was driven through that childhood in gigantic American cars. Those cars will always be with me.