When we moved to New York City last June, we left an important part of our life behind. It was a little like putting a pet in a boarding kennel. Or going to a place where your mate couldn’t come, say, on a foreign assignment of some sort. That was acceptable because we didn’t think the separation would last long. But it did – almost a year.
So, it was a welcome day when we packed a rent car a couple of weeks ago and set off for Austin to resume our romance with the ’71 VW camper. It was the start of a second episode of a life with a collector’s item that has almost mystical appeal for many people. It’s funny how old cars can do that.
When I was in junior high, a kid a few years older owned a Stutz Bearcat. He cruised around town as a reincarnation of Dink Stover in a coonskin coat, a flapper or two at his side, a glee club crooning carefree college songs in the background. Everyone, it seems, wanted to be a part of that earlier time and way. It inspired me. In 1952, on my fourteenth birthday, I bought some nostalgia of my own – a long, forest-green, 1932 Studebaker with running boards and curtains. Friends would buy my gas so they could ride around in it. The VW van is one more instance of the allure of classic cars.
Just this afternoon, as I was parking at a shopping center in Austin, a guy in a 1939 Chevrolet pulled up beside me. “Do you have a Porsche engine in that van?” It was a standard opener for conversations between classic-car owners. “Not a Porsche,” I said. “It’s a FAT engine made by a company by that name…. Your Chevy reminds me of the ’39 Plymouth my family had when I was a boy,” From there, the conversation went on pretty much according to a script. We were one in appreciation of our old cars – almost any real old cars, for that matter.
For me, that’s a guilty pleasure of high degree.
The warming of the atmosphere is making life on our planet increasingly tenuous, and the internal combustion engine is a prime cause. To have ardent affection for classic automobiles – or new ones – is to consort with the devil. If I could, I would eliminate all unnecessary applications of the internal combustion engine – power mowers, snow throwers, motorcycles, skimobiles, pleasure boats, sight-seeing helicopters, and – sound the trumpets, bang the drum – leaf blowers. Still, I take delight in classic cars. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
We’re going to drive the van back to New York and do some camping along the way. We expect it to be a quieter, less stressful trip than the long one out we took in 2019. Ann will take some time off, so she won’t be working while bouncing along in the van. Fewer miles each day will allow us to stop early and be still.
The first stop will be a couple of hundred miles from Austin at Martin Creek Lake State Park. Just overnight. Take a walk. Have a camp supper of soup and bread. Crawl into the bunk early. Make coffee in the morning. Meander on back roads across the south. We have especially high hopes for several days we’ve reserved at a campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since we’ll be there for a while, we are finally going to put up that expensive English tent we’ve still never used.
I’ve bought a battery that will eliminate the need to find campsites with power hookups. It’s rechargeable and will operate for long periods, even several evenings consecutively, depending on how it’s used. It has USB ports, 110 sockets, and a big light that can send an SOS signal should we find ourselves in a jam like we might have encountered had we taken Bear Camp Road in Oregon. Also, I’ve found a way to deter theft of the rooftop luggage carrier, so there will be no more unloading and repacking (and falling off the ladder) when we stop at motels. We’ve eliminated excess baggage by shipping some stuff ahead to our New Hampshire friends whose barn will be home to the van after we get back to New York. All good. All promising. A fresh start.