As many of you know, my familial obligations require me to do things that, in a social vacuum, I would never do. The best example of this is attendance at action films with my older brother. But another example of this is my going to car shows with my father. All of my childhood—which included roughly a dozen and a half residences—we dragged around a non-operational 1930 Buick Roadster. The idea was that someday my father would restore it. Eventually, he realized that he would never have the fifty grand necessary to restore it. Even in the shape it was in it was worth about twenty grand, so my dad sold it and used the money to restore his 1950 Buick, which he owned three of. So he’s very into this stuff. And so today I went with him to Peggy Sue’s All-American Cruise.
I was struck by something once we got there. The classic car owners all pay to be the show. The vendors all pay to sell their wares. And the people all pay to get in. All the website says is that a portion of the proceeds go to local youth groups. So I think it is a scam. Normally, the car owners and the vendors pay but the event is free. Of course, most events don’t feature the talents of performers like Bowzer & The Stingrays, who were the only notable acts of the few who were featured. (That was sarcasm about “talents.”) Look, I get it: I don’t mind seeing the same juggling act performed by different people at every outdoor event I go to. But no one goes for the acts, and Bowzer can’t be that expensive anyway. I’m supposed to cheer it because it’s all (or mostly, or partly) for the kids.
One of those youth groups the event supports must have been the Boy Scouts. They were everywhere at the event, most especially helping to park cars with the cheerful eagerness one normally associates with an Eeyore family reunion. It may be unfair, but I always associate the Boy Scouts with the Hitler Youth. I understand that the Hitler Youth basically took over what had been the Boy Scouts in Germany. But the uniforms, the paramilitary style, the right wing politics? It strikes me as downright un-American. But that’s just because there are two currents in America: the fierce individual and the belligerent conformist. I respect the first. But the Scouts reflect too much of the second, even if it is not intentionally bad. Its exclusionary policies alone reinforce the worst aspects of in-group/out-group politics. Hell, some troupes were still racially segregated until 1974! But what better place for them to be than at a very white event like a car show?
There are aspects of car shows that I like. For example, I’m always struck by just how simple car engines used to be. And this particular show had a local group that is bound together by their shared love of simple one-stroke engines and other farm automation equipment. In front of one of the engines was a copy of a 1924 advertisement that made a very big deal of the fact that it was selling for 19% less than it had 11 years earlier. I like that practical appeal, “Farmers! Here is an engine for your well pump that is cheap and effective!” No advertising bullshit there, just the facts. It’s charming. Of course, the economist in me wondered if there hadn’t been improvements on the engine over the last 11 years that might have made a model that hadn’t gone down in price a better deal.
What I most don’t like about car shows is that they represent what most old people consider the great days of the 1950s. You see this in the bands that play which are almost always 50s cover bands and when they aren’t, they are WWII era girl groups. And just like it would have been if I had grown up in that time, I don’t feel welcome. I’m constantly reminded in subtle and overt ways that I don’t belong. I might understand the Carnot Cycle, but I have no idea why it matters that some car has a double four barrel carburetor. Any gathering where you are on the inside is fun. I pretty much never feel like I’m on the inside. But the modern American car show combines that disaffection in me with an appeal to the good old days of small minded exclusiveness.
But I do like some of the cars. I’m especially fond of Fords, for whatever reason. But I keep this to myself. My father is a Buick man.