I wish I could share a really big car memory with you for Christmas, but the fact is that, then as now, I was part of a car-less family, and usually spent the holiday close to home, without the ritual drive in a present-laden auto over roads slippery with new snow to friends and relatives and their fridges full of beer and rec room bars laden with bottles of Canadian Club. I'm part of that last generation of kids whose parents and older siblings didn't see the connection between reckless driving and boozing, and would have likely ignored the connection since how the hell were you expected to get through the '70s without dulling the nerves a bit, anyway?
My lingering car memories from childhood Christmases past come bubbling to the surface, not when I think of a Chevy Caprice station wagon piloted by a dad blowing smoke out the window from the Kool he's just bummed off mom but whenever I see one of these:
I don't remember the year, but I definitely got the Hot Wheels rally case, and it was definitely a favorite gift, which I filled with a collection of little cars that included at least one first-gen Mustang and a Can-Am race car. Squinting at the photo above, I'm also getting a familiar vibe from the purple cab-over with the surfboards in the back. Years after Endless Summer came out, surfing was still the leisure activity of the young and truly free, even (or especially) if you were working class and landlocked. A friend's teenage older brother, after a vicious argument with his dad, would run away from home, hitching his way to the beaches of California but only making it as far as Wyoming or Utah before being forced to head back, humiliated.
I'm also getting a Proustian rush from the little tin badges that came with the Hot Wheels, one of which I'm sporting proudly here, on the carpet at my cousin Terry's fab '50s bungalow in Weston:
I'm digging the poly blend shirt in a dusty shade of avocado with the matching tie. Somewhere this holiday an assless hipster will try to rock this look at a New Year's party. The resolution on my scan of this slide is a bit kludgy, but it's definitely a muscle car on the tin badge, and since the presents under Terry's tree haven't been opened yet (I'm pegging this as the evening of Christmas day, well after the big present opening at home) I've clearly chosen to wear this Hot Wheels badge all day long, probably the last time I'd let myself wear my car obsession so openly.
The Hot Wheels - Can-Am race car and all - are long gone, as is the rally case and the tin badge. I'd convince my family to buy me the odd copy of Hot Rod magazine to read on the long car rides to whatever rented cottage or campsite we called home for summer vacations, but by my teens the car jones would be driven deep underground, submerged mostly by the weight of the certain knowledge that I neither had a car to learn on nor the money to buy one. Or at least that was my excuse. Somewhere between that Hot Wheels badge and today there's a long stretch of shame and poor choices that closeted my inner gearhead and reduced my love of cars to furtive glances in parking lots and a little shiver when I'd hear the rev of a tuned-out V8.
I'm hoping this is my last car-less Christmas, and with that I'll wish everyone a Merry one, with an admonishment that, should you know someone hiding their car jones deep under a bushel of rationalizations, you'll make their holiday brighter by coaxing their inner gearhead back into the sun and light. One of these would be a good place to start:
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