Vintage Cars; Vintage People

This essay was read on DelMarVa Public Radio.

Vintage cars, vintage people
By John Reisinger


Sooner or later, when you least expect it, life grabs you by the lapels and screams “You’re not young anymore!” Once this happens, you know you are a senior, and I don’t mean someone in their final year of college, I mean someone who gets a discount at the early bird buffet. You can no longer stretch the definition of middle aged, because unless you are going to live to be 120, you are never going to see middle age again, let alone youth. From that moment on, whenever someone tells you “Age is just a number,” you will think, “Yes; a very LARGE number!”

This life-changing experience isn’t necessarily some overwhelming one-time event such as retirement, or the death of a parent; it’s more likely to be some little incident that breaks into your world uninvited and forces you to confront your advancing years.

Maybe it’s getting a ticket from a police officer that looks like the kid your daughter tutored in high school, or perhaps encountering a doctor that looks like he should be pledging a fraternity instead of examining your EKG. For some, it’s being confounded by some new electronic gadget, only to see a grandchild accomplish the task in ten seconds. Maybe it’s suddenly realizing that not only do you not know who Justin Bieber is, you don’t even care because you think there hasn’t been any popular music worth listening to since ABBA broke up.

Yes, everyone will have that moment, and for everyone, it’s different. For me it came in the unlikely form of a license plate.

They say you never forget you first love or your first car, because, at least for the male of the species, they are often the same. In 1964, I bought my first car, a 1955 Chevy BelAir. The 1957s were considered cooler, but 1955 was all I could afford at the time. I spent a lot of effort, as only a young man can tuning, polishing and nurturing this car. It was white and had that strange turquoise colored Chevy interior. I took my bride away on our honeymoon in that car and drove it my final year of college, but it developed the mother of all oil leaks and we had to part.

Fast forward to a sunny day in Easton many years later. My wife and I were driving on Route 50 when I spotted a white 1955 Chevy BelAir, almost the twin of the one I had owned. It had lines and style that made the cars around it look tired and plain, like a snowy dove trooping with crows, as Shakespeare once said. For a moment, I was transported back to that magical time when cars burned leaded gas, people did their own repairs, and young men dreamed of Lakes pipes and triple deuce carburation. As we got closer, we could see that the car even had the turquoise interior, gleaming in the sun. Time had been standing still all these years. I wasn’t so old after all.

Then I got a closer look at the license plate.

Underneath the numbers, in capital letters, was the word HISTORIC. It was then I remembered reading that there had been an antique auto show in Ocean City. This car had been part of it. My first car was now a restored old-timer that people gawked at at county fairs.

Historic, of course, is a polite word for old. That’s when I suddenly realized that if people had license plates, mine would say HISTORIC as well.

But at least that car was still going under its own power and looking good doing it. In spite of its age and mileage, that’s one Chevy that won’t be ready for the scrap yard any time soon.

I know just how it feels.