A genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me

“As I was motivatin’ over the hill,
I saw Maybellene in a Coupe De Ville.
A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road,
Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”

—Maybellene song lyrics by Chuck Berry

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Shelby County’s car club, the Cruisers, is motivating out of its COVID induced slumber next month. Celebrating ten years of cruising next spring, the club was started by people who like to have fun driving cars of all years that celebrate the culture of motoring in America.

As the Cruisers are set to roll the roads again doing what they like to do best, cruise in fun cars going good places to eat, a lingering question remains. Why do many young people today, as automotive writers keep reporting, seem to care less about cars or even having driver’s licenses? It’s a genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me who squeaked through Mount Pleasant High School sitting on the back row of Coach Gilbreath’s history class reading hot rod magazines discreetly tucked inside a textbook.

I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s an anomaly that has infiltrated even my own family. I hate to divulge dark family secrets in such a public forum as this, but I have to admit to having grandchildren who have no interest in a driver’s license. I know, I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

What is no secret is that most of us in the car club grew up in an age when a teenager’s biggest dream was obtaining that cherished driver’s license. And most of us would also confess our attraction to old cars, and even new cars today inspired by the old ones, evolved from the culture of cars in America. Perhaps it’s owning a car like the one we used to have, or maybe it’s owning the car we couldn’t afford back then. Whatever the inspiration, it’s likely we in some way vicariously enjoy the cars by reliving memories from a time when everything in life centered around the expressions of personality that our cars represented.

It was a time when every car rolling out of Detroit had a unique personality. Identifying a Chevrolet, a Ford, or a Dodge two blocks away was easy for even the youngest auto enthusiast. But today, nine of ten automobiles on the road lack any personality. Even colors with personality are gone. With white, black or gray monotone designs dominating the parking lots, cars nowadays look just alike more closely resembling each than cousins at a family reunion.

It’s fair to say my personality would have been different had cool cars not been an incentive to survive afternoon classes in high school looking forward to the pilgrimage of rolling stock leaving the parking lot headed to after-school jobs or to the Dairy Queen. Add the anticipation of cruising cool on the streets at night and blazing hot on the asphalt at East Texas drag strips on the weekend, and internal combustion-powered wheels were an integral part of many teenager’s personalities.

That’s a concept to which dad didn’t necessarily subscribe, however. “A car is just something to get from point A to point B,” he manitained. I agreed provided the trip in my case was made in the shortest possible amount of time. Whatever I drove had to be fast or loud, or both. That need for speed did two things. It kept me on a first name basis learning to respect the local police officers. It also spawned lots of drag racing fun during high school plus a brief period of drag racing with the professionals while in college.

Maybe it’s true that the younger generations don’t put as much emphasis on cars as their predecessors. But as for me, I own more old cars than newer ones including a 1957 Ford purchased new by my grandparents in Pittsburg, Texas. It’s a survivor of America’s automotive heyday and the car in which I learned to drive. I also took my first girlfriend on dates in the car. My second one too, now that I think about it, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

For now, I’m just happy to be “motivatin’ over the hill” in my ’55 V8 Ford with the Shelby County Cruisers again.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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