One day, a few winters ago, my dad wanted me to go to with him to an old junk yard that had long been forgotten. It was outside of West Liberty, KY on a hillside where the undergrowth had made a significant advance around the rusted remains of these relics of past Sunday drives, unsanctioned drag races, and returns to the home place from places like Dayton, Fairborn, Xenia, Detroit, Toledo and anywhere else that men and women left the hills of eastern Kentucky for work.
Now my dad has had a love affair with the automobile ever since he was able to peer under the hood or get behind the wheel of an old A-model. He loves tinkering with cars, driving cars, talking about cars, looking at cars, and watching home movies of cars and their kids. I did not inherit this love of the automobile.
To me, a car is only for transporting me to where I want to go. I hate buying them, paying for them, bathing them, fixing their runny leaks and cleaning up after them. Oh sure, put me in a two-seat convertible on a sunny afternoon on a two lane country road, add a good jazz tune blaring and I would be in such a blessed and enraptured state that Greek gods would find me mythical.
As I wondered with my dad through this junk yard, I saw this old Pontiac with its iconic hood ornament. I did always like this hood ornament and I photographed it as a tribute to a time when cars really meant something to their owners. My grandfather always owned Pontiacs.
Pontiacs produced some great cars, the GTO, Trans Am, Firebird, Bonneville, and Catalina to name a few.
My experience with Pontiacs came while I was in graduate school at the University of Houston in 1979. I had a Pontiac Astre. Notice that I did not include the Astre in the above list of classic Pontiacs. Don’t ask me what Astre means. I think it is Native American for “raised hood”.
Pontiac made the Astre for three years in the United States. Mine was an orange 1975 model made either on a Monday morning at 7:00 AM by a hung- over worker who thought he was making it for his just-caught cheating wife or it was made at 4:58 PM on a Friday by a retiring worker on his last day who envisioned his troglodytic, profanity-spewing, tiradic, whip-wielding shift manager driving it off the lot.
One unique experience this jewel gave me was causing a traffic jam at the intersection of two Houston freeways on a Thanksgiving Eve afternoon driving my roommate to the airport. As an added bonus, it was raining…not just raining but one of those torrential, apocalyptic, southern rains.
The car died and I coasted across seemingly infinite lanes of traffic to come to rest in the exit lane of I-10.
After cranking on the ignition that did not seem to be hooked to the engine and waiting for the rain to let up to a meager downpour, I got out of the car. Peering back through the drenching rain, I could see cars backed up for miles. For a moment there was a strange sense of accomplishment, knowing that you did something on such a grand scale.
I was snapped back to reality by a long slow parade of angry Texans realizing that I was the cause of their misery. My life was flashing by with each extended middle finger. Luckily they did not lower their windows since they were in a monsoon. However, I could see their faces in twisted agony like thousands of Munch’s Scream going by.
After getting the car started with a screw driver by short-circuiting the starter, which fortunately I knew how to do because I had to do this quite often with this car, I was able to get my roommate to the airport and see his lovely bride to be. I then called my dad and told him to find me another car to buy when I come home for Christmas break.
Unfortunately, that one was not much better.
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