It occurred to me today that I'll probably be the last editor of Popular Hot Rodding who can remember 1969 with any clarity, well, with as much clarity as any 6-year-old could have. Things I remember: watching dragsters on ABC's Wide World Of Sports, opening presents on Christmas Day and getting my first set of Hot Wheels, the smell of the candy counter at Sears, seeing winged cars with stupid long nose cones, playing with my HO-scale slot cars till the ozone made my nose tingle, using a complete tube of Testors cement to build a model car kit in less than an hour, and watching the Uniroyal Tigerpaw commercial where a running tiger morphed into a Dodge Charger.
I also remember sitting on my dad's lap watching The Huntley-Brinkley Report, both of us sitting silently as the names of the casualties from Vietnam scrolled down the TV screen. I remember Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, the first 747 jumbo jet, and seeing pictures of a huge skeleton of a new building called the World Trade Center. On special occasions two or three times a year, we'd go to this place called McDonald's and get cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes. We ate in the Rambler, 'cause there weren't any seats inside.
My mom taught piano lessons in the afternoon. One of her students was a boy named Craig Johnson. I'd make so much racket during the lesson that Mrs. Johnson would take me out to the Seven-Eleven for a Slurpee. Mrs. Johnson was very nice to me, and she took me in her Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser wagon for my weekly brain freeze. Her husband was a prominent local gynecologist, and the Vista Cruiser was an appropriate status symbol. Sleek, powerful, space age, comfortable, and full of luxurious appointments. It had a wonderful smell that I can still remember, and I imagined myself in Neil Armstrong's Saturn V rocket when I rode shotgun. In that car, there were no bombings in Cambodia, no riots in Chicago, no Soviet missiles, no Phase I economic recovery plan.
As we roll through 2009, a lot of things are the same as 40 years ago. An unpopular war rages thousands of miles away with no end in sight. Unemployment and inflation are out of control. Yet despite all the turmoil, we're experiencing an embarrassment of riches from Detroit in the form of Camaros, Mustangs, Challengers, Chargers, Pontiac G8 GTs, Cadillacs, Corvettes, and a whole lot more. Some Americans just don't get it, though. When they look at one of these machines and think about the world's problems, all they see is a horrific short circuit in the system-the same way they did in 1969. When you and I see a new Challenger or Mustang, we see art, we feel hope, and we experience passion. We drive one and we're made whole again. We hear one and we're transported to a time and place where we are young and full of restless energy.
Even in 1969, I had the sense that it was all a transient thing-the styles, the cars, the problems on TV, and my underling status as a first-grader. Next year, I'll be a big kid in the second grade. I'll get even better toys for Christmas. Men will drive cars on the moon! The year 1969 will never happen again, but we can relive the truly important parts, like riding in the Vista Cruiser for a Slurpee, or sitting in the Rambler drinking an impossibly thick milkshake.
As we go through difficult times again 40 years later, let me make the wild suggestion that you experience 2009 as the high-water mark that indeed it is. We should acknowledge that performance as we know it won't last forever, so do yourself a favor and go to your local Chevy, Dodge, Pontiac, Chrysler, or Ford dealer and take a test drive while you still can. Take someone special with you, too. I can promise you that when you look back in 40 years from the comfort of your Chinese-built electric scooter-box, it will be one of your fondest memories.
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