To the hot rodder, that ever-so-small place known as the garage is hallowed ground. Most non-gearheads don't know just how sacred it really is—to them it's just a space to store your minivan or your junk. Despite my insistence that this diminutive two-car cube is all mine, my wife occasionally sneaks junk in there when I'm not looking. Take for instance the old set of window blinds, the "bargain" outdoor umbrella and floor base we've never used, or the omnipresent Christmas decorations and plastic tree. Then there's my daughter's doodads that are not important enough for her to keep in her room, but that are too important to throw away. These always end up in garage purgatory. (Hint: The more time you spend there, the less chance there is of someone sneaking in to dump something.) I want to throw all this extra junk away, but the women in my life not only have eyes in the back of their head, they're clairvoyant too. It's a delicate negotiation that can sometimes mean the difference between getting the green light, or the big red octagon of zero progress.
My wife's got her fancy parlor sitting room full of furniture I'm not allowed to touch. In exchange, I get the man cave, or at least most of it. After 24 years of marriage, I think I've done a pretty good job of staking out my territory, and all kidding aside, I honestly have to thank my great wife for that. Happily married hot rodders can attest that if the wife isn't on board, your man cave simply isn't happening. My man cave is far from the nicest out there, but I still love it. My friend Kenny has the nicest—it's actually a detached guesthouse (bigger than my entire home) with a three-car garage. It houses a couple of his Mopars and a killer collection of guitars and amps. Most importantly, it has successfully avoided collecting other household detritus, and is therefore a model man cave.
Last month, I actually cleaned up my garage. I figured I'd get rid of some stuff and clean it at the same time—who knows, maybe even do a little decorating. Now, it looks nicer than in this picture from last year, but isn't as nice as I thought it would turn out. The problem is: What do you throw away? The second you get rid of something that you think you'll never use again, that's when you or your buddy needs it. So you take mental inventory, find a new spot for your trick transmission dipstick tube, and forget about it again. When you need it next, you still won't be able to find it, but at least you know if you've got it or not.
The funny thing about man caves is how little work actually gets done on cars. That's the pretense for the whole thing, and if you don't do some kind of work on your cars there, the man cave privilege can be revoked by the wife in charge. Ditto for the tool-buying license. Stuff does occasionally need to get fixed in there— it doesn't matter if it's a car or a household appliance. Beyond that, it's your Shangri-la, your Garage-Mahal.
What do you like to do in your man cave? Besides working on my Nova or my Laguna, I like to spend all my free waking hours in there doing all kinds of junk. I've got some comfy chairs and a small table in mine. A cheap mini-fridge no longer works or chills the beer, but serves as a stand for my boom box. The Miller Electric ArcStation is a great workbench, but is now piled with rock 'n' roll CDs and cigar boxes that I can't seem to part with. I've got my share of cool banners hanging on the wall (TCI, Hooker, Lunati, NOS, and Mothers), a nice piece of Trosley garage art (thanks George!), and some used shooting range targets designed to scare away intruders. (Depending on how close they look at them local gang members are either frightened, or feel their odds are pretty decent!) There's always a couple of amps with some Gibsons and Fenders lying around, but I'm proudest of my Craftsman roll-away and Harbor Freight tool cart, which are stuffed full of great tools that don't get used as much as I'd like.
I'll pass away the time smoking cigars, listening to hard rock, thinking about magazine stuff, reading the Summit catalog, writing songs, or playing one of my guitars. As the winter months roll in that amount of time will increase, and here in SoCal, it won't actually be freezing—a big plus. Sometimes my wife will join me in a big comfy chair I reserve for her. At the end of the day, we'll sit in there with the garage door up, and watch the sunset or the twinkling stars. I listen to her stories of daily work angst while puffing on a stogie from Thompson Cigar Company, nodding or grunting once in a while to let her know I hear. My Nova hears all, but says nothing.
I really enjoy having friends over to the man cave. That's when everything clicks, because pretty much everything that's important to me is all in one place. Friends, family, cars, guitars, and cigars. When I think about it, this is where I've spent some of the most substantive, creative hours of my life, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. And you've read more than a few stories I wrote while sitting there. It's not all been good though. The scariest moment ever was after a photo shoot. I invited a friend over to shoot his car, and afterward we had a beer in the man cave. We were relaxing, shooting the bull, smoking cigars, when this crazy guy walks right up my driveway and into my garage, then starts ranting about how he moved here from Compton and how he's going to take over the world. Somehow, we got him to leave without incident. When he was gone, Richard says, "I thought you knew him?!" I said, "Hell, no, but I sure was eying that crowbar!" It was scary, but no harm done. And now we've got a funny man cave story to tell.