I turned 50 the other day, and it gave me a laser-like focus on the fact that life is too short to waste. I've seen America pass a few milestones in that time—some of them good, some of them bad. Overall, I'd say we're physically better off than we were in 1963, but I think technology has, to one extent or another, made us lazy, rude, and dull. Take the telephone for instance. In the old days, a phone lasted forever, it could take a beating, it didn't ring often, and when it did, it was always someone or something important. If you didn't answer, no biggie. The caller knew you were gone and he'd call back later.
Now our phones run our lives. Besides phone calls, there's text messaging, emails, chat rooms, IMs, Facebook alerts, app updates, meeting reminders, ad neaseum. And if someone has actually taken the time and trouble to physically be with you face-to-face, you're obliged to be rude to that person and answer your phone/text/email without so much as excusing yourself. I'm sure everyone knows a guy like this: I've got one friend who is so addicted to his iPhone that even when we're supposed to be chillin', he's pecking away at it like a madman, as if the world's going to come unhinged if he stops. He's there, but he's really not.
In the old days, we didn't have computers or smartphones, but we did have TVs. They were American-built—and if you were lucky, you had a color set. It was made by Zenith, Magnavox, Philco, RCA, or if you were rich, Curtis Mathes. You bought it from your local appliance dealer, or maybe Montgomery Ward. You got two stations really good, one sort of good with a little antenna origami, and one really fuzzy channel on something called UHF. You didn't need a remote control because there was only one program worth watching at any given time. (Guess what hasn't changed.) Most of the time, there was nothing good on TV, so we played outside—a novel concept these days.
Growing up, I was only allowed to watch TV on the weekend or special occasions—like when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. America used to do cool stuff like that. NASA stopped putting men in space in 2011—but no worries, the Chinese can get you there if you've got enough cash. They hardly watch any TV, and they aren't allowed to surf the Internet—coincidence? These days, my kid lives in front of the TV. She changes gears during the commercials to text message her friends. At her age, I had a job bussing tables and washing dishes.
Back in the '60s, the entire globe drove American cars; people only rolled in something else if they lived behind the Iron Curtain, or couldn't afford something that nice. It wasn't even up for argument—American-built stuff was always the nicest. Imports were for cash-strapped lowbrows. The world bought Chevys, Fords, Dodges, Pontiacs, Plymouths, and AMCs. (You get extra points if you remember the Bangkok-based AMC dealership in the 1974 Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun.)
Personal computers and the Internet have unintentionally spawned what I believe to be a huge setback in our hobby, and civilization as a whole. For one thing, everybody's a self-proclaimed expert, and they'll tell you so. Rudely. It is no longer a requirement to earn your bona fides in the shop, on the street, or at the track. Just hang out your shingle on a message board or on Facebook, and start typing. The anonymity of the Internet has dissolved all vestiges of polite society to the point that it has spilled over into public interaction.
But that's not even the worst part. The Interweb has become a proxy for doing all kinds of stuff in the real world. In the car enthusiast universe, many people no longer go to the track, to cruises, to speed shops, or to car shows. Some low-functioning hot rodders have either stopped going to “brick and mortar” events altogether, or maybe in the case of younger fans, never even started. In place of doing real stuff are message boards with drawn-out threads full of useless, insulting drivel, their only apparent justification being to drive up post counts, try out new emoticons, and collect “likes.” I'm waiting for the day Google or Facebook announces a virtual hot rod “iTour,” where laptop jockeys everywhere drive their imaginary cars on an imaginary trip to an imaginary track for a make-believe race. Don't laugh—it's probably in the making right now. (My apologies if the joke's on me and it's already happened.)
People and their steel hot rods are more than a stream of electrons on the other side of a Malaysian-built keyboard. For the time being at least, we're all still real, and life is short. Don't type about going on the Hot Rod Power Tour, g'head and just do it. Sign up for the AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge. Go to a Goodguys Autocross. Ask to get into our no-cost Muscle Car of the Year competition. Head out for an Optima Qualifier event. Make a pilgrimage to Bonneville. Hell, just drive your Chevelle to the grocery store once in a while. As the winter winds down, I'm asking you to mark some fun junk on your calendar while it's still open. Make plans to see America in your hot rod—and let America see you in it! Just make sure to turn off your cellphone.