Friday, October 10, 2008

The Submarine Races

It's hard to believe today's headlines that have General Motors teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. There used to be an old saying: "As goes General Motors, so goes the rest of the country". That was certainly true in the 1950s when GM ruled the automotive world. Not only GM, but Ford and Chrysler too owned the American car market. Rising gasoline prices and the arrogance of Detroit executives put Toyota and Honda on the map to stay.

In Brooklyn, your car was an extension of who you were. Any kid over age 12 could tell you the year, make and model of any car that drove by. Cruising around the neighborhood in your souped up Mercury with the windows down and the radio blasting Bill Haley and the Comets was too cool. Steaming up the car windows at the "submarine races" at Plum Beach was a dream date. Gas was cheap and we didn't really have enough money for anything else. Cross Bay Boulevard near the Big Bow-Wow burger joint was where you went drag racing to prove your car was hotter than anyone else's. This lifestyle was captured perfectly in George Lucas' classic film, "American Graffiti". Anyone who saw it knows that George got it right.

Cars gave you the freedom to go to exotic places like drive-in movies. (For you youngsters, this was a huge outdoor theater where you parked your car, hung a speaker on your window, and listened to mediocre movies). Notice I said "listened" because if you were lucky, you never got to actually see the were too busy "making out". If you went to the drive-in with just the guys, it was common to put two guys in the trunk of the car to cut down on the price of admission. I remember two drive-ins in particular: The Sunrise Drive-In where we almost always went, and the Whitestone Drive-In where we never went because it was in the friggin' Bronx.

My fantasy car growing up was the 1957 Chevy Bel-Air. It was one of the first really sleek looking cars with awesome fins, not the over-the-top Cadillac fins, but ones that fit the car's proportions and design. And the color had to be aqua. From time to time I watch the Barrett-Jackson classic car auctions on cable TV. They sell lovingly restored cars from the glory years. The audience is filled with guys my age who couldn't afford their fantasy cars when they were younger, and line up to pay through the nose for them now. Needless to say, I plan to stay far away from these auctions.


Children's Craniofacial Association

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