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Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004 01:26 pm

Grace about town 9-30-04

Things are good

Cars have never been my thing. But last Friday night I got to ride in a Thing in the Route 66 Festival Cruise -- a Volkswagen Thing, to be exact. So that brings things (such as they are) full circle.

First, me and cars. I try not to hit things in my car. I'm generally successful, except for sometimes. When I was in college, I was hit by a station wagon (the fault was mine), my car was totaled, and my apparently lifeless body was dragged out of the car and into an ambulance. This was (I hope) the most dramatic moment of my life, and I wasn't even conscious during it. That's the last time I was in a car without wearing a seat belt, by the way.

My dad has always been crazy about cars. Sometimes on weekends we'd go to car lots and check out the new models. New models of what, I have no idea, but boy, he loves cars. At one point I decided I should learn what kind of car was what, so as we drove down the street, I'd have Dad point out different models. I studied them diligently, searching vainly for distinguishing characteristics. This went on for at least six or eight blocks, until I decided it was the most boring thing I'd ever experienced.

Now I rely on color for car identity. "What kind of car is it, Gracey?" my brother David (also a huge car nut) will ask. "It's green," I'll say, and he'll howl with laughter. At least I'm always sure of the color.

I had a boyfriend who drove a beautiful silver Mercedes. I don't know what kind precisely, except it was sporty and had some letters and numbers in the title. It probably went about a billion miles per hour, but LA traffic prevented us from actually testing that theory.

One evening after leaving a video store, I stood in front of a shiny silver car, waiting to be let in. The boyfriend was dumbfounded as well as horrified, because I was in front of a crummy Toyota (or perhaps a Malibu, or a Ford Taurus?). After that, I did my best to pay better attention (I memorized the letter/number combination on the trunk of his car and always checked before trying to climb into the vehicle).

My (current) Boyfriend (MB) is a car nut, with eclectic taste in cars. Before we met, he'd had a bunch of different kinds, including an MG, a Jaguar, a Porsche, an Opel, several VW bugs, and, yes, a Thing (but don't ask me what any of these cars looks like).

Over the years he'd sold them, but he recently acquired a new (to him, anyway -- it's a 1974) VW Thing. It's white, and it reminds me of a Jeep. The doors come off, the windshield folds down, and you can take off the rearview mirror. I asked why you'd want to drive around with no windshield, and MB said, "Airflow." Hmm. It's a stick shift, and it's really fun to drive. The concept of "fun" driving always escaped me until I drove the Thing. Driving along, I want to sing the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" song, although MB said we'd probably sink if we tried to drive it on the lake.

We entered the Thing in the Route 66 Festival. Friday night, we drove to the Illinois Department of Transportation parking lot, which was packed with all kinds of cars -- red, silver, white, the whole spectrum. Old cars and new, classic cars, souped-up hot rods. We pulled up behind a 1940 Ford Model A. The owner had a bubble machine in the back and a horn that played different tunes. He was excited to be at the festival and was surprised that we were local. Lots of people were from other places, as a matter of fact. Everybody was very friendly and carried on earnest conversations with MB about horsepower and transmissions (every car needs one) and other car-type phraseology.

The cruise from IDOT -- down Stevenson to Sixth Street, over to MacArthur, and finally downtown -- was a whole lot of fun. People lined the streets, and we honked and waved. I discovered that when you smile and wave at a person, he or she can't help but wave back. It must be some basic human reflex, like sneezing. As we drove past, sometimes we heard "It's a Thing!" How do so many people know about the Thing? Clearly they pay attention.

Saturday morning, we parked the Thing at the festival (it was the only Thing there) and walked around to admire the cars. If I ever wanted a cool car, it would be a Morgan. Several of the classy British-made sports cars that were on display were actually brought to the festival by their English owners. There were also some beautiful Thunderbirds, including a blue one with a blue interior that I wouldn't have minded driving. I'm not saying I'm going to start saving up for something more exciting than my reliable Honda Accord, but looking at all those lovingly preserved/restored vehicles helped me understand why so many people are crazy about cars.

The longer I've been back in Springfield, the more I realize the great number of things going on around here. My choices are limited if I'm in the mood for sushi, but besides that, there are scads of possibilities. There were so many events here and in nearby towns this weekend, it was impossible to do everything. I know I've said it before, but I'm not kidding: Get out, have some fun. When you're 98 years old, you won't look back and think, "Gee, I wish I would have done more laundry/spent more time dusting/ironed a lot more."


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