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THINGS THAT GO /Norman havers 1 SUPPOSE IN THE OLD days of the Western range a boy started riding a horse at an early age, and the horse, centaurlike , became an extension of his body, and was centraUy, almost unconsciously involved in aU the trials, losses, gains and exultations that ultimately defined .his character. By the time I was growing up in California the automobUe had taken over that role. In retrospect I see that my defining adventures, those having to do with my relationship to the land and the time, had the automobUe as their core. In my day in California you could get your driver's Ucense when you were fourteen. You had to have a learner's permit for at least two weeks, so fourteen days before my fourteenth birthday, I took out a learner's permit (my father had been teaching me to drive for the past year in pea-soup fog in the Berkeley hüls), and on my birthday I took my test and became a fully licensed driver. My first car was a 1928 Oakland touring car. That wiU make you think I am quite elderly, and from a weU-heeled famUy to have owned such an elegant vehicle. The truth is, this was 1949. The car cost ten doUars, and I and nine of my friends each contributed a doUar to buy it. It only had high-gear functioning, so we could only drive it downhill. We would wait with our long heavy car at the bottom of Spruce Street until we could get some nice person to tow us up to the top, a distance of four or five miles, and a gain in elevation of about a thousand feet. Lucidly the car had no top and no windshield, because it also had no fuel pump. One person drove, one person stood on the front seat next to him and leaned over the engine and slowly poured gasoline into the carburetor, and the other eight of us fought for "shotgun," that is to say, seats next to the doors so we could sit jauntily with our elbows out the nonexistent windows. But once I started having real cars, that I reaUy owned and drove, they were aU pre-war Fords. My first was a '36 fourdoor sedan, then I had various other '36s, either sedans or threewindow coupes. FinaUy I worked my way up to a '40 coupe, then a '40 Merc convert. I feel a Uttle sorry for kids these days. Most of them start out with virtuaUy new cars that cost several thousand doUars. Our pre-war cars (they stopped making cars for The Missouri Review · 25 a few years during the Second World War, so for us aU cars were divided into two categories: pre-war and post war) cost us between $150 and $300, which meant we could pay for them with our minimum-wage after-school jobs. In high school we were aU absolute conformists. PoUticaUy we were right-wing conservative, pro-American, anti-communist. And yet we did break down into two groups: those who drove pre-war Fords, and those who drove pre-war Chevies. That was the first incipient spUt into left and right. I am willing to bet that those who drove Fords tended to end up—years later—voting Democratic, and those who drove Chevies RepubUcan. Nowadays those people who drove Fords then are likely as not driving Japanese cars, but those who drove Chevies—here is the real conservatism—I suspect are stiU driving General Motors cars. Don't think things like this don't cut deep. AU my friends were Ford people, and a lot of them got into hopping up the engines, so of course I had to give it a try. I didn't know anything about engines, except the slang. At this point I had a beautiful "cherry" '40 coupe, or rather, a '40 coupe, (the "Ford" was understood), plus a spare engine block, and I decided I would hop it up. I started from complete ignorance, but those old flathead V-8 engines were so easy to work on that I managed with just common...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 25-38
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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