Growing Up In The Car Culture

Have you ever noticed the passion boomers have for automobiles?

Cars haven’t been just transportation for most of us, but also something cool to be seen in—or not be seen in.  Cars used to be rolling works of art or really bad road commodes.  It was all about style and looking cool back in the day.  Cars were an extension of our personalities.  It was tough being stuck with the discarded family clunker to drive at age 16.  This was especially important in our teen years when it was time to go cruising.  No one wanted to be seen in a clown car—Mom’s old broken down grocery getter or your older sister’s cast off.  Maybe, your first car was a clown car—a smelly old station wagon or one huge pile of a four-door sedan with rust holes in the quarters.

My first car was a 1960 Valiant sedan.  Talk about culture shock in a styling studio by the late automotive stylist, Virgil Exner?  Some journalists of the period called him “Virgil Excess.”  My Valiant was one of those finned cat-eye taillight Valiants with a slant six engine, pushbutton automatic transmission, and that ridiculous continental spare tire treatment in the deck lid. That first year, Valiant was just a Valiant – not a Plymouth Valiant. Chrysler intended to create the Valiant Division just like Ford did with the Edsel – Edsel Division. When Chrysler saw what a disaster Edsel was, it scrapped plans for a Valiant Division. Valiant became a Plymouth model in 1961. 

I loved my Valiant.

A lot of us had VW Beetles as first cars, which is why they command such a high price today. Boomers love them.   It’s the sweet nostalgia of a VW Beetle that keeps us hanging on to our youth.  Beetles were plentiful and cheap back in the day.  They sat on used car lots everywhere for a few hundred dollars a copy. 

Put $100 down and buy a car… 

Virtually every college from coast to coast sported dozens of VW Beetles along with the disgusting aroma of unburned exhaust hydrocarbons.  Nostalgic baby boomers want them and will pay anything to get into one.  So many are gone or survive as dune buggies.  A buddy of mine bought and restored a 1957 Beetle with the rare oval rear window.  He wanted a split-window bug, but good luck on that one.  Although so many of us called them Bugs and Beetles, Volkswagen called them the Type 1.  The hippie busses were called Type 2 models.  The Type 2 really was the first minivan.  It was so grossly underpowered that Consumer Reports deemed it unsafe because it took forever to get up to highway speed—but who cares? 

We just wanted to have fun. 

VW Beetles were no fun on a cold morning. It took forever to get warm.  Exhaust fumes would come into the cabin and give you a headache.  However, for whatever they were, they sure beat walking or, heaven forbid, being seen on the high school campus on a bicycle—with a banana seat, baskets, and a generator set with a light and taillight.     

When we were growing up, cars were king.  Every fall, new car dealers would paper up their showroom windows and tease us.  We waited in steamy anticipation.  “Come See the new Fords for 1965!!!” or “See the USA in your Chevrolet…” as sung by Dinah Shore.  My God, who could resist? 

It was pure magic.

As age 16 grew near, we watched the calendar and started marking off days until we could take our driver’s test and walk out of the motor vehicle bureau with a driver’s license.  It meant heading out on our own for the first time without an adult in the passenger’s seat.  You could leave the parents behind. 

Free At Last!!!

Back in the day, you could identify an automobile by its styling.  At a glance, you knew if it was an Oldsmobile or a Buick.  Not only were brands unique and unto themselves, so were the corporate divisions.  There was a distinct difference between Ford and Mercury, and Dodge and Plymouth.  GM had a class pecking order too.  It went something like this— Cadillac/Buick/Oldsmobile/Pontiac/Chevrolet.  GMC Trucks was a step up from Chevrolet, but not by much.  Would you agree that was the pecking order at GM, especially if you were a GM family? 

If you were just starting out in adulthood, you drove a Ford.  In time, making a little more money, you drove a Mercury.  And, when you finally arrived in the big time as a division manager or vice president, you moved up to a Lincoln. 

There are legendary brands and generations that excited new car buyers and have held the imagination of generations.  The 1955-57 “shoebox” Chevrolets—the “Tri-Fives”—have long been hot collectibles.  Yet—did you know Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957?  The ’57 Fords, though quite handsome, haven’t gained the notoriety of their Chevy counterparts in terms of collectability.  The sexy finned ’57 Chevrolet still stuns the masses 63 years later like no ’57 Ford or Plymouth ever has. 

Whenever we think of the cool street corner 1950s with cigarettes rolled up in shirt sleeves, leather jackets, and greasy kid stuff, the ’57 Chevy in all its forms comes immediately to mind along with the song “Runaway” by Del Shannon.  It was a great time to be young, attractive, popular, and hanging out with friends at your favorite cruising spot on a Saturday night.  For guys, it was cruisin’ for chicks.  For the ladies, it was flirting over a car hood to see who would try to pick you up.

No other place in the world knew and embraced the car culture like Los Angeles, California.  This was especially true right after World War II ended and it remains true today.  Angelinos love automobiles and they especially love being seen in cool cars.  The more striking the vehicle the better they like it.  Those native to Los Angeles knew great cruising spots like Van Nuys Boulevard, which seems to be the most legendary in Southern California.  Van Nuys isn’t the place to cruise anymore because it has become unsafe, but it was for a long time. 

The whole car culture phenomenon emerged from the vastness of Southern California where you could drive 100 miles and still be in Los Angeles.  Although it can be debated by many, cruising and drag racing were born here.  It was LA’s perfect climate of year-round sunshine that made cruising and drag racing favorite pastimes.  Enthusiasts hopped up their cars and just couldn’t get enough of it.  It is well documented the first official drag racing event happened in Santa Ana at an old shuttered Army base in July of 1950 according to Hot Rod Magazine Feature Editor, Tim Bernsau.  This makes drag racing official 70 years old.  Yet—real drag racers never grow old.

Robert “Pete” Petersen founded Hot Rod Magazine out of the trunk of an old jalopy and the car magazine was born.  Hot Rod grew to be very successful.  It birthed dozens of other types of car magazines and the culture flourished.  Other automotive publishers popped up all over the country, but primarily in Los Angeles.  Shows and racing events surely followed from coast to coast.  It was an exciting time to be alive and into cars.

Cruising and drag racing swept the country like an aggressive California wild fire.  The music.  The cars.  The clothing.  The attitude.  Main Street in dozens of communities across the land.  Small Town USA.  Drive-In burger joints.  Good food.  The ambiance of Americana—an element lost to the times.  We’re not what we were in 1960.  The good news is we have sweet wonderful memories.  Ideally, you were born in 1946 through the early 1950s and have the kind of memories witnessed in the great American movie classic “American Graffiti.”  Such was the way in 1962 as those first baby boomers came of age.  They wanted to cruise. 

As we came of age, automobiles became more exciting and more powerful.  That was the undoing of some of us.  A friend of mine was killed right in front of his house a Nova on a wild and crazy Saturday night horsing around.  There were others in my graduation year lost to tragic automobile accidents.  We remember this period as the muscle car era.  Chevelle, GTO, Roadrunners and GTX, Corvette, Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, AMC’s glorious two-seat AMX, the 426ci Hemi Cuda, Challenger, Olds 4-4-2, Buick GS and GSX, even the seemly vanilla Rambler Scrambler.  These were bad ass cars.  The more unusual your muscle car, the more attention it got at the local drive-in. 

We romanticize classic cars for their beauty and power—however, quality and efficiency have vastly improved since the middle of the 20th century.  Classic cars are always exciting in someone else’s garage.  Though they were easier to drive when we were younger, they can be challenging when you’ve cleared your 60th birthday.  I still have my ’67 Mustang high school car my mother gave me long ago.  I love the way it looks.  However, I’m not much on driving it anymore.  Why?  Because it’s darned uncomfortable.  Mom would agree…

Stuck In The Middle With…You?

I love Washington, D.C.

It was where I was born and raised.

I come from a long line of Washingtonians who’ve called Washington home and experienced this great city. I have ancestors who were members of The Oldest Inhabitants of the District. I love the District of Columbia for its awe inspiring beauty, charm, and the majesty of the many memorials honoring our founding fathers and those who’ve fought and died for the freedoms we take for granted. This is the greatness America has to offer in a nutshell despite its problems. Washington is very symbolic of who we are as a nation and certainly humbling.

That said – it’s time for a rant.

Do you ever feel like we’ve lost our way? And, do you find the two-party political system tiresome?  I find myself squarely in the middle—neither right nor left—or perhaps just a pinch of both. Some call this being “Progressive” or “Moderate.” Some might even call it being indecisive. Both parties have become decidedly disconnected from the average American. Each takes a lot for granted.

What has either party really done for you?

A far right buddy of mine said that if I wasn’t right nor left that I didn’t have an opinion.  Oh really?  Being neither right nor left doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, it means I am free to have an independent viewpoint. I try to think outside the two-party box.  Being stuck in one mindset limits our potential. An open mind invites change and growth. As free Americans, we are free to question the judgment of our leaders. In fact, it is our responsibility to question our leaders. Have you reached out to your representative lately?

Do you even know who they are?

Best I can tell, America needs a third party—a party with staying power that can grow and and infuse positive change in our political system. An alternative political party that can make a real difference. A movement that can break this destructive cycle of political and special interest fueled by money instead of what’s good for the People.  Imagine a third party that’s a mix of liberal, conservative, and independent beliefs. 


We really aren’t that far apart as free Americans. We just need to talk – with civility.  The system as it currently is isn’t serving the American People.

The current two-party system is broken. 

America need a neutralizer.  

Here’s something we should all be able to agree on – Our Veterans… Both parties have failed to honor and take care of our Veterans despite all the campaign rhetoric.  Politicians promise. Politicians forget – or choose to forget.  They’re elected and promptly disregard those who have fought and died for their freedom – and ours. Politicians have completely forgotten those who currently serve around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Our greatest patriots sit in these forward positions wondering what happened. They wonder if anyone really cares about them.

It is a wonder anyone joins the military. It is becoming harder to recruit and retain good people because there’s no incentive to sign up. Our Veterans who have served valiantly continue to be left behind to sleep under bridges and in homeless shelters without the dignity of having served their country. The best example I can think of are Vietnam era Vets. No one has said thank you. We owe each and every one of them a better way of life and the respect they have surely earned.

Oh sure – it is easy to thank them for their service on the fly in the supermarket or in the mall. Helps us feel better about ourselves. That’s where it ends. What have any of us really done to serve our Veterans as they have served us?

Not much…

What does this say about us?

My grandfather was a Republican who had very little patience with the GOP.  He always said when Republicans were in power hard times came with them.  Except for the Reagan years, which were long on optimism and recovery, this has been proven consistently by the GOP.  Yet – my grandfather remained a Republican until he passed in 1966 a the age of 72. He was very committed to the party. He walked the walk of party loyalty.  I remain a Republican too, but can’t honestly tell you where I will be in a year.  My mother and the rest of the family were staunch FDR/Kennedy Democrats.  I grew up believing the GOP was the evil empire.  When the family learned I had become a Republican, it changed things considerably.

I liked Reagan – hence the switch.

Isn’t it something this crazy divide between left and right when we need to be unified and focused on just being free Americans?  The divide between the parties was never as bad as it is now.  Back in the day, the two political parties worked together even under the most difficult of circumstances. 

President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill knew how to sit down, kill a few beers, and come to a mutual agreement where both sides benefited. They had great respect for each other and wanted what was best for their country. These gentlemen understood the art of respectful disagreement and compromise.

Americans used to agree to disagree on the issues and remain civil.  As a rule, people just didn’t discuss politics. They just didn’t go there.  These days, disgruntled Americans who cannot agree take their marbles and go home—never to speak again. The divide has never been greater when what we need most is unity. Instead of concentrating on our differences and attacking one another’s character, why aren’t we focusing on what we have in common?

When I consider the great political divide, I recall the crash of an Eastern Air Lines Douglas DC-9 on approach to Charlotte in 1974.  Two professional airline pilots flew this Douglas jet into the ground on final approach.  Some 72 of the 82 on board were killed.  The NTSB’s crash investigation revealed the two pilots were involved in a heated political discussion and ignored the rate of descent and altitude.  The crash, which happened three miles short of the runway, ended their discussion and a lot of innocent human lives.  That’s how dangerous politics can get when people can’t keep it all in proper prospective. 

On Election Night of 2016, I knew we were in for the worst years of our lives because one party then had all of the power and was calling all the shots. I didn’t understand how far reaching the corruption would become. I see it now. There has been no one with the courage to police this corruption. This is how it works when one party is in charge and we’re void of a political watchdog.  This would have also been true had the Dems taken both houses and The White House.

Absolute power corrupts—absolutely—regardless of party. 

Power intoxicates. 

There have been horrendous abuses of power under the current administration and the Congress.  This is why a balance of power and operating with a true commitment to the American People is important.  This has been proven time and time again throughout American history.  The United States Congress has become something of a country club and a flop house in recent decades where modest income-earning newcomers are elected to the House and Senate and remain there for a career.   

Well, what the hell is that? 

Some stress the need for Term Limits, yet it’s like complaining about the weather.  Everyone complains, yet what can anyone do about it?  The logic against term limits is stability and having constant Congressional turnover. In theory, it limits corruption because it’s a short trip. It prevents excessive amounts of power and influence gained when a member of congress has been there a long time.  It would also limit the power of special interest.

Being a member of Congress was never intended to be a career. Our founding fathers viewed it as an opportunity to serve the country.  It should be done for honorable reasons and a real desire to serve.  A good example is the perks congressionals vote for themselves including outlandish pay increases and unlimited benefits. That isn’t serving, that’s taking.  Special interest adds insult to injury.  Term limits mean fresh ideas and new approaches instead of the same old complacency. When members hold the same seat for years, they get complacent and stagnant. 

Nothing gets done.

Fresh faces sport new ideas. 

It can be safely said voters dislike the increasing role money plays in our so-called democratic government. Money dictates the plan.  Congressionals feel the added pressure of raising campaign funds instead of serving the people.  The primary duty of any member of Congress is to serve the American People.  This isn’t happening today.  They’re only serving themselves.  Our president is only serving himself.

Is anyone in Washington really serving the American People?

The down side of Term Limits is it would actually limit the freedom of the people to continue to vote for elected representatives they want.  Voters develop a loyalty to a member of Congress they come to know over time.  Voters continue to re-elect the incumbent because no one likes the unknown.  We like what’s familiar.  Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are but two examples as are Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi.  All have had long standing careers in Congress.  They’ve served their constituents well.  However, it remains unclear just how well these folks are serving the American People—which is the primary reason why they were elected to begin with. I believe some of these people need to go.

We are stuck in a terrible rut despite all the rhetoric promoting the great job Washington believes it is doing.  It has failed to effectively lead and manage a horrible pandemic, which is only growing worse as I write this.  It is one thing to promote one’s self and quite another to actually do a great job.  Doing a great job involves a lot of hard work in the trenches serving those who elected you. And—without needing a constant pat on the back for doing the job you were elected to do.

Americans develop a loyalty to their representatives and want them to stay in office indefinitely, which is why incumbents get re-elected. The logic among voters is the longer you’re in office, the better you should become at doing the job. Voters don’t like the unknown.  Not all lawmakers can legitimately claim such success.  Some are just dead weight occupying a congressional seat who need to go.  

In theory, lawmakers on local, state and federal levels who have proven themselves effective leaders should not have their service cut short by term limits, which is why there will likely never be term limits.

When I was a boy, I listened to my parents hashing out the issues of the day—the Vietnam War, racial and gender inequality, poverty, the horror of Richard Nixon being elected to The White House (remember, they were staunch Dems), and landing on the Moon in 1969. Our greatness.  The issues my parents debated 50 years ago weren’t much different than the issues we’re facing now.  We still have two wars going in the Middle East (the longest in American history) no one talks about.  Racial and gender inequality remains a topic of discussion even though we elected a black man to the presidency in 2008. We still have systemic racism.  On Main Street, racial inequality remains a huge challenge.  The same can be said for income inequality for women.  Women still aren’t getting a fair shake.    

The Democratic Party, it suffered a horrible defeat in 2016—losing it all to the GOP and Donald Trump.  It can be safely said the GOP has become the party of Trump and will continue to be so in the fall when Americans vote.  The American People aren’t worn out enough yet.  My issue isn’t just with the GOP and Donald Trump, but also Congressional Dems, who aren’t earning their pay either.  I see Washington as a complete and total failure of government.      

We need the kind of spirit America had in the post war years when we were young, on the rise, and were hell-bent to do great things—like going to the Moon, building jumbo jets, and erecting the tallest buildings in the world in New York and Chicago.

Do you know what stopped us short?  Complacency…  We stopped rolling up our sleeves and doing the grunt work necessary to remain the greatest nation in the world.

We lifted…

As the late Pete Pastere, former editor of Popular Hotrodding and a friend of mine, once said – “Never Lift!” He knew what he was talking about because Pete never lifted, which was what made him great. Pete was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident nearly 30 years ago doing what he loved most.

Pete would strongly suggest we never stop reaching for greatness.  Never get off the throttle.  Keep on keeping on—only better.  The Dems are telling us to “Build Back Better!” Then by golly do it and stop talking about it. Do it.  Take the defeat of 2016 and turn it into greatness.

Don’t just talk greatness.  Be great.

We’ve all got to put the work in.

Remembering The Town Crier

In this age of cell phones and internet service, I recall the most basic form of mass communication back in the day—public address sirens.  These guys sounded the alarm from coast to coast in communities all over America.  One Baltimore area radio announcer (WBAL) called them “Baltimore’s sirens in the sky…”  These high on a pole screamers kept people informed.  They prompted attention.

Sirens have served a number of purposes—fire, Civil Defense, severe weather, earthquake, blast warnings, mine collapse, and even the Noon whistle some places.  Whenever Washington, D.C. civil authorities sounded Civil Defense sirens all over the National Capital Area, my mother always called them the “12 o’clock whistle…” even though they sounded at different times.  She didn’t quite understand it was a Civil Defense test, nothing more.    

The most common Civil Defense siren was the Federal Signal Thunderbolt 1000T. Whenever we think of a nuclear attack warning, the 1000T comes to mind. It made a creepy bizarre sound in the middle of a school day that roared across the treetops for miles. It was an even more unsettling sound when they shut it down and it wound down to a stop. If they cycled the 1000T on and off, it became almost unbearable. It roared up and down, echoing its powerful voice through a long horn. People would run for Civil Defense shelters just to get away from the roar of a Federal 1000T.

When you heard the 1000T, you knew it was important.

Where I grew up in Maryland, local volunteer fire departments had alert sirens high on poles or on top of buildings.  They sounded three times for fire and once for the rescue squad.  Each community had its own unique siren.  My hometown had a Federal 3T22 siren, which emitted a high/low tone.  There was a time when the siren failed and both pitches sounded at the same time to produce a harmony.  They repaired the 3T22 and it was back to the familiar comforting high/low tone.  We could all sleep better.

There was nothing quite like hearing this siren blow at 2 a.m.  You knew someone was in big trouble in the middle of the night.  If it blew three times, even bigger trouble.  I will never forget the morning we had a fire in our home.  Nothing quite like hearing the 3T22 – knowing they were coming to your house. As my father and I fought the fire and choked on the smoke, the roar of those Detroit diesel-powered pumpers coming up the street was comforting. Bowie’s Company 39, and that 3T22, saved many a life and property. We can all be grateful for their service.

I’ve also lived in the Midwest where tornado warnings were announced by a collection of different sirens that created a bizarre harmony across the community.  Every once in a great while, authorities tested these sirens.  That got everyone in a panic.  Such is life in the heartland with its very unpredictable weather patterns. I recall a YouTube video where a Pampa, Texas tornado took out one of the warning sirens.

Talk about shooting the messenger?

Electronics has taken all the fun out of the siren song.  I recall sitting in my bedroom at age 7 back in 1964 listening to firefighters horsing around with the newfound bark of an electronic ambulance siren behind our apartment complex.  I couldn’t imagine what on earth that sound was.  It didn’t sound like a siren.  They played all of the different settings.  In time, that electronic “yelp” became routine.

I can remember the thrill of Federal Signal “Q2B” blower sirens on the front bumper of firetrucks.  We’ve all heard it. Federal Signal still makes it.  It is a huge centrifugal blower with choppers and orifices that let out a scream you could hear in China.  Federal Signal, manufacturer of all sorts of warning sirens, designed this puppy to make at least 123 db, which could be heard above all else, including your Bose sound system. There’s no way you wouldn’t hear it above Led Zeppelin.   The Q2B is so effective it has never fallen from grace.  It makes an incredible amount of noise.

Noise to some.  A symphony to others – like firefighters.

Alert sirens became white noise in the background for a lot of communities.  We heard them as we got about our business.  The 3T22 in my hometown became an old friend.  If you were in the shopping mall parking lot where this siren was behind the firehouse, it was startling and attention getting whenever it blew.  I’d stand there in front of the bowling alley and listen to its voice.  I’d hyperfocus on it as it wound down to a stop. 

It was an awe-inspiring sound.

Today, that old 3T22 screamer remains atop a wooden pole some 30 feet in the air full of birds’ nests and other debris. Its bright yellow finish has been bleached away by the elements over time.  It hasn’t sounded in decades—yet there it remains.  It is impossible for any of us native to the suburban Washington community of Bowie, Maryland to imagine Company 39 without that siren.  It became a familiar voice that accompanied us the whole time we were growing up. I’d come home for a visit from the Air Force and hear the 3T22, signaling memories that would remain forever.

Sirens remain a distant memory we would welcome hearing decades later. 

Living (Driving) Dangerously…

I’ve been living in Southern California for nearly 27 years. 

I will admit it—I’ve never enjoyed living here.

There, I said it…

I am here because career brought me here. 

Great weather… Alternative Society…

When I moved here for the second time in 1994, I had to ask myself why I came back. Most disturbing to me about Los Angeles was the reckless nature of the way people drove here.  Unsafe speeds.  Distracted driving.  Cutting one another off at any price including getting your ass kicked at the next traffic light.  That “me first…” demeanor.  “I’m late-I’m late—for a very important date…” and my needs are more important than yours.  Everything, including one’s self, is more important than doing what you’re supposed to be doing at the time—focusing on driving and making safety your highest priority. 

Gotta make that next appointment in Anaheim.

I’m an East Coast boy who has always believed Californians drove at outrageously high speeds and rather recklessly at that.  We maim and kill a lot of people here—with spectacular freeway crashes, road rage shootings, red light runners, distracted driving, pedestrian hit and runs, and the rest of it.  Irresponsible driving and reckless disregard for traffic laws seems to be what we are in California. 

Rolling stops or what’s known as a “California Stop…” 

Yep, there’s a ticket for that…

However—reckless driving isn’t just for California anymore.  California didn’t invent reckless driving either.  Dangerous driving is a given from coast to coast and border to border hence the great advances in automobile safety.  Automakers have become obsessed with taking control of an automobile away from motorists in order to make driving safer. We cannot be trusted at the wheel anymore.  Automatic braking and steering.  Warning lights and chimes.  Air bags.  Three-point shoulder belts.  Padded dashboards.  Flush door handles.   

Yet, there’s always some idiot out there among us who believes they can beat the train or make the red.

I’ve traveled this nation extensively and have been in 49 out of 50 states.  North Dakota remains unexplored.  I’ve never been there.  I’ll bet North Dakota’s roadways are a whole lot safer than California’s or Florida’s.  The reasons for that are obvious.  There are way fewer motorists on North Dakota’s roads.  People tend to be more civilized in North Dakota.  As you wander the Northern Plains, it’s challenging to find anyone.  It gets lonely up there and there’s always some poor slob chanting, “Where is everybody?!!!”

Just kidding…  I love the great American heartland.

My travels have taken me to a lot of great—and not so great—American cities.  In each place, I’ve found the roads have become more dangerous.  There’s less focus on safe driving and greater attention paid to getting there fast.  Plenty of distracted driving.  Always someone on your back bumper, which reminds me.  I have a passive-aggressive approach to tailgaters.  I obstruct…  I don’t jump on the brakes—nah—that can get you a bloody lip or a gunshot wound. 

I slowly ease off the accelerator and let the eternally frustrated pass. 

The most aggressive driving I’ve seen anywhere is Detroit and the I-90 corridor between Toledo and Cleveland.  I love Detroit.  However, there’s a mean spirit around Motown. People are just plain frustrated and angry.  However, Detroit is slowly coming around and heading back toward being the great city it used to be.  True Detroiters care about this city and are infusing new energy into the troubled community. 

Quicken Loans is leading the charge. 

Detroit will be great again…

Friends, seems we’ve forgotten the primary reason why we’re behind the wheel—to get there safe and alive.  Baby Boomers remember Driver’s Education in high school.  I’ve never forgotten what I learned in Driver’s Ed 50 years ago.  We got classroom time, drove simulators, and navigated in large full-size battle wagons.  We were shown the “guts in the gutter” crash films.  We were educated in the proper way to operate a motor vehicle.  Those basic fundamentals of driving have never left me.  They’re as automatic as that waltz to the bathroom to pee at 3 a.m. 

Rules of the road—traffic laws—are there for the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of any community.  These laws haven’t changed much nor have the fines and points for those who’ve chosen to ignore them. 

There for a reason. 

The most dangerous people I’ve seen on the road are young millennials.  I don’t want to sound down on young people. I’ve been a young people. I’ve also been young and stupid.  However, whenever I see some crazy stunt on the freeway, like passing on the shoulder at 100 or roaring through heavy traffic like it’s a video game, it’s a millennial.  The difference between a video game and the freeway is—when you crash at 100, you get dead.  Game Over…  Your parents, grandparents, siblings and friends get to grieve when you’ve passed all of us up. 

No time to drive with civility…

However, it is time to slow down and enjoy the drive.  I am preaching to the choir because boomers remember and understand the rules of the road and how to behave behind the wheel.  And, as we grow older, we grow smarter and remember what we were taught a lifetime ago.  We were raised by a largely responsible generation of great Americans acquainted us with the consequences of behaving irresponsibly. 

We got our butts kicked.

We also remember the emotional pain of burying our dead from traffic accidents back in the day.  My graduating class witnessed the deaths of two fellow students to traffic accidents.  One was killed right in front of his house in a drunk driving accident.  He was a passenger and the victim of a night of “hacking” with buddies. 

We were young and foolish too.   

We’ve just forgotten that we were.

Hey Nineteen…

What is it about men—and women—that makes some of us desire someone younger?

Food for thought, now isn’t it?

Whenever I hear the 1980s Steely Dan tune “Hey Nineteen” I think of this human dynamic and it is certainly not unique to the baby boomer. However, as boomers grow older this subject comes up from time to time in conversation. The established and aging business executive or the seemingly stable gent next door who divorces his wife of 35 years to marry a considerably younger woman.

When older women pursue younger men, we call them “Cougars…” implying in no uncertain terms it is an unacceptable form of behavior for a woman.

Yet—it’s acceptable from a man?

Someone please explain this lopsided thinking to me.   

When I see a middle-aged guy leave his wife for a younger business associate or someone he bumped into at the grocery store, I am inclined to ask, “I bet the sex is good, but what do you talk about afterward?” That, of course, always leads to the next question, “Man—how do you keep up with her?” You know he’s going to lie about his endurance—right? Unless he’s blessed with excessive amounts of testosterone and aggressive arterial blood flow to his extremities, he isn’t telling the truth. As nature generally goes the middle-aged guy is going to disappoint a younger lady when he’s lying there snoring and completely oblivious to her sexual needs amid the night.

Reminds of of that Eagle’s song, “Lyin’ Eyes” from the mid-1970s and some of the lyrics from this time-honored song.

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

This is where men must be mindful of the needs of a younger partner because it can get dicey if you’re not attentive and on the ball.

Big old house gets lonely.

When young and older get together, each has to stay thoughtful of the differences and keep up to date on each needs. It’s important. It is also important for a woman to remember too. Men are more inclined to comfort that old friend.

Without regular care, feeding and watering – relationships expire…

It is interesting how men and women interact and what they expect of one another. It was the Baby Boom generation, and perhaps “The Greatest Generation” that began studying the differences between men and women. The informative book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” by John Grey, PhD does a good job of defining the genders and how different we are—and how to better understand one another. Although a whole lot of us have read that book, I suspect a lot of us did not believe it applied to us – right? In truth, men and women are very different in how we think and what we are emotionally. I believe women try very hard to understand men. However, I don’t think men believe it is their responsibility to understand women.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I am a poor listener.

Time for an attitude adjustment.

I believe men and women would get along better were men inclined to really listen to and understand women.  This has been an issue for centuries between the sexes.  Sounds crazy, but  I don’t think some men have ever recovered from women getting the vote a century ago.  Guys, you know this is true.  There’s still that ridiculous glass ceiling in America where women can advance only so far, then level off at what men perceive is acceptable when, in fact, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Young men who want older women—Cougars—understand the value of an older woman.  By the same token, younger women see the great assets of tying their lives to an older man.  Those who want older partners can looking forward to the wisdom and experience that goes with being with someone older.  Older people are more established.  They’ve made most of the mistakes younger people make and are on more stable ground emotionally and financially.  Older partners are a good gamble.  Tying your heart to a younger person also keeps you young at heart too.

Mixing up the ages can also have its hazards.  If you’re too far apart age wise, there comes the challenge of what to talk about and the sharing of mutual interests.  Sometimes, it’s just the sex that bonds and keeps you together.  That alone gives you both something to look forward to once the sun goes down—and even when it’s rising. If nothing else holds a relationship together, sex always does.

Food for thought in any case…

Hey Nineteen

Steely Dan 1980

Way back when in ’67
I was the dandy of Gamma Chi
Sweet things from Boston
So young and willing
Moved down to Scarsdale
Where the hell am I?

Hey, nineteen
No, we can’t dance together (We can’t dance together)
No, we can’t talk at all
Please take me along when you slide on down

Hey, nineteen
That’s ‘Retha Franklin
She don’t remember the Queen of Soul
It’s hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I’m crazy
But I’m just growin’ old

Hey, nineteen
No, we got nothin’ common
No, we can’t dance together
No, we can’t talk at all
Please take me along when you slide on down

The Cuervo…

On The Flip Side…

Adolescence is something that comes twice in life. 

Yes, I said twice.

I remember adolescence—the heat, humidity and sweat of Maryland summer and discovering that stinky aroma reminding me to take a shower. We enter adolescence and begin to smell. It is true.  Men think of adolescence as the onset of youth— peach fuzz on our chins, hair in our armpits, the thickening of our vocal chords and the deepening of our voices – wanting to spread our wings and not be told what to do by the parents – and the corresponding depression associated with youth. 

The tedious process of becoming a man.

For women, the long-awaited arrival of adolescence is the arrival of that dreaded and cursed monthly menstrual cycle every 28 days (for the rest of your lives), a training bra, learning how to apply makeup, developing a circle of friends, fitting in, and high emotion.  Seems everything is emotional for a teen.  Becoming a woman isn’t any easier than it is for a man. 

If anything, it’s harder. 

As teens, we become goofy, clunky, awkward creatures.  We can be clumsy and reckless.  We sometimes make foolish decisions.  We want to fit in—even if it’s with a bad crowd. We want to be liked. Acceptance.  Our bodies grow at different rates.  Irregular bone and soft tissue growth issues cause muscle cramps our parents used to identify as growing pains.  I remember getting shin splints whenever I ran.  I’d get nauseous for no apparent reason.

Hormones were changing fast and we were along for the ride. 

I recall my mother and the school principal wanting to know why I didn’t want to go to school.  I was sick to my stomach a lot—nothing more, nothing less.  Being stupid clueless adults, they suspected I was trying to cut school.  The principal came up with a school project she thought would interest me – which didn’t fix the nausea. 

No one in the adult world believed I had a sick stomach.

It’s not easy being a misunderstood teenager… 

Adolescence is also about the arrival of our sexuality—the euphoria of sexual desire and trying to understand why we have sexual feelings.  Steamy passion and desires we’ve never had before.  And – the never-ending frustration of having to control these desires.

Yet, we were scared to death of them. 

We all remember because we grew up during the sexual revolution and all that free love though very little of it was free. Much of that depending upon when you came of age. Seems like the late 1960s was the peak of the sexual revolution. Woodstock, aside from incredible music and phenomenal performers, was a huge love fest for those who were daring and excited. Some found their lifelong mates there. One couple comes to mind. Their name escapes me. Woodstock was their first date and a union that would last a lifetime. That was 51 years ago.

Many a marriage began with Woodstock.  

Sex Education just didn’t spell it all out clearly enough to where we could understand why our bodies and desires were changing. It was all just so clinical as it was presented by educators and parents.  Sex was never discussed in any capacity in most households unless there happened to be a Dr. Spock book lying around.  It was impossible to believe our parents actually did it. I began to wonder as a teen if I had crawled out from under a rock. 

Our generation still believes it invented sex.   

For a teen, raw emotions are always just under the surface.  You’re not a child anymore, but you’re not an adult either.  You want your independence, yet you still want to be a kid.  It’s the realization that you’re not a child anymore. Adolescence was a time when we struggled to understand who we were and where we were going. We were seeking some sort of identity and an understanding of where we fit in.  For more popular teens—the cheerleaders, jocks, and honor students—those emotional struggles got buried in the madness of popularity, the demands of a busy social life, and having to have your ego stroked. 

Under the surface, the more popular teens struggled from the same emotions most of us did.  They had all of the same insecurities.  They often segued into adulthood and discovered being an adult was a lot tougher than they ever imagined.  Some committed suicide after high school and college or escaped into an unsettling world of drug and alcohol abuse to numb feelings. 

Some recovered.  Some have not.

Depression is something we go through very much alone even when we’re young, and surrounded by family and people who love and need us.  Those who come from troubled homes and abuse as children haven’t always escaped the emotional turmoil of growing up in dysfunctional homes.  They’ve repeatedly gotten sucked back into the insanity or turned tail and ran for their lives. 

Some never looked back.

If your journey has been anything like my own, you’ve found life has been a tapestry of experiences both good and bad that have molded who you are now.  When we are so very young, we’re at climb power as we grow into a career and gain experience.  Sometimes, there’s no career at all—just a job we go to year after year.  With an ounce of luck and raw tenacity, we begin to level off at cruise altitude by the time we are 40 and can finally appreciate the ride.  If you’ve chosen a very competitive career field, the pressure never ends. 

You just have to keep pressing on and carving out a path.    

Perhaps, your career has been the time-honored profession of raising your kids and making a home, which really is the most important career there is because you’re shaping young lives and keeping a home for your family.  Being a homemaker is surely the most thankless profession there is short of being a police officer or career military.  Rarely are you thanked for anything—especially when you have to say no. If you’re raising kids alone or married to someone who’s gone a lot, you have the enormous challenge of doing nature’s toughest job alone.  And, God help you if they’re all sick at the same time and you’re not feeling so well yourself.

Young people coming of age have long been pressured to go to college and seek “honorable” professions to make their parents proud and maintain status in the community. Such is an unfair expectation because this is not always what young people want.  I pen this wondering whatever happened to honorable trades and the teaching of trades—which don’t call for a college degree.  Why aren’t high schools teaching trades anymore?  Whatever happened to teaching young people professions that will serve them well in life?  Not every person born to this apple has to have a college degree.  Have you ever found yourself seeking a good plumber, electrician, carpenter, landscaper, brick layer, roofer, concrete finisher, construction contractor, siding installer, appliance technician, or heating and air conditioning specialist? 

They’re becoming harder to find in this college-bound society.

These are many honorable trades that have always paid well and are virtually recession proof because things always break.  Toilets stop up.  Refrigerators quit.  Furnaces break down when it’s 20 below outside.  Air conditioning quits when it’s 97 degrees with 80% humidity. Cars quit in the middle of busy intersections.  I’ve never heard of a layoff at a plumbing and heating business or an auto repair shop.  There’s always a need for good tradesmen—people who know how to fix things.

This goes for both male and female. There’s not a darned thing a man can do that a woman cannot do even better.

When I graduated from high school, the last thing I wanted to see was another classroom. I hated school.  I went into the Air Force to learn how to repair jet aircraft.  My college was the United States Air Force where I was taught a trade—aircraft maintenance—and even attended college. I got out of the USAF with visions of a high-paying airline mechanic career. There were no jobs to be had. The house was full.  Ironically, I got out of the Air Force and became an automotive journalist—and without a college degree.  It was the training I received in the Air Force and via hands on experience that qualified me to be an automotive technical writer.  I’ve been mentored by great editorial types who showed me how to be a writer.

You never know where life experiences will take you.

Earlier, I mentioned adolescence comes but twice in life and here’s why.  Our adolescence in youth is where we transition from being a child to being an adult.  Adolescence returns when you crest the age of 60 and your mind and body begin to change again.  Our senior years are a return to adolescence.

The intense sexual desire we had at 16 doesn’t have the luster it had a half century ago. It has a very humbling effect on what we think of ourselves. For men, it is especially difficult because our libido has always been a measure of our manhood. For women, menopause brings issues that make sex more challenging than it was in youth. And, damned those stinking hot flashes and sweats in the middle of the night. At our age, sexual moments are fewer and seemingly more special because they become so rare. And, so goes nature.

Many of those same emotions and feelings associated with adolescence in our youth seem to return in our advancing years.  We were getting hair.  Now, we’re losing hair.  We were growing stronger.  Now, it’s challenging to get out of a chair.  We were looking forward to the future.  Today, we’re reflecting upon the past.  Time used to drag on when we were in school or in church.  These days, time seems to roar by at dizzying speed.  Back in the day, we wondered where we were going.  Today, we know where we’ve been. Back then, we couldn’t get enough sex. And now, we’d sooner go bowling or watch old sitcoms.  When we were coming of age, we were afraid of dying.  These days, dying is less of a concern—we’ve lived our lives and it’s all good. Thank God for our longevity.

As we enter our twilight years, feelings we remember from long ago manifest themselves with startling reality.  It’s all so familiar.  It was never easy being a teenager.  And now, it isn’t easy morphing into our twilight years. 

It isn’t easy being a senior citizen despite that token 20% discount at Denny’s.

If you’re 60 and beyond, the best advice I can impart is to find new purpose. Never Lift…always seek something new. There’s plenty of need for volunteers with civic organizations who could use your experience.  Mentor those going through adolescence who seek direction just like you did a lifetime ago.  Hanging with young people keeps you young. 

Perhaps you seeking something that will line your pockets.  Go do it.  Don’t go do something you dread going to go each day.  Go do something you’re going to be passionate about. 

Whatever you decide to do, never back off the throttle.  Continue reaching.    

The Art of Respectful Disagreement Takes Practice

Ego is a volatile and fragile human dynamic. 

We’re all vulnerable to its dynamics. 

Ego is a survival tool.  It keeps us safe and alive.    

Ego can be your worst enemy.  It can get you maimed or killed. 

Ego also helps you to do better—to excel. 

Ego is what has inspired great things throughout history.

What happens when ego arrives in the middle of a heated discussion?  When two or more parties fail to respectfully disagree?  Arguments become heated when ego takes over and we can’t stand someone not agreeing with us. 

What about that?

What are we afraid of?

A healthy way to live your life is to be okay with a differing opinion.  Differing opinions—viewpoints—are what make the world go around and that’s okay.  This means different cultures and traditions.  Different beliefs.  Varying opinions.  Conservative versus Liberal.  Left versus Right.  Western versus Eastern culture.  Ginger versus Mary Ann.    Peanut butter and chocolate versus Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  Right Twix versus Left Twix.  Stock versus Modified cars and trucks. 

So many debates—so little time.

Conservatism and liberalism work well together if you experience a healthy balance of power where both political parties find common ground and a level of compromise.  One counterbalances the other though some will grind their teeth because it doesn’t go exactly the way they’d planned.  It is when the balance of power becomes decidedly tipped to either side that it becomes very unpleasant.  We’ve become so polarized by political events in recent years that we’ve forgotten how to be civil to one another—to disagree and be civil about it. 

Why must we always agree?

When did it become unfashionable to disagree?

Maybe, it always was—and no one ever talked about it.

In my humble opinion—the polarization of society began with the changing political environment in the first decade of the new millennium.  The sharp divide began with hanging chads and the bitter battle over who won the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.  Weeks later, Bush was the apparent victor.  Bush faced baptism by fire with the horrifying events of September 11th.  It looked like we were on track for real unity, with a brief display of togetherness exhibited by Congress and the masses when we perceived we were under threat in the wake of 9/11/01.

That didn’t last long…

We swiftly lost our way and what we are about – again…

The election of 2008 polarized us, with the division between left and right becoming wider with time and with efforts to unseat the winner.  There were Americans who didn’t care for the changing political landscape.  Then—when nearly everyone was so sure the left would retain power and we were about to elect the first woman president of the United States, Election Night results made monkeys out of the pollsters and the news media.  Americans, so desperate for an answer and feeling like they actually mattered in Washington, threw Pennsylvania Avenue a curve ball – and looked to a very outspoken New Yorker who was going to shake up Washington. 

He did…

Americans had had enough of the status quo from both sides of the aisle.

Career politicians had forgotten them.

Here we are again in a volatile election year promising to be the most polarized ever. Both parties see this election as a fight for the country and the kind of life each wants.  What has been long lost over time is compromise—the ability to see another person’s point of view in any capacity. 

Both sides are unwilling to listen.

I’ve always believed I can learn something useful from someone with whom I disagree.  It’s so easy if you try.  You should go at a discussion with an open mind.  When both parties in a discussion keep open minds, and without conflict, the discussion becomes as smooth as sour cream mashed potatoes. 

For one thing, you each must keep a sense of humor—the ability to laugh with each other and, more importantly, the ability to laugh at yourselves.  A good belly laugh softens any tension amid disagreement. The discussion becomes easier when you’re able to laugh.

Place your ego carefully on the shelf. 

I have close friends—brothers in arms—with whom I disagree politically.  Yet—we volley our thoughts back and forth, digest what we’ve heard each other say, and wind up the discussion in a spirit of mutual respect even when we don’t agree.  We don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s okay.  I’ve learned the dangers of volatile disagreement through the years, and lost friends I’ve known for the better part of a lifetime.  These were friends who will never speak to me again.  They were unable to accept a differing opinion and chose to end our friendship.  It was easier to walk away than it was to try to comprehend a differing opinion. 

Some just can’t.

I have a friend whose son is gay.  When he learned she voted for Donald Trump, he never spoke to her again.  I feel great empathy for both of them because, innocently, she told her son who she voted for. Her son threw away the love of his mother.  She wasn’t prepared for his response and will forever be heartbroken.  Her attempts to reach out to him have been unsuccessful. 

Today’s polarized environment can be compared to the Civil War where families battled against one another.  It was brother against brother, family against family in the bloodiest war in American history.  Scars and sensitivity remain 155 years later. In light of recent events across the country where memorials symbolic of the Confederacy have been removed, the scars run deep and the pain from so long ago unforgivable.    

I tend to be a moderate—with no particular bond with either party.  However, I try to listen to each party and understand its beliefs.  I know what I like about each party—and what I don’t.  I am liberal about some things and conservative about others.  I’ve had one friend who feels if you are a centrist, moderate, or a progressive, you don’t have an opinion.  It’s either right or left, with the middle being no man’s land.  I am afraid I don’t agree.  Being a centrist, moderate, or progressive means keep your mind open to different ideas and opinions—willing to hear each side out while forming an opinion of your own without being too vocal about it. 

Being in a free society has never been easy or simple.  Freedom is a great thing.  Our tolerance with each other is where it gets tricky.  To borrow a quote from the 1995 movie, “The American President,” and Andrew Sheperd’s (actor Michael Douglas) immortal words, “America isn’t easy…you gotta want it bad…”  He goes on to address the challenges of differing opinions and how—as much as you’d like to squelch an opposing opinion, the opponent has the same rights you do and are free to speak.

Peaceful disagreement and mutual respect are goals each of us should be searching for in our relationships.  I value friendship more than I do anyone agreeing with me.  Good solid everlasting friendships that last despite differing opinions are hard to find.  Best advice is to find the value in a differing opinion, shake hands, and play another round.

How Did We Ever Survive?

Steel dashboards.  No seat belts.  Those big Mercury sedans with the power “guillotine” rear window.  Power windows in general.  Lincolns with suicide doors.  Huge finger-smashing car doors.  Hot stoves.  Blistering hot light bulbs.  Outlets without child guard caps.  Bicycles without helmets.  Drinking out of a garden hose.  Huge stainless steel slides and Mom’s box of wax paper.  See-Saws.  Monkey bars.  Skateboards.  Running down the stairs.  And—wandering the neighborhood all by yourself.

When did all that change and why? 

What has made parents so darned protective?

Have we become so overprotective as parents or has this been a logical path toward a safer world for our children?  Seems over the top, doesn’t it?  My sister went off a bicycle at age 8 on a hill, whacked her head, and walked back up the hill in tears with a huge goose egg on her forehead and a concussion.  She had to be rushed to the emergency room.  The concussion and goose egg both went away—and she has led a perfectly normal life ever since. 

Aren’t we just a bit overprotective today?


Skinned knees and elbows.  Wasn’t that standard childhood abrasion a right of passage?  Just to be a kid you had to have skinned knees and elbows.  Scar tissue is something we earn growing up.  You can review your collection of scars and remember how you got every one of them.  I look at my hands and arms—and even my face—observe the scar tissues, and remember how I managed to injure myself as a child. 

My knees are a study in how badly you can fall and hurt yourself.

Seems we’re most vulnerable when we are teenagers—especially boys—where we are inclined to demonstrate our masculinity beginning with “Hey! Watch this!!!”  I recall working in shipping and receiving at a local department store and slashing my hand to pieces with a box cutter clowning around.  As blood poured out of my right hand, I had to wonder how I could have been so foolish. 

There was the time—age 12—I thought it appropriate to startle a sleeping cat and learned quickly why you never startle a sleeping cat.  I still have a scar on my face as a reminder of why you never startle a sleeping animal.  I always tell people I got that scar in a bar fight in Bangkok when I was in the service. 

“You should have seen the other guy…”

Probably not a good idea to come down a hill at a high rate of speed standing on your bicycle seat— especially when you’re not familiar with irregularities in the pavement.  Gravity and kinetic energy prevail, and we generally get more scar tissue.

The same laws of bicycling and common sense apply to wheelies, burnouts, hand stands on the handlebars, jumping a huge hill, and just about any other act on a bicycle that can get you maimed or killed.

And then, there’s that first motorcycle…

Observing what can be flushed down a toilet may not be hazardous in itself—but can get you killed by an irate parent who had to pay for the plumber.  I think of that whenever I remember flushing popsicle sticks down the toilet at the age of 5.  My parents never forgot.  John Dorsey Plumbing had to come to the house, pull the toilet up, and retrieve the popsicle sticks. 

It was an expense my parents could have done without.

Has anyone ever been poisoned or sickened from drinking out of a garden hose or putting a discarded cigar butt in their mouth?  Perhaps—a little-known phenomenon known as “Discarded Cigar Butt Syndrome.”  Waiting for one of these law firms to come up with a class action lawsuit again garden hose manufacturers, claiming baby boomers drinking from a garden hose as children causes cancer. 


Did sitting too close to the TV in a dark living room mess up your eyesight?  At 64, seems like it did.  I can’t see anything without my glasses. 

Mom was right…

Have you ever seen anyone with their eyes permanently crossed?  I haven’t either.  Yet, Mom always told me that if I didn’t stop crossing my eyes, they’d get stuck that way.

Ever seen a broken toilet?  Me either.  Yet Mom always said if I kept slamming the seat down, we’d wind up with a broken toilet.

There were days when I hung around her feet while she was cooking, she lamented if I didn’t go away, I was going to get burned.  She was right…

I’ve always thought sticking your finger in a light socket was educational.

It was…

You never forget the intense tingle of alternating current.

Did you ever play in the heavy rain of an intense thunderstorm?  I wouldn’t know because my mother was terrified of lightning.  She had us come in the house and take our places on the foam rubber coach (yeah…she really believed you were safe on a foam rubber sofa). 

Today—I sit outside and watch lightning.

I am still here…

Growing up, I always had an overwhelming fear of being hit by a car.  As a small child, I saw cars as the enemy.  They might run over me.  Ironic is my career as an automotive writer—for four decades.

Guess I got over my fear of automobiles.

All those things parents worry about today have merit.  They’re legitimate concerns, and a whole lot of safety equipment has come to pass as a result.  However, I’ve also found you’ve got to let a kid fall and be hurt from time to time to toughen them up.  It helps them learn to cope with physical and mental anguish.

As tough old boomers who had to trudge to school uphill in the snow – both ways – we tend to laugh at snowflake millennials for such overwhelming drama over seemingly little things.  We’re guilty of the same thing our parents were guilty of—wanting them to have a better time of it than we had.

Guilty as charged…

Basking In The Aroma of Sweet Memories

Isn’t it remarkable what our sense of smell does for memory? 

I will be in a shopping mall, or perhaps in a park, and get a whiff of a good cigar in the air and I can feel my grandfather’s embrace and hear his laughter. My grandfather was the quintessential gentlemen. He’d bounce me on his knee and show me how to make a fist and life was whole and safe.

My granddaddy was a safe harbor for an insecure little boy.  

And, what about the sweet smell of a good barbecue with burgers and hot dogs on the grille on a hot summer afternoon?  The official smell of suburbia someone should have figured out how to bottle a long time ago. 

Doesn’t this give you the overwhelming desire to go play kickball, get out your Barbies, or haul out your Tonka toys and play in the dirt?

Memory is a remarkable thing. 

Our sense of smell is an amazing memory trigger.  Any time I smell rubbing alcohol, it reminds me being five and getting a polio shot.  I can even feel the sting and hear my childhood pediatrician, Dr. Sartwell, “I’m going to give you a booster…” which meant a shot in the butt.  Shots can be so terrifying for a child and even adults.  There are those who would rather slam their hand in a car door than get a shot.

Poor souls…

Crisp, cool autumn evenings are good for the smell of woodsmoke from fireplaces that have been snoozing all summer.  It is such an incredible aroma because the smell of burning wood while you’re walking in the dusk is a smell that has been around for thousands of years.  It’s the same smell George Washington took into his nose after he chopped down that cherry tree and tried to hide the evidence from his father. 

And to think, all this time, I believed he couldn’t tell a lie.

Personally, I think we were all lied to about George, don’t you?

Woodsmoke was a euphoric reminder Christmas was coming.  As a child, I didn’t think about that much except that smell meant a huge toy fallout on Christmas Morning with the family and not having to go to school.

Big pluses.

The smell of burning plastic, which contains cyanide gas and is fatal if consumed in large quantities, reminds me of the apartments where I lived in the early 1960s.  Our apartment complex in Laurel, Maryland had trash incinerators where tenants could dump their garbage.  Each building in the Steward Manor complex had a chute on each floor.  Personnel would go to the basement of each building and start the incinerator fire, then, collect the ashes later. 

Problem with that logic was air pollution.  The smell of cyanide gas—burning plastic—permeated the complex and probably gave tenant long issues later on.  So much so that whenever I smell burning plastic, it takes me back to the early 1960s and that beloved apartment community.  The EPA outlawed trash incinerators in the 1970s. 

When I fire up the Cuisinart in the mornings for that first cup of coffee, I long for the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, which was lit by a match, to accompany that first cup.  I’ve never been a smoker—however, my father was.  He’d fire up the Sunbeam percolator.  It would perk like the Maxwell House commercials, “boop-ba-boo-boo-boop-boop!” and he’d wait patiently for that first cup. 

My father loved his coffee black.  He also loved his cigarettes and beer.  He’d light up a Salem and, my goodness, that fresh lit match and cigarette combo along with the aroma of good coffee.  Always good on a cold morning. 

Wasn’t long before there was a can of Bud’ sitting on his end table.

Also terrific on a cold morning was the aroma of a freshly lit gas furnace.  Fall mornings when my mother would switch the HVAC system to “heat” and fire our vintage Westinghouse furnace.  Dust that had accumulated on the combustors over the summer would burn off and deliver a smell signaling Halloween and Christmas were coming.

Whenever I smell green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, I am reminded of a modest little apartment galley kitchen just off Route 50 and Pershing Drive in Arlington, Virginia some 60 years ago.  My grandmother would be in the kitchen with a GE twin fan in a casement window roaring along on high while dinner simmered on a small gas stove.  When it was time for clean-up, my grandmother washed dishes by hand.  Dishwashers were considered a luxury and she wasn’t having any part of that. 

My grandfather was a stickler about maintenance on anything and everything.  Before he went to bed each night, he’d check the pilot lights on that petite gas stove to make sure they were lit.  Sounds odd today to speak of pilotless ignition, which has been around for decades.  To forget to check the pilots in those days meant the risk of a house full of highly combustible natural gas.

Why does the smell of diesel exhaust remind me of those headaches I got as a child?  Perhaps it was sitting in the back seat of an old Plymouth while my ol’ man navigated the streets of Washington, D.C. on a miserably hot and humid day amid those old Detroit-diesel powered GMC fishbowl busses and all that black smoke.  We didn’t have air-conditioned cars in those days.  Few people did.  We inhaled and had to like it.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

In those days, my dad would roar down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway past the Pepsi Cola bottling plant just outside the District Line and connect with New York Avenue, which vectored us to the heart of Washington, around the Lincoln Memorial, and across Memorial Bridge to the traffic circle in front of the Arlington National Cemetery.  We’d get onto the George Washington Parkway, which segued around to the west and south to my grandparents’ home in Arlington. 

In the spring and summer, you could smell clover and honeysuckle and it was so intoxicating.  In spring, it meant summer was at our feet.  With warmer temperatures came hope.  The freedom of spring and summer.

Do you remember those first heavy rainstorms of summer and the sweet smell of wet concrete as the storms unfolded? As those first raindrops began hitting the pavement, you couldn’t get enough air into your lungs. It was incredible. And, in the desert, even more incredible.  Living in California, I miss those more traditional smells and climatic nuances you folks in the east experience in springtime.

I will always be an East Coast boy…    

Another smell was hot asphalt being laid down somewhere in all that Washington traffic.  Always gave me a headache.  I guess you could call it remarkable all the things we managed to survive as kids that have fallen from grace.  They’re not politically or morally correct anymore.  Whenever I roll up in front of an airport terminal, there’s that diesel exhaust smell—yet it isn’t diesel exhaust.  It is hot jet exhaust, which comes from a very similar fuel known as kerosene.  Any way you slice or dice the smell of diesel or jet power—it still stinks.   

The smell of stale perfume.  Do you remember that?  Man, I do…

My mother loved Wind Song Perfume by Prince Matchabelli.  It must have been a combination of her body chemistry and Wind Song that made for a unique aroma that makes me ill to this day.  While Wind Song might evoke sweet memories for some, all I can remember is being carsick and memories of my mother cleaning me up.  Wind Song was first introduced by Prince Matchabelli in 1953.  According to Wikipedia, “Wind Song perfume has a complex but balanced construction that brings together florals with fruity, green middle notes. The scent finishes with hints of musk and amber.”

Wind Song’s ad slogan was, “I can’t seem to forget you, your Wind Song stays on my mind…”  For me?  Memories of throwing up in the back seat of a dusty old Plymouth.

Class Reunion—A Time for Celebration?

Amid June heat and humidity in an oppressive graduation gown at the Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, I got in line and walked up to receive my high school diploma.  Bowie Senior High School in Bowie, Maryland experienced one of its largest graduating classes ever—if not the largest at more than 900 graduates. 

June 15, 1975 was a big day for me because no one ever believed I’d graduate from high school.  I was a terrible student.  My parents and siblings sat there spellbound in a very surreal moment.  I believe my mother passed out—and not from the heat either.  I review my report card today and wonder how on Earth I did it.  I had more E’s than an energy-efficient refrigerator.  In most places, an “F” indicated a failing grade.  Prince George’s County Schools in suburban Maryland just outside of Washington had a different approach. 

An “E” was a failing grade.

I majored in Study Hall where I laid my head on the desk and napped.  I learned by osmosis.  All that knowledge in the classroom was absorbed into my head to where somehow, I wound up with a diploma.  I used to skip Homeroom for breakfast at McDonald’s  In truth, I was too stupid to understand that if you skipped Homeroom, you were counted at absent that day.  That worked until my mother got a call from the vice principal wanting to know where I was.

I wound up walking to school for the next few weeks.

Ten years later, I was invited to Bowie Senior High School’s Class of 1975’s 10th Reunion at the Capital Centre—known unofficially as the Cap’ Center located in Landover, Maryland.  When the Capital Center was razed and replaced with one of those town center shopping malls in 2002, it was a reminder of how long ago my 10th reunion was. 

At your 10th reunion, most of your classmates still look the same to where you still recognize them.  Bowie High’s Class of 1975 hasn’t been much on reunions in the years since 1985.  Hasn’t been much interest through the years.  Looks like a 45th reunion is scheduled for this fall if it isn’t canceled due to COVID. 

If you’re in your sixties or seventies, you understand the emotion I am about to impart.  A 10th reunion is one thing.  The 45th is quite another.  We will each approach our class reunions differently.  If you’ve been very successful, look like a Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine cover with greying temples, and are CEO of a corporation, you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself walking into a class reunion. 

However, if life has had its share of struggle and you’re working at the McCormick pepper factory separating pepper grains from fly droppings, there’s plenty of apprehension ahead.  Your class reunion is going to be hard on the ego and for good reason.

You’re going to have to be creative. 

Face it—you’re going to have to lie.  “Man, you look great!” which is the first lie when you’re silently evaluating how they’ve aged versus how you’ve aged.  “Yeah, I am a vice president at McCormick…”  That’s the second lie.  And, what the heck, are they really going to go to McCormick’s website to see if your name is on the masthead?  If you’re going to lie at a class reunion, lie big and tell them about the $3 million bonus you got last year and how you’ve copped a nice spread in Malibu overlooking the vast Pacific. 

Any way you slice or dice class reunions, it’s always about charting your progress against the progress of others.  When you bump into an old buddy and they tell you they’re the head of tropical medicine at Vanderbilt, you’re going to have to work up a good story quickly and tell them you’re the head of Body Engineering at Ford Motor Company.  Spool it up and tell them about the days and nights refining the new Ford GT.  Heck, who’s going to know? 

Then—hope they don’t have a cousin who’s in management at Ford.

Imagine the stories told at class reunions.  It would be virtually impossible to find a class reunion without its share of embellishment.  At this age, we all want to feel like we’ve accomplished great things throughout our lives—even if we haven’t.  Don’t tell them about the rented tux or evening gown borrowed from your cousin Mavis. 

Have your story ready weeks before the reunion. 

If you’re not feeling good about yourself, think about the lives you’ve touched and made better no matter how small.  Think about your success as a parent and what you’ve molded your children and grandchildren to be over a lifetime.  I have a granddaughter old enough to have children—which would make me a great grandparent.  That is quite an accomplishment—living long enough to become a great grandparent. 

Bask in the glow of your family’s success if you can.

Maybe, you had to raise three kids all alone.  Do you understand what a great accomplishment that is?  It is one thing to run a corporation or design a popular car.  It is quite another to raise children—alone—work two jobs to make ends meet and do it all well—alone.  If you are very much alone, there are days when you must surely feel defeated.  Perhaps, you’ve gotten a call from the school and your son has been suspended for fighting. 

Time lost from work.  Well—chalk it up to experience and scar tissue.  There’s a lot to be said for not having a choice.  You will get through it.

A modest paycheck becomes a few dollars smaller for lost time.  And, then there’s the tough task of explaining to your son why it better never happen again.  The thankless job of being challenged by a cocky teen.  Perhaps you’re an aging baby boomer caring for a sick parent in their nineties who requires constant care along with raising your kids, who perhaps failed to launch or lost jobs, and grand kids. 

An aging parent’s fragile life is in your hands.  Going to a movie or catching a bite with a friend are out because you must be there all the time to make sure a parent doesn’t injure themselves or forget their medication.  These are the life experiences that encompass heroes—not sports figures who are perceived heroes.  Caring for someone carries more weight with me than rising to the top of the corporate ladder.  Caregivers are angels on loan from heaven.  They are the ones who care for others around the clock without asking for anything in return.  They do it out of love.

Class reunions encompass people from all walks.  Those who’ve done very well.  Some who’ve held their own.  And, those who are jobless due to the pandemic wondering how to survive and feed their families.  We spend time at class reunions wondering where we fit into the picture and how to feel good about ourselves.

Tell you what I’ve learned in life, and it has taken time.  Don’t waste your energy competing with the Jones.  It is never good to look at someone who has been highly successful professionally or perhaps inherited a ton of money with envy because there’s no point. 

And, do you know why?

Because we’re each on our own individual life journeys.  Some of us were destined to be very successful professionally—and with the drive necessary to get there.  However, those with a legacy of great business success have also had to sacrifice all-important time with their families if they have any.  They’ve missed the most important dance they ever could have had—their kids and their spouse—because their primary objective has been to rise to the top—the oft told, “I’ve got this company grossing $800 million annually…”

That’s nice… 

Did you remember to spend time with your family?

I’ve always been a workaholic—a middle class automotive journalist who has spent a lot of time on the road, been twice divorced, and focused primarily on my career as a writer.  Having a career and being a good provider has always been everything to me.  Emotionally, however, my family has paid dearly because I’ve never bee successful at achieving balance.

Has this happened to you?

Are you wondering what happened to time?

There’s the adrenaline of career success and the pursuit of the next wrung on the corporate ladder.  And—there’s the endless passion of doing what I do as a writer.  One day, you find yourself semi-retired in the wake of another layoff wondering what’s next. 

You’ve missed the dance, and your kids and grandkids have moved on.

Be not someone who envies another’s success.  Be grateful for what you have.  If you have the love of family and friends surrounded by those who love you—that’s your mark of success.  There’s nothing greater.

And don’t forget to pick up your tux.