Friday, January 05, 2007

"The Galaxie Returns!"

When I was 17 in 1977, I bought a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 (for $350) with a four-barrel, dual-exhaust 390 that was coupled to a manual transmission with an electro-mechanical overdrive. Some would say the car was just a boat - good for plowing sloppily ahead, but not good for turning or stopping. Weighing in at three tons (6,000 pounds), and with brakes that faded badly after just one hard stop, that boat assessment is not without merit, but it was fast (getting about six miles to a gallon of gasoline - it took vast amounts of fuel to make it that way) and was a great cruiser.

I liked that model (61-64) a lot at the time (the 61 being the least favorite, the 62 liked because I had it, the 63 looking meanest of the four, and the 64 looking best overall), and still retain some of that feeling, even though I would never want that car to be my daily transportation now. In fact, I liked the car enough, that it used to appear in my dreams over here in Japan - generally featuring me discovering it parked on a nearby side street and thinking "My Galaxie! It's not gone!" and waking up in a sea of worry about what to do for parking and how to feed the monster here in Tokyo. I thought I had gotten over that when I recalled - within a dream a few years ago - how badly it handled and what lousy brakes it had, prompting me to think "Naw... I don't really want this thing." but then....

I go to bed on the night of January 1st, 2007, and drift off to a world with a sparkling 1962 Galaxie 500 in it and I am enchanted once again... enjoying the dream until worries about insurance, parking & fuel costs, etc. creep back into my consciousness. I wake up on January 2nd in a cloud of worry about how to handle the ownership of that six thousand pound armored car. As I think of what to do, it dawns on me that I don't have to do anything, since it was just a dream and I'm not responsible for that car any more.

What it all means, I don't know.... Recently, I'm more anti-automobile than anything; not owning a fire-breathing monster of a machine myself these days, and living in a quiet apartment that there is talk of ruining by constructing a four-lane major road that would run right by my window, as I contemplate the noise and toxic gasses that would leak into my living space, I find myself thinking "Bloody car owners! Let them walk! I hope fuel costs triple in cost!", etc., sincerely hoping that the cost of private fire-breathing machine ownership rises to the point where the number of cars on the road decreases and there is no "need"(?) to ruin my living space for the sake of the bloody machines.

I guess the car coming back in my dreams is a reflection of the incredible experiences I had in that car - from first dates to band hauling to accidents (with an 's') to winning acceleration races (that pre-smog equipment Thunderbird four-barrel dual exhaust 390 pumped out some serious power for 1977, when I was driving it) to drive-in movies (four people could fit into the trunk) to (with the help of friends) fixing the brakes, replacing the carburetor, generator (not an alternator), starter motor, clutch throw-out bearing, etc. etc.

Modern tires and brakes, coupled with grippier road surfaces and lighter cars have largely eliminated one hair-raising aspect to motoring with 1960's US cars - the screeching of four tires grinding off rubber as a very heavy car skids towards disaster while panic braking. The sound of three tons of iron in a four-wheel skid is an incredible sound - I remember one fine day when I had just steered to the left to go around a slow moving car and I was beginning to accelerate (a sudden occurrence in that car) - the slow car suddenly turned left in front of me (with no turn signal or other warning) and I jumped on the brakes putting the car into one of those four-wheel SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH decelerations that brought out several people from their houses - come to see blood and carnage no doubt - as that sound would lead you to believe that something very bad had happened (I drove slowly away from that near miss - amused by the people craning their necks looking down the street past my car in vain for the wreck they were sure had happened), and I remember now several times while growing up in the sixties when I heard "SCREEEEEEEEE-Crash/Smash/Bash!!!" and there would always be the morbidly fascinating sight of two cars with varying degrees of bent up metal and broken glass. But you have to expect that when there are large fleets of over-horsepowered, under-tired and under-braked cars with dismal handling out on the roads.

Back to riding on the crush-rush trains... no pleasant thing that, but very predictable time and cost-wise. Psychologically though, I'm not sure how high of a cost we Tokyo commuters are paying. I guess if it isn't one thing, it's another...?

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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