I am so dumb — that New York Times piece was a five-part series, not 3.
It focuses on Elyria, Ohio, my hometown (though I’ve been in Sioux Falls for 11 years now, and also lived in Minnesota for a year and Rhode Island for 3 years). The feature is about a downtown diner, trying to make it, and the cast of characters who come in and out.
But this last part focuses on a classic car show, and maybe that’s why it’s my favorite.
A 1966 Ford Galaxie, sky blue. A 1956 Chevy Bel Air, blue and white. That 1957 Buick Special, with its requisite touches: fuzzy dice dangling from the rearview mirror and an American flag at full-staff on the antenna. Their gleaming chrome can blind.
Cars matter to Elyria, especially cars like these. Beyond their evocation of open-road possibility, they have the aerodynamic brawn to carry one’s expectations through any wall, into the future. They remind the city of when thousands worked at the General Motors plant here; when automobile subcontractors peppered the city; when, a century ago, the Elyrian industrialist Arthur Lovett Garford produced a horseless carriage called, simply, the Garford.
I don’t know anything about cars. Even though my dad worked for General Motors for more than 45 years. Even though I ran a 1,000-ton steel press for the metal-fabricating GM plant in Parma, Ohio, for a summer. Even though my dad served time for stealing cars (among other crimes).
When I think of Elyria, I absolutely think classic cars. I had many friends in high school who were obsessed with restoring cars.
And, because of my dad’s former bad habit, memories of riding in a lot of different kinds of cars — for a short time before they “went into storage,” which it took me a long time to figure out what that really meant. I could talk to my dad for hours about cars — which involves me asking a question and then listening as he talks about the car he lost in a game of craps (technically, he lost the money to pay the insurance, and my grandmother sold the car because of that), the car he and my mom drove too fast over some railroad tracks after a game of barboot (another dice game), the car they rented in Florida once on a trip to save their marriage (didn’t work). The blue Corvette they had. The brown Corvette where I burned my legs on the pipes on the sides (what are those even called?). The black Chevy Caprice I can remember riding to church in.
I should call my dad and ask, write down each car and its history, before I lose all these memories and the details that belong with them.
Sounds like Donna, from the article, maybe had a similar life:
But Donna outpaces them all. On a shelf behind her cash register are displayed 27 miniature car models, including a 1957 Ford Thunderbird and a 1959 Chevy Impala. In her driveway, she parks a 1975 black-and-white Chevy Camaro that, when she guns it, makes her feel 40 years younger.
And in her subconscious, the search continues for the car of her childhood: her mother’s 1963 Chevy Impala convertible, a buffed-red thing of beauty that — when its top was down — could blow away the daily woes of a troubled household.
But this magical convertible vanished one day to become Donna’s enduring symbol of the almost. Her mother says that Donna’s hard-drinking father got drunk in Cleveland one night and forgot where he had parked it, but Donna has always assumed that it was repossessed.
“We lost the car, we lost the house,” Donna says.
It’s a really good series. About my hometown. And the soaring poverty rate. And the downtrodden. And the hopeful.
This diner is right around the corner from the local paper, where I used to work. I don’t remember ever going to it, or its previous incarnations, for lunch. But I sure wish I did.
Good luck, Donna.
And thanks, NYTimes, for writing about my hometown.