Apart from budding trees and shrubs, cheerful birds and wildlife sightings, there is another sure sign of Spring in Princeton. It is the appearance of classic vehicles which have been stored and protected from winter ravages. Last week when I walked to the bank, I passed a bouquet of turquoise, orange and yellow cars and trucks, all squeaky clean and perfect. I have to admit that the sight of well preserved vehicles from the past excite the sculptor in me. Something is being said by the shapes of cars and the times they were being first driven.
Like many things in my life, my first clear memories were born in Winnipeg. We first lived on a street called Jubilee Avenue. It was one of two avenues that branched off Highway 75, the main route from the U.S. and an hour and a half from the border crossing at Pembina. Jubilee Avenue funneled traffic to the north east and downtown.
It was the early fifties, and for me, a time of pre-puberty when play-life was remarkably civilized and adult free. Our gang organized games with intricate rules and obscure outcomes. We went as a swarm to the Garry Theatre on Saturday afternoon to watch movies, many of which would be censored or banned as politically incorrect today. We were all given a quarter by our parents, ten cents for admission and fifteen for a chocolate bar or some other treat. (Only the silly boys would buy popcorn and then throw it during mushy, improbable scenes.) These movies would then become platforms for the following week of play where we would act out our version of the (flimsy) story we had seen on Saturday. Keeping with the formula of a serial, we never actually ended our convoluted version and waited for more fodder each Saturday afternoon.
But getting back to cars, we had a game we played during interludes between our lurid recreations of Roy Rogers adventures. It was called “Tourist Touch!”Here is how it went: We all crowded onto our front step where we had a clear view of the intersection of Pembina Highway and Jubilee Avenue. The first person to spot a “foreign” license plate and that could identify the province or state yelled at the top of their lungs, “Tourist Touch!” and simultaneously whacked the nearest person. It was a vigorous exercise during summers only. No one, it seemed, visited Winnipeg once swimming in Lake Winnipeg was over.
This game gradually morphed into a less strenuous, more civilized activity. We began to work on identifying the make, model and year of all the cars that passed. At one point in my life, when I had the photographic memory of a normal ten year old, I could snap out, “Pontiac Parisienne, two door hardtop custom sport, 1964” before even some of the boys. I knew what a Henry J was, a Packard, Edsel, Austin Healey and so on. I lost interest in the eighties when cars became boxy and homogenous. It was a melancholic ending to a great mental exercise.
In 1973, I fell head over heels for a darling little baby blue 1963 Volkswagen Bug. It was the perfect car – when it stalled, which it did at the most inconvenient intersections, I was able to get out and push/steer it all by myself. I once locked myself out late one evening and soon discovered I could raise the front trunk door, reach in through the glove compartment and lift the latch to the passenger door. It was ingenious!
So you can see why I have an affection for those voluptuous orange, yellow and turquoise cars parked on Bridge Street. I test myself once in a while and on a good day, I can still say, “Studebaker Coupe, 1952 two door Skyhawk!”