Saturday, March 12, 2011

I was young and she was beautiful...

     ...from a photographer's notebook

I have owned a lot of automobiles, as my decades on the planet might suggest.  But not that many cars.  Not quite as many as would be the mean for someone with this many years on his odometer.

The reason is simple: I tend to get attached to my cars.  Well the good ones at least, and there have been many good ones. One of my two current cars is a 1990 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe.  I bought it new, which means it will be 21 in October, as I bought it toward the end of the model year.

But this little story is not about my longest owned car.  It’s about my first new car, and, oh, was she a honey.  And oh, was I young.

I’ve thought of her over the years.  Wondered who might be loving her now, keeping her garaged, lovingly maintained, and driven only in fair weather…polished to a fare-the-well…and pampered.

More romantic to think of her that way, rather than the more likely scenario that twenty years later, guys in tee shirts were probably chugging beer out of frosty cans that once were part of her sleek body panels.

But what triggered this little stroll down memory lane was actually a bit of serendipity involving my photography...which goes back to even before I held my first car keys.

Earlier this month, I worked on a program about my home town, Baltimore, Maryland for the Voice of America. I was invited to work up a slide show of some of my photographs of Baltimore for my broadcast organization's web site.. While I took some new photos for the story, I got to thinking it might be fun to plumb my image bank for some real “legacy” photos of the ol’ home town, before all the modernizing that came with such projects as the Inner Harbor. And, as Baltimore was represented in some of the earliest efforts with my cameras, I just knew that, lurking amidst boxes and boxes of hopefully not faded color slides from the ‘60s might be some images showing the Baltimore in which I grew up.  Maybe they’d even be good!

Now, this has proved to be a somewhat helter-skelter search, as I only developed a serious filing modality more recently.  And, truthfully, I’d not done all that much with my Baltimore images in the past several years.

But I knew of a couple boxes of slide trays from the early ‘60s, whose depths I had plumbed a couple years ago for some photos of New York taken in 1963.

So into that first box I delved. No, I didn’t find my stealthy teen rookie photos of Baltimore's infamous “entertainment” district, The Block.

But I did come upon a tray of slides taken of that first new car.  Taken with all the pride that anyone who loves cars and cameras knows so well.  Funny how that new car smell also triggers a keen photographic response!

Guess it’s time I told you what “she” was…

She was also a Ford. No, she wasn’t a Thunderbird, although she wore the T-Bird badges on her front fenders to signify that purring under her broad, sleek hood was the big 390 cubic inch displacement Thunderbird V-8 that also powered the primo Ford Luxo-machine of that name.

Taken with pride in the summer of '63  ©Steve Ember
She was my 1963 Galaxie 500 convertible. My first “new” car.

A source of automotive pride.  An emblem of an era of optimism…and Camelot.  Yes, she came home with me in the early summer of 1963.  John F. Kennedy was our President, with the lovely Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as First Lady.  They brought a special aura to Washington.  The situation in Viet Nam had not become the morass it soon would.  Cuba was worrisome, but the era was called “Camelot,” after the Lerner and Loewe musical play of that name.  King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, the Round Table, where might served right.  At least that was how it began. And how could one not feel optimism, mixed with glamour. 

And, yes, the better cars being turned out by Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, GM, Chrysler, and Ford were emblems of that optimism mixed with glamour.  And why not? Gasoline was less than a quarter for a gallon of premium.

You could lower the top, turn up the radio and hear Vic Damone, George Shearing, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Ella, Rosie Clooney, Percy Faith, Bert Kaempfert. 

Times were good.  And she...was beautiful.

©2011 Steve Ember


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