I grew up in an anti-car household. My father hated them because they were a poor investment. He couldn’t find any justification in purchasing something that depreciated by 50% the instant you drove it off the lot. But we also couldn’t get by without having any. We lived in a village quite a ways outside of the city, with no access to public transportation, so my parents each needed one – my father for commuting, my mother for doing all the family errands of groceries and doctor’s appointments and the like. And as my brothers and I got older, and started getting jobs and attending schools beyond the reach of a reasonable bicycle ride, carpooling became less and less feasible.
My father’s way of dealing with this was to buy old junkers, fix them up to the point they’d pass a crooked safety inspection, and put them on the road until they essentially disintegrated beneath us. That’s how we ended up with cars with heaters that didn’t work through a Canadian winter. Cars with holes in the floor where you could feel the snow being kicked up from the road hitting the underside of the floor mat. Cars where, when it got cold enough – remember, Canadian winter – the gas pedal would freeze to the floor and you couldn’t start the vehicle until you’d sprayed methyl hydrate on the mechanism under the hood and manually manipulated it to thaw things out. Cars that, after being in an accident, had the fenders pounded out with a hammer and was declared ‘good enough’ to last out the rest of my university year because getting an updated parking permit would incur a fee.
After being stranded in the cold and dark more than once – not a pleasant thing for anyone, but often also downright frightening for a woman in an otherwise empty parking lot – when I left home, I swore I’d never drive another rattletrap ever again. I had a few decent used vehicles over the years, and then finally bought a brand new car – a Volkswagen Golf, which I named Divot. And I loved that car. It was reliable and, as it was the first car I’d ever owned 100% by myself, it symbolized a newfound freedom.
But much as I loved Divot, this is the only photo I have of it:
I might have rejected my father’s Cars Are Bad mentality, but I hadn’t embraced them, either. I viewed cars with a practical eye only. (I remember when I bought Divot off the lot, the sales person asked what I thought of the colour and was surprised by the shrug and, “Doesn’t matter,” I gave in reply.) I followed a strict maintenance schedule, and can do basic upkeep myself, but my general attitude was a car is a car is a car. I had no real interest in how they work or how they look.
So when Ron and I were touring Germany and he wanted to go to Stuttgart to visit the Porshce Museum, I nearly didn’t go with him. I mean, I went to Stuttgart. But I seriously considered finding a pub while he was at the museum. There couldn’t possibly, I thought, be anything interesting in a car museum.
My word, but I was wrong.
I decided to go because I thought it would be rude to Ron to be so dismissive of his interest. But even then, I had visions of that pub in the back of my mind, as I figured I’d get bored quickly and would want to leave before he was finished. A car, after all, is a car.
But cars are made up of lots of parts, and I discovered that I really, really like looking at all the bits and bobs that combine to make the overall thing.
So while Ron was listening to the audio guide and learning the history behind the many vehicles on display, I was happily puttering about with the camera, taking photos of details that caught my eye. And the Porsche Museum is super cool about how close you get to the cars. So long as you don’t touch, they don’t seem phased. At least, that’s the impression I got as I scooched out from under one car I’d been lying beneath, trying to get a pic of a neat looking component. A staff member standing nearby gave me a smile and a wave as I sat up, but didn’t approach to tell me not to do that again.
From time to time, Ron would pause his audio guide and come to check on me. Occasionally, he’d ask me to take a photo of a particular vehicle.
I’d always offer him the camera, but he’d never take it. So I’d snap a photo or two, he’d look and make some suggestions, I’d take some more, he’d look at those, and so on, until we’d worked together to get something we were both happy with. And if that led to some grins from other museum patrons, as I lay on the floor with Ron standing next to me, handing the camera back and forth between us with lots of discussion and pointing, well … at least they gave us a wide berth and kept out of the shot.
Since then, I still tend to look at my day-to-day driver in as practical a fashion as ever. When it comes to the car that’s got to get me to work and back, I’ll pick reliability and affordability over style every time.
But I’ve also realized that there is an aesthetic element to cars that I’d always overlooked. The lines can be beautiful, and necessities like gauges and lights and mirrors can be put together in a way that’s pleasing to the eye, rather than utilitarian. Nowadays, when I’m sitting in that pub and a nice car drives by, I’ll notice it. Basically, cars aren’t boring anymore.
Could a museum ask for any better result than that?