My hands clench the wheel, horsepower surging the veins of my outstretched arms. Wind whips through the cracked window and my eyes narrow, tracking white dashes that divide bending streets. Rise and dip, pull and push, shift and soar – I am one with the road.
Since the dawn of its time, the automobile has been a symbol of human ingenuity and a source of ultimate pleasure. Driving is a hobby, tradition and experience that contributes to the composite of American culture.
Spoiling the carefree, unadulterated joy of pedal pushing in recent history is the high cost of gas. The culprit’s deterred many a road warrior, dropping activity 3.6 percent, or about 10 billion vehicle miles in July. But now, with oil at half the price per barrel compared with the summer months and the national average falling to $2.656 a gallon, the burden’s been lifted (at least temporarily) for consumers. Driving enthusiasts everywhere are given the green light to hop in, buckle up and rekindle their passion with the open road. So, with this pleasant drop in prices, why not take a trip down memory lane and remember how the car came to be a facet of American society.
The Wheel of Invention
The automobile’s presence in the U.S. was introduced in the late 1800’s; the first successful gas powered car was produced by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea in 1893. The invention boggled the minds and imaginations of Americans. Never before had it been possible to move about the city with such ease. Ladies no longer had to worry about ruining their dress coats. Men enjoyed the control of steering the wheel and shifting gears. Bopping around in a buggy downtown became a symbol of status — a declaration that your family was on the upswing. This sentiment fueled mass production led by Henry Ford, who improved the assembly line for automobile manufacturing and invented a transmission mechanism. Cars became the definition of independence and source of inspiration.
Classic cars have created dazzling moments in movies and television. James Bond represents the ultimate archetype of a versatile driver. In his Aston Martin db5, Bond dodges criminals in high speed chases just moments before skidding to the doorsteps of his date and escorting her to dinner. It was more than a car to Bond; it was his companion.
1968’s Bullitt showcases one of the most influential car chase scenes in movie history, with star Steve McQueen swerving the streets of San Francisco. The sheer intensity of the chase transports viewers to the scene.
Real life famous cars include that of Bonnie and Clyde, which carried the bank robbers around the U.S. in their spree during the Depression. The getaway car was eventually the outlaws’ final resting place when it was riddled with gunfire upon their capture in 1934.
Revered actor Paul Newman had a love affair with racing that started with his movie role in 1969’s Winning. “I’m not a very graceful person,” Newman told The New York Times in 2002. “I was a sloppy skier, a sloppy tennis player, a sloppy football player. The only thing I found grace in was racing a car.” That grace Newman described is a sentiment shared by the most passionate of drivers.
A Timeless Fascination
You don’t have to be Steve McQueen to revel in the joys of driving. People of all different types and backgrounds appreciate the pastime for a unique experience: Like the speed demon, who revs the engine of his ’66 Pontiac GTO while waiting for the traffic light, leaving his mark with skids when it flashes green; or the road-tripper that blasts oldies through scenic routes, in no hurry for his destination; or the 16-year-old novice who’s eager to enter her rite of passage, hands at ten and two and mirrors adjusted; or simply the everyday man or woman who appreciates time coasting the freeway as moments alone with his or her thoughts. The portrait of a car lover takes many forms. And that’s why driving isn’t just a form of transportation — it’s a bonding experience between car and driver.
As the economy declines and adds stress to families, it is important to remember that the simple delights in life are what keep us moving, no matter our financial state.