The Car Show

by | May 27, 2024 | Road Notes

I had never thought to enter a car show. With what? I have had some older vehicles, but they weren’t really “pretty” enough. Function had always been what I strove for and I only keep my vehicles sort of clean, rarely if ever detailing them. Storm was no different.

A classic car is a beautiful thing. The perfect combination of form and function, representing a bit of a nostalgic yearning for the freedom of cruising the open road while eliciting delight in the Zen of precision tinkering. If there’s… “a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me… “ I’d be interested in the girl, sure, but also the Ford.

I had run across car shows here and there over the years, in a town square on a Sunday afternoon or as a feature at a fair, marveling at the care and creativity that went into the dazzling time machines.  Muscle cars, Mustangs, glowing delivery trucks from the 40s that probably delivered milk or manure, concept monsters with 1400 horsepower, classics all around, and each one somehow familiar.

And, of course, Volkswagons going back to the ‘30s. VWs restored, and VWs altered. Always has been my favorite section.

But I had never thought to enter a car show. With what? I have had some older vehicles, but they weren’t really “pretty” enough. Function had always been what I strove for and I only keep my vehicles sort of clean, rarely if ever detailing them. Storm was no different. I see him as a “rider,” a vehicle for use, not just show.

Three days ago, I ran across a promo for the Ridge Route Run Car Show here in Frazier Park. This has been going on annually for many years, just a couple miles from where I live and I thought, why not? You can do some theater promotion and hang out with Mo.

And it’s a great excuse to actually clean the 1971 VW Westfalia Camper Bus also known as Storm, to awaken his swagger.

He cleaned up nice, lots of minute dings and imperfections when you get up close, but I had no pretentions of winning because I figured I wouldn’t beat out the other buses like mine and certainly wouldn’t beat out a gorgeous ’65 Mustang.

No, this was just for a cultural experience, like travelling to a foreign country, and handing out a few flyers on our upcoming Summer shows.

If there is such a thing as a perfect day, it was Saturday. 70 degrees, a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky. And what a turn out! I’m not great at counting a crowd but this was impressive, hundreds certainly, walking up and down the center of the main drag with cars parked on either side.

The first thing I learned, before I even parked, is that I was given a score card to vote on my favorites in categories. One of the categories was VW Bus so I realized I wouldn’t be competing against the Mustangs. I won’t say that was a relief, but it did make sense.

I had arrived late and after parking walked the four or so blocks, with Mo, through the early crowd of just a few folks, no sign of other VWs until I got to the far end and there they were, lined up. Bugs, concept cars, buses, Safaris, etc. And several buses.

I ran into a VW enthusiast I had met at Fiesta Days last year and he told me to join them, “Just drive on through.”

I love this, being a part of this unique group. Mo and I went back and got Storm and drove in and parked on the very outskirts of all the vehicles, up a hill and out of the way. I figured few people would make it all the way up there and I could just put the camper top up and leave the door open and… find out what else I’m supposed to do.

The long and the short of it is, nothing. For many of the cars parked all day, most of them actually, there was no sign of the owners. The bus next to mine—and I was there for 6 hours—was a stunning two-tone Bus, super clean, but I never met the owner, never saw the owner.

Most just park their precious babies and go off to chat and eat and have a leisurely day. Some stay alongside their creations, but not many. A lot of the participants know one another from other car shows so there is both friendly competition and, here and there, you could feel the unfriendly, but not much.

Mo was, of course, a hit. He was as popular as a souped-up Camaro and was stroked by, I’m guessing, 200 people. He met dozens of dogs and became friends with most. By the afternoon he was exhausted. He was my “wing man” and when he broke the ice, I would hand over a flyer, what a team!

That alone made it a perfect day. Time eased by at a different pace, nothing expected of me or Mo, running into friends and soccer parents and players and neighbors and feeling surrounded by a unified love of a vanishing culture. An homage on the edge of an era, swiftly succumbing to the generational seasons of technology.

But it wasn’t nostalgic really, nor was it sad. It was really fun! I realized that I was part of an art show with wheels, and the general public ate it up, marveled in the glowing loveliness of these preserved gems of engineering. And unlike a museum containing the glories if oil and acrylic, this requires no training to understand and it’s perfectly okay to just not know a darned thing about cars but know what you like.

Something for everyone.

As the day wrapped up and the loudspeaker finished calling out raffle ticket numbers, Mo and I were lounging in Storm, both desperate for a nap. I thought about leaving because I was exhausted but more because I needed to get home to greet guests at the house, but I reasoned it would be bad form to just take off, no one else had. It would be a betrayal of sorts, me saying that they don’t matter, and I liked being a small part of this subculture, liked feeling relaxed and at home, so we stayed.

A few minutes later we moseyed down to hear the winners announced. Mo was so tired he laid his bones down at the feet of some kids who were running their fingers through his hair. Never does that!

The announcer worked his way through the categories and the winners came up to accept their plaques. Many were men who, well, looked just like me! A fraternity of O-Gees.

I recalled that VW Bugs and VW buses were nearly the final category. We went through the decades, the muscle cars, the Mustangs (of course) and all the other breeds and finally the Bug winner was announced, and a man I had met went up and got his winner’s plaque and a photo op and then… they called out the Bus category and he said… “And the winner is Peter… I’m not even going to try to say that last name.”

Had to be me.

I was, in a word, dumbfounded, even a bit confused. There had been a half dozen or so buses and I thought I didn’t stand a chance. The one parked right next to mine, the glorious two-toned, is the one I would have voted for! But I was handed my plaque and had the photo op, including Mo, and we made our way up the hill.

On the way I passed the guy who had told me in the morning to just drive on through and join the other VWs. I told him how amazed I was. And he said, “You can never assume anything in a car show.”

I told him there were so many people, so many families walking through, they must have liked Storm for some reason.

He cocked his head, “They didn’t vote. You have to have a car signed up to vote.”

I looked up and down the street. The first cars were on their way out, engines revving, some moving the earth with their power. Well over 150 vehicles in all, I think, though I’m not sure. My peers had voted for Storm. That really hit me. Owners that know classics voted for my bus.

I think if I hadn’t been so sleepy, I might have cried.