Cars Aren’t As Important to (Most) of Us As They Used to Be

By Joe Darby

Last week I wrote about how trains are not as much a part of our daily lives as they were to folks years ago. This week I want to continue the theme, but I’d like to talk about how our car culture has changed in the last 40 or 50 years or so.

When I was a lad, cars formed a central part of my life and that of my buddies. The kind of car you drove was very important and it said a lot about you. At least that was the impression we had. We did a lot of things with and in our cars, and spent a lot of time talking and thinking about them.

In contrast to that, I believe that to most young people today — and I say most, not all — cars are more or less a means of transportation, something that gets them from one place to another. As an observer of the human species for many years, I want to emphasize that there are always exceptions.

A few months ago, for example, I was talking to a very nice young man whose dream is to own a Chevrolet Camaro from the late 1960s. I hope he gets one and loves driving it.

But, years ago, the great majority of American youth, including the girls, looked upon cars as one of the cooler things in life. Boys customized and personalized their vehicles, removing hood ornaments, “Frenching” or modifying the headlight housings, lowering the cars, etc.

And we often had something hanging from the rearview mirror. Lots of guys had fuzzy dice dangling from their mirror, but as someone who always liked to be a little different, I had a doll of a one-eyed purple people eater, inspired by a popular novelty rock and roll song of the day. I wish I still had that little thing.

Most of us drove cars that were handed down from our parents. There were a few rich kids at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, whose parents bought them new cars. But that was not the experience of the guys I hung out with. For example, I got my 1951 Mercury coupe, quite a cool car, when Mother and Daddy bought a new 1957 Oldsmobile.

My status in my group was immediately raised. I mean, these were my very own wheels. My other buddies had to borrow the family car when it was their turn to drive. So, what did we do in my ’51 Mercury?

We cruised Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge, noticing all the other cool cars as we drove repeatedly through Hopper’s Drive-In, where you could get delicious hamburgers, milk shakes and soft drinks at ridiculously low prices. It was a ritual to go to Hopper’s after a CYO basketball game, whether we won or lost.

If we had a date, Hopper’s was a good place to go also, because it was so economical. Speaking of dates, we frequented a lot of drive-in movies, “passion pits” as they were sometimes called, where once in a while we would actually watch the movie. I think today’s society is missing out on a lot by not having a drive-in movie to go to.

And cars made us crazy. Or, rather I should say, our craziness was manifested sometimes when we got behind the wheel. One of my tricks was to take a car full of my buddies and drive around the very curvy roads surrounding the lakes near LSU. At night. With my headlights off. Chances of ending up in the drink were probably fairly good. First guy to say turn the lights on was chicken!

Ah, those were the days. But, as many of you know, I have a 1939 Chrysler. Nothing much more need be said. Some of us boys just never grow up.

One thought on “Cars Aren’t As Important to (Most) of Us As They Used to Be

Comments are closed.