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Posts Tagged ‘license plate’

A little thematic music.

It has occurred to me — as it surely has to a million swifter brains than mine — that you could outline the history of a 20th-century American family by writing about its cars.

“That’s the Rambler Pop-Pop bought with his retirement check and drove until the day he died … and that’s the Gremlin that got broken into while we were in line to get our swine flu shots in ’76 … and that’s the Chrysler we drove overnight from Memphis to Indianapolis to see the Grateful Dead … and that’s the Toyota Susie learned to drive stick on, that year she had her horrible first job, cleaning up nights at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Remember that?”

I’ve spilled a fair number of words chronicling the cars that moved the Blumenau family, starting with my second post on this blog. Along the way, I’ve written about the long-serving and faithful; the powerful but poorly built; and the simply comic.

I think I’ll add another set of wheels to the family caravanserai this week:

April 1973.

April 1973. The American League welcomes the designated hitter, and the Blumenaus of Penfield, N.Y., welcome a car as beefy and powerful as Ron Blomberg.

I’m not sure my grandfather ever drove the 1973 Plymouth Satellite that is the subject of today’s post. But it merits mentioning as another example of his anal-retentiveness.

My dad was long since out of my grandpa’s household by April 1973. My dad had been married for almost six years, had one child, and another was on the way. My grandpa wasn’t insuring my dad or his cars, I can’t imagine.

So what reason did my grandfather have to make note of the new plate number on my dad’s car? Did he write it down just to make sure he’d know that the right Plymouth Satellite had pulled into his driveway? Did he commit it to memory as he wrote it down?

God knows. But there it is on the calendar — New York plate number 286-MOR, a plate that would be part of Blumenau family life for a decade to come.

A closeup.

A closeup showing the old-school blue-on-orange New York plate and the bicentennial bumper sticker. I am the slightly touched-looking lad in the RPI T-shirt, if you hadn’t guessed.

The Satellite, all fifty-four feet of it, at Camp Greenbriar, West Virginia, summer 1978.

The ’73 Satellite, all fifty-four feet of it, at Camp Greenbrier, West Virginia, summer 1978. Slightly touched-looking young boy shown for scale.

The new Satellite would have made its first visit to Stamford in late March or early April 1973 — a few months before the young boy above made his first appearance in the world. Perhaps that visit motivated my grandpa to record the license plate on his calendar.

That's one thing digital pictures should have - a processing date.

That’s one thing all digital pictures should have – a visible processing date. Does wonders for family history bloggers. I’m under the blue shirt.

The Satellite was the perfect car for a young and growing family in the ’70s — roomy and reasonably reliable. (My family went on to buy two fairly poor-quality Plymouth products in the 1980s, hoping against evidence to recapture the build quality of the Satellite.)

We made all manner of road trips in that car. I remember leaning over the front bench seat to see the view out the windshield, marking familiar landmarks on the way to Stamford, like the animated neon sign of Monticello Raceway. (The rear seat belts in the Satellite went largely unused.)

I also remember the Satellite’s unique bathroom facilities.

My folks had bought a plastic bottle, with a bell-shaped funnel attached to it by a plastic tube. And on those long trips to Stamford, we did not stop for bathrooms. Instead, little boys would kneel in the black-carpeted roominess of the footwell — with stern instructions of “don’t miss!” ringing in our ears — and do our business into the funnel and bottle.

We would arrive in Stamford in the chill of the early morning. And as part of the weary process of loading in all our gear, one adult or the other (OK, probably my mom nine times out of 10) would take care of emptying and rinsing the funnel and bottle.

For better or for worse, my kids will never know that experience. It is probably for the better: Had our car been sideswiped during a wee-wee moment, I would probably have been mentally traumatized as well as seriously injured.

But my four-wheeled piss-memories are not unpleasant. They symbolize a less complicated time, when we took chances we wouldn’t take now and, through luck, skill or blessing, got away with them.

We owned the Satellite for more than 10 years. I’m fairly sure it was the first car in the history of the Penfield Blumenaus to reach 100,000 miles, which was more of a milestone then than it is now.

When the time came to get rid of the car in 1983 or ’84, I remember wanting to spend a night in it. And I think I might even have done so, sleeping in the back seat on an early-summer evening with a pillow and a blanket.

It seems like a weird idea now. But I identified fairly closely with that car, being roughly the same age. I was not accustomed to saying goodbye to things my own age (I”m still not), so this must have been some idiosyncratic part of that process.

My family did quite well by the Satellite, all in all. A lot of the family memories of those years (birthdays, holiday get-togethers, and the like) had one thing in common — a big brown stallion of a car out in the driveway, which had moved the Blumenau family to its latest adventure and was awaiting orders to bring it safely back.

Every family history needs a couple of those.

Easter 1978 in Stamford. My mom, my cousin, and my older brother pulling off an uncomfortable-looking but truly rockin' photobomb.

Easter 1978 in Stamford. My mom, my cousin — and my older brother in the back of the Satellite, pulling off an uncomfortable-looking but truly stylin’ photobomb.

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Ah, the mother American road.

Two-lane or eight-lane, coast-to-coast or county-to-county, the symbol of American freedom has provided a backdrop for characters as diverse as Jack Kerouac, Bruce Springsteen, Charles Kuralt and Charles Starkweather.

Not to mention you and me. Who among us hasn’t gotten behind the wheel at least once just to drive — to take a road just to see where it leads? Or gone out on the highway and been touched by beauty, squalor or some phenomenon in between?

(One such memory from my last trip to Stamford: Lightning dancing in the darkened sky as traffic crawled across the Tappan Zee Bridge.)

Yes, the American road is generous with her gifts. But there are certain prerequisites you gotta have to join the parade. Like registration stickers.

Sure, if you’re desperate and on the lam, you could drive an unregistered car. But if you want to follow your bliss without having Smokey Bear get all up in your bidniss, you owe it to yourself to get a state sticker (or stickers) on your ride.

This week’s calendar entry finds my grandfather renewing his membership in the Neal Cassady Open Road Club, reclaiming for another year his right to search for satori on the highway.

As soon as that task was completed, he was On The Road:

May 28, 1966.

I doubt Jack Kerouac’s bop- and Buddha-tinged travels ever included a stop in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

But it is perhaps fitting that my grandpa would mark his registration renewal by traveling to the home of the first American gasoline-powered automobile.

You could say that America’s fascination with driving had its earliest roots in Chicopee — though long-distance driving wasn’t a possibility when the Duryea brothers made their first experiments with machine-powered wagons.

I have no idea why my grandpa chose Chicopee as his getaway-day destination. Of course he grew up in neighboring Springfield, so perhaps he was going to see old friends.

Whatever brought him there, he didn’t stay long: It looks like he was back in Stamford by day’s end. The call of the road wasn’t that strong, apparently.

Putting on his registration stickers was just the sort of mundane task my grandpa delighted in recording on his calendar. No surprise, then, to see it turn up in other years.

May 30, 1972.

(See, there’s the water man again. These entries get more and more self-referential by the week.)

It would be ultimate proof of the Blumenau family’s capacity to save everything if I were to produce the license plates my grandfather had in 1966 or 1972, along with the stickers he appended to them.

I don’t quite have those. But I do have Connecticut license plates from 1967 and 1973. I know the ’73 belonged to my other grandpa, who also lived in Stamford, and the ’67 might have as well. So these are pretty well representative of the blue-and-white metal platters to which my grandpa affixed his yearly stickers, even if they’re not the exact same pieces.

Note the poor spacing between the dot, the 1 and the 3. Some convict didn’t earn his 30 cents that day.

License plates were awfully plain then. One of the ways in which the American highway is a richer place than when Kerouac left it is the wide variety of colourful designs one can see while playing license-plate games.

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