CarStories are stories about your cars. This week we have Fred Taulbee, filmmaker, photographer, writer, and a regular contributor to CarStory. Check out his book, Ana and the House Are One, available on Amazon.
It was 1978. I was eight years old. We had just returned from Germany where the army stationed my dad for four years. We came in through New York’s JFK and had to get down to Ft. Polk, Louisiana.
I stood at the hotel floor-to-ceiling window, looking down at the city traffic, a little woozy from a fear of heights. It looked like a 70s-era painting that always hung above our couch, a huge panoramic view of a city, red-orange sky, black silhouetted skyscrapers, and two rivers of light, one white, one red, big city, night traffic.
I experienced that view coming around a freeway chiseled out of the California hills at night, the 57 or the 91, and the brilliant city lights glowing out of the darkness. And now I see those rivers of white and red lights every time I drive at night on the 35 through downtown Austin, Texas.
I was the third of four kids, three girls and me. Nearly 1500 miles to go, at least 22 hours of drive time. You measured the distance on a map and guessed how many days it would take. But essentially, you drove, you stopped when you needed a hotel, and you drove some more.
We needed a family car and SUVs weren’t around yet. We drove from New York to Ft. Polk in a huge Ford Country Squire. This was a tank made for a family, all metal. It was like riding on a ferry—you were safe, you could move around and you got to where you were going. And with six of us in the car for that long? We needed our space. We needed room for the equivalent of today’s “devices,” card games, pencils, crayons, something to write on or a book to read.
Bucket seats were for fancy sports cars. The wagon had a long front seat that could fit two adults and two kids, and the back seats came forward. A small secret compartment hid under the floor of the back. On accident I once saw Christmas presents in there.
I remember sitting in the very back of the station wagon and looking out behind us at the cars we had passed and the places we had been. It always gave me a tinge of vertigo, but I did it anyway, just for that bizarre experience of seeing where you’ve been but still going forward.
The wagon was a bronzy copper, like a penny neither new nor old, the kind of color you could see coming at you in the distance of shimmering heat waves. One time I pretended to be a racing emcee as one of my parents negotiated through two lane traffic. I gave all the cars names based on their colors, and I christened ours with the name Rusty, “Rusty is now in the lead.” It got a laugh from everybody in the car, but alas the name never stuck.
Not sure what happened to that car. You look back on cars you owned like best friends who went their separate ways.