It’s New York International Auto Show time here in The Big Apple’s Javits Center.
There are Real New Yorkers who have never had a driver’s license, and never owned — or driven — a car.
Outer-borough New Yorkers, however, frequently own cars, despite the constant battle for on-street parking, theft and vandalism, high insurance and parking lot rates, and filling-rattling pot holes. One needs transportation options for those times when a quick trip to the beach, or upstate, or cross-town to visit a new “friend” is just the tonic. Yes, the roads were — and still are — rather rough. There is a reason why the Kosciusko Bridge is littered with hubcaps.
I love cars, and always have. I could tell makes and models of cars before I could even read. I knew the cars by the hubcap shapes, eye-level for a three-year old.
So as soon as I learned about the NY Auto Show, held at the long-gone Coliseum on 59th Street, I would beg my father to take us on the D train from Fordham Road to Columbus Circle every year, to “see the cars.”
Luckily for my Dad, he “knew a guy” who would facilitate our entry to the car show. This was Henry. By day, Henry was the Good Humor ice cream man in Devoe Park.
He pushed a rig like this, and pulled sandwiches, cones, ice pops and more from within the dry ice smoke within.
But, like many of our Bronx buddies, he held many jobs. And one of Henry’s was as a Brink’s guard at the Coliseum.
My dad and I (mom would stay home, no doubt popping her black diet pills, smoking Old Golds, and watching Million Dollar Movie, typically a Tyrone Power picture) would exit the subway, buy hot pretzels from one of the vendors near the park, and walk around the corner to a side entrance. My dad would give the “shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits” knock on the service-entry door. We’d hear footsteps. The door would open and, silently, Henry would wave us in, quickly escorting us through a passage until we reached black industrial curtains. It was a six-year old’s version of the Copacabana scene in “Goodfellas.” But unlike Henry Hill, mobster, this was just Henry, the Good Humor guy.
The curtain would part and, voila! Lights! Slinky models! Music pulsing through an overworked PA.
I was in heaven. I went every year, both to the car show and the separate Rod & Custom Show, where I would see the latest chopped, channeled and modded vehicles from the Kalifornia Kustomizers.
George Barris…Ed Roth…Gene Winfield! All the dream-car guys I eagerly read about in the magazines. Oh how I lusted after a reworked ’32 Ford, with rolled white naugahyde seats, triple four-barrel carbs into an Edelbrock manifold, straight pipes, Hurst shifter, and more. And while I never got the Corvette Stingray of my dreams,
I did manage to mod a blue ’69 VW Bug, with 2-barrel Holley carb, Hurst shifter, competition clutch, fiberglass fenders, low restriction exhaust and 14″ Chevy wheels in the back.
My passion for cars and bikes drove my professional career arc, and as I progressed through the working world, I covered the car industry for a trade publication and was invited to all manner of new-car intro junkets. And, once inside the world of public relations, I — at various times — represented Audi, Kia, Infiniti, Nissan, Peugeot and, yeah, Yugo. Don’t laugh. I got to meet the smooth-talking, automotive entrepreneur, Malcolm Bricklin.
And, from time to time, I was asked to man the marques’ exhibits at cars shows, and talk to the dads and little kids, eyes agape at the lights! Slinky models! Loud music!
I saw myself in the faces of every new crop of six-year olds, as the kids posed with their dads alongside their favorite cars, How could I not remember what it all meant.
Power! Freedom! The promise of the grown-up world!
Today, for the Real New Yorker, it’s all about Uber. Tomorrow, it will be the driverless car. But this year, the cars are still exciting. They’re well-made. Efficient. They handle great and they’re fast. And electric cars are coming and they will be super.
I know many New Yorkers will read this and shake their heads. “Cars? Ugh!” But to outer borough types like moi, cars were and still are a magic carpet. Without a car, how would me and my buds have been able to trek across hundreds of yards of Jones Beach sand, in our tank tops and black Banlon socks (forever marking us as Bronxites), every summer?
How would we have been able to get to the track? Go camping in Canada? Impress a special someone on an activity known as “a date”?
The New York International Auto Show closes April 23rd. Go! Even if it’s just an anthropological exercise for you. Henry is long-gone and the hot dogs are way overpriced. But that’s hardly the point. Go with a kid. Look at her or his face light up when they see the ocean of four-wheeled excitement. The dinosaurs won’t be here forever, you know, especially for Real New Yorkers.