Four Taillights: Enough to Get You There
May 16, 2023
Prior to becoming self-employed as a Manufacturer’s Representative my dad was in sales for a hose company. Not the kind to be worn on one’s lower extremities, but rather hoses used for industrial purposes: flex connectors, expansion joints, metal hose. Our garage was a supply store of product, and product seemingly devoid of interest to a sometimes-bored preschooler.
His was a five-state territory and travel frequent. A company car was one of the tools provided. Even then, I learned that companies were austere and bottom line focused. The company car was a General Motors product, specifically a Chevy. At that time Chevy offered three sedan models: the Impala, the Bel Air, and the Biscayne. The cars were so equipped in regressive order. The Impala, as top of the line, came with automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and air conditioning. Lot of chrome. Maybe even bucket seats and a console. There was a nifty radio speaker neatly centered at the top of the rear seat.
Bel Air, not too long before supplanted as Chevy’s top of the line, still contained many of these features.
The Biscayne presented few, if any.
The company car was a Biscayne.
My mom and me, and sometimes my sister would travel with my dad. The interstate highway system was still in its infancy, so most thoroughfares were part of two-lane federal or state systems initiated back in the 1920’s. At least all the roads traveled, to my recollection, were paved and led directly into every downtown along the way. Traffic was often snarled by stoplights, construction, and a vast assortment of other delays.
Apparently, hose selling season was in the summer too or so my memory tells me. Mind you the territory included Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, not locations conducive to non-air-conditioned travel in July. Vinyl seats deepened the warming process, clothes and cushions adhering through and with sweat as one.
Passing the time in my perspiration-laden ennui I noticed other vehicles. Some, even on a 95° afternoon, had rolled up windows indicating air cooling. From a rearview it was easy to distinguish: four taillight Chevy models did not have AC:
1962 Chevy Biscayne
How my heart longed for the comfort of a six taillight Chevy.
In another year or so, I started school. My dad also made the decision to leave his company to pursue self-employment, albeit in a somewhat similar line of work. I didn’t have an appreciation for precisely what that meant except that there were now more interesting products in the garage: lawnmowers, saws, fertilizer spreaders, and chemical sprayers.
Beyond that, now freed from the obligation of a company vehicle he also had the liberty to select his own mode of transportation. With around $3000 of his savings, he took the plunge.
1964 Chevy Impala Super Sport
Ah, air conditioning. We had arrived! And six taillights!
Reflecting on those times of pre-luxury one thing I don’t believe was valued enough was that the Biscaynes always got us to where we were intending to go. If not loaded, the product was for certain durable. There was an occasion when we required new windshield wipers in Tulsa, to me a terrorizing experience for some inexplicable reason, but other than that smooth sailing. We never failed to arrive at our intended destination.
On top of that there was a lot to be learned from those journeys of misery. For one, I got to know my folks and their stories. I learned to count: passing cars, license plate numbers, mileage signs. A burgeoning allure to geography developed: wheat fields of Oklahoma, forests of East Texas, swamps and bayous of Louisiana, the vastness and mountains of West Texas and New Mexico. Contrasts between major cities such as Houston and the isolation of Route 66 between Amarillo and Albuquerque. A fascination with weather and how a clear day could so easily deteriorate into a downpour, only to miraculously clear up, hastening a sunset spectacular over the plains.
It’s been said that life is a journey, yet we miss it by devoting too much of our focus to the destination. Some of us experience life in a really nice ride, whereas for others there are bumps in the road and the mode of transportation unreliable. There are breakdowns and rescues. Yet those journeys help frame our own unique stories, becoming a vital part of all that we have experienced and done. The challenge before all of us is how to apply the tools and lessons from those passages.
What have you learned from your road trips? Have the four taillights been sufficient?
The Seed Sower