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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dad, me, and a '56 Chevy

I saw a 1956 black Chevrolet convertible go by today. It was a thing of beauty as it looked completely stock like the day it rolled off the assembly line fifty-five years ago. That car is a memory maker for me as I was 15 when it was built plus we had one in our family. It had a white top that gave it a classy look and was a stick shift with a “Power Pack” V8 engine. Needless to say, that baby would really go and it gave me chills when it whined through the gears. That’s a sound that has never been duplicated.

In June of 1956, my 19 year old brother drove that Chevy from Cincinnati to Albuquerque, New Mexico to visit some friends. Since he had flunked out of college, he was looking for something to do so he joined the Air Force while in Albuquerque leaving the car at the friend’s house. That made it up to my dad and me to go to Albuquerque to retrieve it.

Thus began a summer trip I will never forget. Even at 15 I had a bit of wanderlust in me and the thought of going all the way to New Mexico from Ohio had me on pins and needles. It was going to be just me and my dad heading west!
We caught the Santa Fe Super Chief train in Chicago which was exciting as hell with the dining car, a bedroom of our own, and the excitement of waking up the next morning and seeing Dodge City, Kansas.

After we got to Albuquerque and picked up the car, we headed east on Highway 66 for Chicago. I didn’t realize it at the time because there were no such thing as interstate highways, but I was riding on a road that would later become a legend and a historical attraction in many places as it wound northeast to Chicago. The diners, the bars, the motor lodges, and the gas stations were all part of the lore of Route 66 which would sadly become obsolete by the mid 1980s. But, who knew that in 1956? All I knew on those hot summer days was that I was 15 and my dad let me drive a ’56 Chevy halfway to Chicago. He was strictly old school and didn’t worry about me not having a driver’s license! What the hell, I was still a good driver!

When we reached Chicago, dad would spend the few days we were there at the horse racing track while I caught the “El” to either Comiskey Park or Wrigley Field to watch baseball. I felt like I was really cool for a 15 year old being allowed to run around Chicago on my own. But, my dad had grown up in an era where kids had that freedom so it was no big deal to him.

After those few days in Chicago, it was back to Cincinnati and reality. By September, I was back in high school but when I looked at my classmates, I smiled to myself feeling certain that none of them at age 15 that summer had driven a ’56 Chevy convertible up Route 66.

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