Entering Fortuna's Main Street from the north during a car-free event, the hustle and bustle is noticeably transformed to a family-friendly ambience with couples, kids, friends and all combinations of humanity. But last weekend's car-free status contained a loophole allowing entry for more senior automobilus petrolius to the much anticipated Fortuna Redwood AutoXpo.
Saturday, the cars were turned off, granting a relaxed way to appreciate their artistic appeal. This part I get; the car show look and its time warp cruise to a bygone era when Boomers were kids, 3 gallons of gas cost a buck and a drive by involved two-ply toilet paper. A time when, statistically speaking, we had about half as many people, less than half as many cars and more or less half as much of everything — except things like redwoods and salmon.
But good ol' days are generally nothing more than hearsay history, especially if sources are rock 'n' roll music and Elvis movies. Regrettably, the downside of most decades is they are quite forgettable, except for certain images and songs, slogans, rumors and myths. One car captured perfectly an unforgettable image with its drive-in burger joint tray hanging on the window, complete with burgers, fries and Cokes. Only the waitress on roller skates was missing.
But I digress, this is about the Auto Expo. Real four-wheel beauties abounded with their hoods popped, gleaming and shining in colors that would have made DaVinci turn Jaguar green in envy. Some of the paint jobs evoked celestial displays. I saw myself reflected in pristine chrome so many times I thought my doppelgangers had cloned exponentially. The silent engines also permit one to appreciate the gifted restorers whose wrench and paint abilities both showcase a creative prowess that can take your breath away.
The pride of ownership some of these folks displayed was heartwarming. Obviously, following a circuit of similar events, they show camaraderie and a willingness to discuss intimate details of their restoration journey, some beginning with rust buckets discovered in farmyard pastures, then moving to home shops where endless hours of love's labor were gladly given along with thousands of dollars. The results are amazing and worthy of the Guggenheim or the Louvre with the display of chrome heads, Everest-high air filters, hot rod carbs, double-take-causing manifolds, strut-your-stuff hydraulic shocks and disco drum brakes making your head spin like a crankshaft that lost its only fan belt.
But that's car shows, lots and lots of excess. And speaking of excess, the burn-out contest shows how high the bar has been raised. A few cumulonimbus rose from the smoking wheels to fill the air. Tires even exploded to burn down to the rims. A few engines even blew trying to win the prize — a lesson in the dangers of excess.
Anyway, hanging a left into Rohner Park takes you back to when California was fresh out of the Gold Rush and it was full speed ahead. Chugging antique water pumps line up to remember when the aquifer was thought to be infinite. Chatting with the pump-folk about drill depth, gallons per minute, past locations and all the stories, it became obvious how they truly love gas-powered machines. This love is shown by treating contraptions as a biologist or botanist would care for an endangered species.
Pump noise was minutely reminiscent of the previous evening when one was greeted by the roar of straight thru mufflers, glass packs, unsmogged, high-octane Hemis and twin four-barrel carburetors in harmony with the cheers of the crowd calling for the drivers to step on it.
Part Two of the car art is engine modification power boosting, exaggerating decibels and increasing fuel consumption to maximize horsepower. This part is troublesome.
Let's face it, we all hate to hear it. We want to live our lives happy as clams, holding hands, working, barbecuing, playing ball while leaving big decisions like the environment to our elected officials so we can eat kettle corn and enjoy the day.
But we can't anymore. We just can't. And don't think me a conspiracy theorist, an "end is near" crackpot, Chicken Little or the boy who cried wolf. I'd just like us to escape from the stranglehold BigOil has had on us since post-World War II prosperity, when the capitalistic trifecta of General Motors/Goodyear Tire/Standard Oil played us so that in one fell swoop they grabbed up thousands of miles of functional railroad tracks and then proceeded to rip them up. Continuing, they built shopping centers and suburbs to complete American auto dependence.
OK, I get it, I'm American and I, too, have enjoyed a love affair with road trips, taking a drive, coming and going as I please to anywhere and everywhere. It is a very cool thing. But so is nearby, frequent, clean, dependable and cheap public transport that allows you to skip the whole car expense/ownership lifestyle and help the planet.
Obviously, complex problems like the Climate Crisis don't have simple solutions, but most scientists agree we absolutely must drastically cut back on fossil fuels right now or all our gooses are cooked. The tipping point is, well, nigh.
We have all known this for decades, so now I'm either preaching to the choir or boiling the blood of the deniers. And don't think I'm attacking the expo's participants. But at this pivotal point in our terrestrial health, constant reminders of the peril we are in are necessary. So maybe it's not the best time to celebrate our breakneck acceleration toward the tipping point and cheer engines spewing forth toxic emissions from smog certificate exempt internal combustion pollution machines.
There are lots of solutions out there but it's like suggesting to smokers that they quit because it's killing them. They probably won't quit unless the doctor shows them the x-rays, and even then some will say they'd rather smoke and die sooner. Well, in the case of burning fossil fuels, we've all seen the x-rays. The second-hand smoke is covering the earth, burning the forests and heating the oceans so much that the coral reefs are dying or already dead. I like coral reefs and I like forests and I especially like thinking babies I see will someday have babies and they'll have babies who can play hide and seek in the forests and go snorkeling in the coral reefs. Cross your fingers.
Most strikingly poignant regarding the expo were the innocent eyes of the children walking with those they trust. Children learn from us how to take care of things, and how to clean up after themselves and not leave a mess for others to clean up. I know many of us feel our trusted elected officials have let us down and perhaps we, their electors, aren't their main priority. Regardless, we do have a say and there still might be just enough time to slam on the brakes and hang a U-turn so we don't end up letting down those innocent trusting eyes.
Walt Sager (he/him) is a concerned Earth citizen, a California State University at Chico alum and currently lives in Fortuna.