There is Refuge in the Road: My Father’s Buick

You my find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”- David Byrne

My family has always owned Buicks. I remember my grandmother telling me the Roadmaster had been her favorite car, but ended her days driving a Skylark. The house they built during the Second World War had a single car garage, but as it appeared in time the aperture that was the garage door got smaller and smaller because the cars got larger and larger.

P-40 Warhawk- Photo Credit Sarah Vaughan
P-40 Warhawk- Photo Credit Sarah Vaughan

Apparently one of the spoils of war we won in WWII was cheap gas and that meant we could build these heavy cars that had a great ride. I am particularly taken with those portals on the engine cowling that apparently first appeared on the 1948 Roadmaster convertible, but I cannot confirm this claim with any photographs.  Most say they first appeared widely in 1949. It is said this feature is styled after World War II fighter airplanes like the P-40 Warhawk.

Side view of front fender of a 1950s Buick Roadmaster.

Generally, these features have absolutely no function but to look cool. According to Buick, the Complete History a few had cloth hoses from the engine for cooling but not even for a full year’s model run, mostly just cosmetic.  Returning from war the soldiers, sailors and airmen apparently needed some kind of reward, and a reminder of the weapons we used to defeat the Axis. Buick means we enjoy the win, a victory parade every day.

For my parents Buick started sometime in their midlife with a Century model or two, but by the time Dad retired in 2002 it was time to upgrade to the Park Avenue.

They drove all over the western United States and Canada in the thing, a magic carpet ride, listening to books on the cassette player or CD bay, an aftermarket product Dad tells me. The engine provides V-6 power yet good pick up for a heavier car like all great American vehicles should be, the gas mileage be damned. Like most high-end sedans, the drive feels like a couch. It seats about 20.

Eventually Mom wanted her own Buick so they went to the dealer and bought another one, a LaCrosse this time. Dad will tell you this is not anywhere as near a good car as the Park Avenue. Mom said so too.

I drove the LaCrosse and have to concur. The thing was built just ahead of the General Motors bankruptcy in 2009 and it feels cheaper. The seat was never comfortable. I always felt like I was in a chair that is giving way under my legs, such that I might just end up sliding into the wheel.

Well, as we all have had to accept, Mom passed on this spring and Dad no longer needs to get her to all her appointments. Three weeks after she died, on his 87th birthday he decided not to drive anymore. That was also the day he totaled the LaCrosse. The insurance settlement was generous.

So that left the Park Avenue sitting in the spacious two car garage of the house they built across the street from my grandparents in 1976. The Park Avenue has never had trouble fitting into the their garage.

My Fathers Buick

Dad proposed selling it. I proposed buying it.  Like old law partners we are, there never was anything in writing, just a check I deposited to his bank account, and he signed the title over to me.

I have a Ford Edge I bought new in 2013. Good car. Practical and well laid out, it feels as if it was built on the F-150 chassis. But it is like driving some sort of appliance.

In contrast the utter joy of driving returns in the Buick. One glides down the road, which one does not feel; the weight of the machine alone provides an inertia propelling us along. The machine is poetry in motion, a shelter for the soul. Yes, driving the Buick one can indeed find refuge in the road.

This is what you hear in Seattle: “We have to get people out of their cars”. Why? What dystopian disaster do you centrally plan for all of us? Didn’t we win the Cold War too and need not live in a collectivized society? Are we not free?

The Author and the Buick

Or is it we are not supposed to have any fun at all?

One can live out great moments of memory in a car like this Buick. I found an old cassette tape I had not listened to likely since the Clinton Administration by the B-52’s, Cosmic Thing copyright 1989 and slid it into the player:

Hop in my Chrysler , it’s as big as a whale, it’s about to set sail! I got me a car, it seats about 20 so come on and bring your juke box money! The Love Shack is a little old place where, we can get together!

I am instantly transported to a great memory of a karaoke party in San Diego California in the summer of 2004. The host is butchering the song and leaves the stage leaving the female parts on their own. Me, being Pete Patterson, cannot resist the challenge and gets up and fills the gap.

I got me a car it’s as big as a whale and were heading on down to the Love Shack!

You had to be there.

Boat like after section of the Land Yacht

Character marks here and there are the Park Avenues only flaws. Some I had taken out by Central Body. I ran into local attorney Peter Andrus there retrieving the car and he seem astonished I would drive something to work each day that consumed so much gasoline. But Peter, weren’t you one of the United States Marines we sent to the Middle East to secure our supply of oil? Like the portals on the early model Roadmaster, I am just celebrating your victory. Besides, that mornings Wall Street Journal had a story about the drop in the price of oil. Step on the gas and wipe that tear away.

Post purchase the mechanic we use also checked it out and vouched for its integrity despite the 140,000 miles on it’s odometer. Apparently, Buick has a longevity record that seems to return again and again depending on the model and the year. This one falls into the better category. The number I am hearing is well about 200,000 miles, sometimes 300,000.

It doesn’t really matter. I drive each day to work, and at age 60 myself comfort has become a factor. Besides, the Buick has panache. It doesn’t have any portals but we started calling it the Nimitz when the aircraft carrier by that name was stationed here; the name reflects pretty much how it handles and jets from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station keep trying to land on it. There are no cup holders which are easily accessible, but there is an ashtray.

Guys look at me. I look at them. I look at the appliance they are driving and say to myself, “Yeah man, you are driving a slide rule when you could be driving an art form.”

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile and if you do, get on down to the love shack.


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