The View from the Midwest - My Theory Holds

The original plan was to bring you one of my promised interviews, but fate intervened and I found myself in Chicago for the past week. Aside from the odd juxtaposition of celebrating a hockey championship in 93-degree heat and humidity (while I was in a suit, incidentally), Chicago is a thoroughly enjoyable city. Glittering skyscrapers soaring into the stratosphere (one of which—the Carbide and Carbon Building—has a 24-karat gold-leafed Zeppelin docking mast at the top), landscaped boulevards, and a level of cleanliness unusual in any city, much less one of Chicago’s size.

Nevertheless, while in Chicago, I did not forget my operating theory that American car culture manifests itself differently in various parts of the country. Admittedly, when you’re downtown in any city, street scenes are made up mostly of taxis, busses, and delivery trucks. But I did see a few examples of 1980s Detroit iron riding on gigantic shiny wheels and rubber band tires; the uninitiated might call it a donk, but it’s actually a box. (For clarification on donks, boxes, and bubbles, click here) That’s something you never see in New England, and is actually something I associate more with the South, although I imagine domestic migration patterns might explain the trend’s appearance in Chicago.

More importantly, however, was a conversation I briefly became involved in while sitting at the bar at Lou Malnati’s near the corner of Hubbard and Wells. My dear old friend, Nader Ali-Hassan, brought me there as a means of introducing me to Chicago-style pizza, and I have to admit, I’m a convert. Previously, cheese has simply been a texture; in Chicago, it’s a discernable and wonderful flavor.

While Nader and I discussed various weighty topics (girls, monster trucks), I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation to my left. Loren Weaver of Atlanta was talking about the Nurburgring with Dutchman Arjan Roobol, who had been crisscrossing America, going from racetrack to racetrack, in what I can only imagine was an attempt to break Dan Gurney’s Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash all-time record, albeit in a country-of-origin-appropriate Spyker C8 Laviolette as opposed to Gurney’s Ferrari Daytona (My other theory is that Arjan is a Hunter S. Thompson fan and, from behind the wheel of a 1971 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado convertible, he drove around the country in search of the Mint 400).

Naturally, I had to insert myself into the conversation.

What I discovered was that Arjan had indeed expected a certain sameness to American car culture, and he didn’t find it (I also discovered that Loren’s Japanese relatives are afraid to come to the US for fear of being shot. I suggested he refuse to go to Japan on account of not wanting to be stepped on by Godzilla). Instead, he found random pockets of Le Mans racing; dirt track midgets with their ridiculous roof-mounted spoilers pilfered from old Boeings; and a disappointing lack of cars from the 1950s, although it was made up for by democratic access to the sturm und drang of big-bore V8s provided via Mustangs and Camaros.

As for me, it was back to Boston a few days later to contemplate once again our particular variation on the theme of American car culture. More on that later.

Photo Credit: Tim Szlaga

Read more of Phil McCarthy's musings on cars, racing and other topics at The Highly Offical Weblog of Phillip A.V. McCarthy