An older gentleman leans into the passenger side window of my '36 Ford just as I'm about to pull away from the local coffee shop. He slides his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose, looks over them at me, a much younger person, covered in tattoos and with a disgusted look says, "No way this is your car!"
After looking down at his shimmering elbow resting on my door top, then up to his eyes and with a look that said, "You have exactly two seconds to remove your sweaty limb from my paint, or I am going to shove it straight up your ass," I said, "Thank you, I'll try not to be insulted by that."
"Well where did you get this thing?" He demanded, as he (reading my body language) swiftly pulled his arm off my car. "Kids aren't interested in these old things!!" (I'm 41 by the way)
After a little back and forth, which included a lot of quizzing from this guy, as if he wanted to see what I really knew about "these old things" he made sure to let ME know how much HE knew about early Fords and made sure to tell me about how he thought it was "too bad about the motor." (this particular car happens to have a small block Chevy in it) and as he stood there sort of shaming me and shaking his head, while also insinuating that basically I, a dumb "kid" really shouldn't have this car at all, I decided I'd had enough of this particular encounter. As I restarted my car, I calmly reassured him with these words, "Don't worry, I like Flatheads too. See, my other two '36 Fords have flatheads in them and so does one of my '32's."
I'm not normally the type to boast but watching him vapor lock and struggle to stutter out a reply as I pulled away made making an exception in this particular case worth it. Fuck that guy.
Here's how I see it:
In the vast sea of hobbies and interests this strange rotating globe has to offer, few are quite as specific as the world of traditional hot rod and custom cars. I for years have referred to our odd little world as "a niche within a niche," and here is what I mean: Even in the world of "classic cars," an interest that is already specific enough, the flathead tuning-flipper cap polishing-white wall scrubbing-three speed gear jammers like us are an even smaller subcategory. I talk about this a little in a previously-posted rant called: "Why Can't You Just Be Normal" and I stand by every word.
So, it would stand to reason then that since this oddball obsession is so strange, so specific, and allegedly so important to those involved in it, that we as a group would surely band together in a strong and unified pack to further our collective agenda of keeping the hobby moving forward. Or at least, not let it move backward. For sure the elders in this community would be frantically grabbing the elbow of every single young person that comes toddling into their life with even a small glimmer of curiosity on the subject of early hot rods in their twinkling eye, and welcoming said youngster with open arms, a friendly disposition and a willingness to teach, share and educate on the subject of the phenomenon of the Hot Rod, an important part of American history. Right? Not always. Sometimes these guys, for one reason or another, seem more interested in running the next generation off. And I'm a little worried that it could hurt our hobby the way it has hurt others.
"I watched this same shit happen with British motorcycles!" A friend of mine, who is a lifetime old car and hot rod enthusiast, as well as a motorcycle buff gets pretty fired up on the subject. He likes to tell me about why he dropped out of the Triumph motorcycle club he was in years before:
"Here I am, in my late 50's at the time, and I'm the YOUNGEST one in the bunch by a LONG SHOT. I kept telling these old timers - "You have got to start being nice to the young guys or the fucking hobby is going to die." They didn't want to give these kids the time of day because a lot of the time they were interested in building bobbers out of these bikes, which the older guys hated the idea of. Well, they ran off every young person that ever came along and now look at it, nobody gives a shit about these old bikes anymore. Nice job guys. Same thing is happening in the old car world."
Those were his words, not mine. But to a certain point, I tend to agree.
As I stated above, I am 41 years old. I've been interested in cars my entire life and for the last approximately 20 years, early Fords, traditional hot rod and custom cars have consumed nearly every waking hour of my life. I have no other hobbies: I don't watch sports, I don't golf. I have no idea what everyone else in the world is doing for fun, but I'm not doing any of whatever it is. The normies and their activities are of little concern to me. I like old cars, that's it. And for the most part, I like the people that are involved with old cars. Especially the older guys that have been around it the longest. For. The. Most. Part.
In truth, these people are the only ones I really interact with. All of my friends are considerably older than I am. These are the guys that have been around longer and have done more than me. I have a great deal of respect for these guys and am immeasurably grateful for the things they've taught me over the years. As a result, I myself try to return the favor any chance I get by passing some of that knowledge along to guys just looking to get started in our little hobby. Sometimes they are younger than I am, sometimes they're not. But whatever the case is, I try to be as accommodating as possible to those who show genuine interest in our little world. I think it is an important part of keeping it alive. Unfortunately, not everyone involved in this old car thing seems to share that sentiment.
Let me just state that for every one of the negative encounters like the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this story, I've had ten positive ones. The good in our community far outweighs the bad, and that is not lost on me. But just remember, it doesn't take much to sour someone's view of something. So, my point is this, young or old: If you are an old car guy, specifically a hot rod guy, ask yourself: "Do you want the hobby to live?" If so, don't forget to act like it.