I’m usually very focused on trying to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday night in preparation for the work week ahead. I’m pretty robotic in the way I like to have the lights out by 9:00 PM. However, on a few occasions, I’ve seen fit to break my own rules. One particular October night in 2011, I was so glad I did.
Two close friends of mine and one of my favorite couples, a rowing coach and a dancer, rent a house in my neighborhood, which is maybe a ten to fifteen minute walk from my condo building. They have a nice, big backyard behind their giant house which was very likely a single-family dwelling in the 1940’s. Occasionally, they’ll invite some folks over to chill in their backyard, and we’ll exchange stories about our latest adventures over a beer and some downtempo music. It’s a slice of heaven. Their house is also one block away from White Castle, so I’ll normally stop there on my walk home for a slider or two.
On this particular night, a bunch of us were sitting around on some chairs in the backyard when I heard what sounded like the low, burbling, rumble of a big V8 and the sound of crunching gravel building slowly in the alley behind the house. You know the moment I’m talking about. The one where you hear the sweet, glorious music of a basso exhaust note building to a crescendo and know something awesome is about to happen. Yet unseen, this car was giving me four hundred fifty-five (cubic-inched) reasons to shut up and listen for a moment.
Then as if out of a dream, this thing pulled up into the outer edge of the backyard. I remember my friend Trish’s face as she laughed at my loud gasp in reaction to seeing this car. This Riviera didn’t so much park as moor back here, easing slowly into this spot gracefully. Trish introduced me to her friend, Dave, who owned and got out of this car. I’ve loved cars as far back as my oldest memories and I feel like I have Havoline running through my blood, but not enough so as to have been able to decode the VIN to see if this car originated from the same place as me, Flint, Michigan. (As it turns out, all 1971 – ’73 Rivieras rolled off the line in the Vehicle City.)
Despite never having been behind the wheel of one of these boat-tail Rivs before, when I slid onto the driver’s seat, it felt instantly familiar. The upholstery had a nubby, tactile texture, and the simulation woodgrain on the dashboard, though not very convincing, reminded me a little of the wood paneling in the basement of my first house. It looked like it had just been dusted with Pledge.
The driver’s side door was heavy and creaked loudly when I pulled it open. The rocker switches for the power windows felt solid and tension-filled, like I’d really need to use the strength in my index finger to get some outside air. And the interior had that wonderful, 1970’s “GM smell” shared by other cars of this vintage. (My 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic had it.) Mixed with the ambient scent of the crisp, Chicago autumn night air, it was intoxicating. The fonts on the dash and switchgear made me think of the designers who had chosen them out of many possibilities.
Sitting in this car had such a soothing effect on me, I didn’t want to get out. But Dave was standing there waiting and I had probably lingered a bit too long, so I rejoined our friends and hostesses in our informal circle, stealing a few more adoring glances back at the bronze Riv that had all too briefly cradled me in its early-’70s personal luxury.
After saying bye-for-now to everyone for the night, I made my usual stop into White Castle for a few sliders to go, still smiling from this whole experience. I got maybe six hours of sleep that night in advance of the start of my work week, but it didn’t matter. This Sunday night proved that it can pay to break your own rules once in a while.
All photos are as taken by the author in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, October 9, 2011.