In a sea of luxury cars and imports during afternoon rush hour under the Loop tracks of the Chicago Transit Authority, which car stands out in this photograph? When I moved to Chicago in late summer of 2003, I was much like this ’78 Impala – a fairly simple, straightforward, Midwestern dude who found himself trying to hang among folks with a lot more money, means and maybe class than I had. Miscalculating the impact of my relocation pay raise against a (much) higher cost of living than I was used to, I saw myself burn through close to $3,000 in hard-earned savings over the course of just three months before I sat back down and re-crunched the numbers. Ouch.
Of course, my initial spending included some fixed costs involved with starting over in a new city, including buying new work clothes, replacing household items left behind, etc. But still. I was in a little over my head. I was now in this exciting, historic, all-American city with so much to do and explore, but I needed to find a way to do this within my means. Sure, I was making more dollars than before, but I wasn’t Moneybags McGee. I was Joe Dennis, Insurance Underwriter with a good, honest job and a modest-but-decent salary. I didn’t grow up in a family with a ton of free spending money, and now wasn’t a good time to start treating everyone I had just met to a free round of martinis.
Once I was able to figure out and own that coming from a lower-income factory town in the U.S. Rust Belt (Flint, Michigan) was a plus and not a minus, that’s when my Chicago experience started to turn around for the better. I was able to meet and make other friends like myself, to learn where and how to effectively save money on things like groceries and clothes, and also where to find fun places to go on weekends that weren’t expensive. And everything else started to click. There was true strength in knowing, appreciating, and loving the no-nonsense environment which helped shaped me. To paraphrase a popular saying: even though you may not still be in the place from which you originated, that place will always be a part of who you are. Don’t front.
Let’s look again at the cars in this frame (same picture, sorry – as I was able to snap only one shot on the fly). The ’78 Impala is sharing this stretch of asphalt with all kinds of premium / semi-premium machinery: a Lincoln MKZ, a Jaguar X-Type, and two Mercedes. You don’t need to ask me twice which one I think looks the best. Sadly, I was unable to get a shot of the Impala coupe’s inspired piece of creased rear-window glass, as I was trying to make an after-work meeting, and also the driver was in the car. As I’ve stated in previous posts, you just never know if people will appreciate that you appreciate their car. That conversation could have gone either way.
I’m convinced that proverbial water does seek its own level, and this Impala speaks to me. To my eyes, the clean, linear, unadorned styling of this entry-level Chevy B-body is far more expressive (in a positive way) than that of any of the other over-styled vehicles on this stretch of N. Wabash Avenue on this particular weekday afternoon. The Impala doesn’t need custom rims, a bug deflector, tinted glass, a banner over the windshield, extra chrome, or any other such accoutrements. It simply has presence. It also may never be the star of a Concours d’Elegance, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to represent for what it is: an honest, uncomplicated car for and from middle-America, just doing its job in the big city as best, and as reliably, as it can. Authenticity is key.
As photographed by the author downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011.
Tom Klockau’s piece on the Impala’s upmarket sibling: Curbside Classic – 1978 Chevrolet Caprice Classic – GM Knocks One Out Of The Park
Robert Kim’s piece on GM’s downsized ’77 full-sizers: Vintage Ad: GM Announces Its 1977 Full Size Cars
Len Peters’ piece on the GM B-bodies: The GM B-Body: A Love Song In B Major
Paul Niedermeyer’s piece on the related ’79 Caprice: Curbside Classics: 1979 Chevrolet Caprice – GM’s Greatest Hit #2