Often times, my experience of cars is tied to music from the same era in which they were manufactured, especially if I was alive at that time. When I had spotted our featured car six years ago, I was back home in Flint for the first annual book fair being held at the Flint Public Library Main Branch in the Cultural Center, as one of about thirty featured authors originating from the Flint area. I place a low priority on owning many modern electronics devices (I used a flip-phone until 2014), so before I had figured out how to sync my MP3 player with a rental car’s audio system, I used to burn playlists (on actual CDs) to listen to when on a road trip.
Right around the exact moment I saw this Electra parked at a water management facility, I was somewhere into the first verse of a track by late songbird Phyllis Hyman. “Candy dreams inside my mind…♪♫..” (“Under Your Spell”, 1979). Sweet, indeed… just look at the rich, gleaming color of this Electra’s candy apple-red paint.
This sighting was near my very first neighborhood, and not far from the house where I spent the first years of my life. Evergreen Valley was (and still is) a beautiful subdivision that has been, since I’ve been alive from the mid-’70s, solidly middle class and also predominantly African American in demographic. I loved that house – especially the basement, with its wood-paneling and blue-and-green “shag” carpeting. I also loved our neighbors, the Kemps – whose driveway abutted ours. They had the most beautiful Ford Country Squire and green ’74 Chevy Monte Carlo at which I used to gaze fondly. To this day, nice examples of both of these models remind me of the Kemps.
I don’t remember thinking it being particularly odd that my mom was one of only a handful of white folks I’d see out and about in our neighborhood, much like at that young age I didn’t consider it that unusual that I was a child of parents who were of different ethnic backgrounds. (My parents, who were married for over forty years, didn’t outwardly make a big deal out of it, either.) I just always felt (knew) that Evergreen Valley was a special, warm, friendly, beautiful, magical place where people said “Hi” to one another, and where shiny, beautiful cars would often pass in front of our comfortable little house. In a time and in a place where seemingly everyone had jobs (and in the auto industry), the GM Employee Discount was king, and Buick was queen.
We left this neighborhood only after my parents had already signed a contract to sell our house when we had planned to move overseas – a plan which was thwarted by a military coup in my late father’s native Liberia, which had been a fairly stable country up to that point. With our house effectively sold, we moved to a different one in another nice area of Flint, the East Village. Up until that point, though, I had been exposed to a reasonably steady stream of classy Urban Contemporary music – rhythmic, syncopated, and soulful. Much of my early-life musical education stemmed from my love of watching (and dancing along with) “Soul Train” on Saturdays with my brothers and the occasional babysitter.
I recount all of this only to reinforce the place, time, and context of my first experiences of the ’79 Electra both when it was relatively new, and also when I had spotted this example in 2012. With this car located just one city block from one of my favorite childhood playgrounds, Cook Park (pictured above), I imagined both taking a ride on my favorite twisty-slide (above) and in the driver’s seat of this red coupe. Electra, there’s no doubt in my mind that it would be quite a comfortable experience to go for a leisurely cruise around Flint “Inside You” (Eddie Henderson, 1976).
Why can’t the seats of a new luxury car in 2018 still look like what’s in this Electra? I do like modern leather seating and have also warmed to technological gadgetry (I’m on my third smart phone at this writing), but pillow-tufted velour and fake woodgrain is simply how a luxury car is supposed to look – there is no other way. Maybe I actually am eighty years old and trapped in a 40-something body. I just don’t know sometimes, but I do know what I like. When I became of driving age, a car like this Electra wouldn’t even have registered on my radar. Nowadays (and maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia taking over), I would proudly own and drive a car just like our red Deuce-And-A-Quarter, perhaps “If I Had A Chance” (Rena Scott, 1979).
And then, there’s its ride… so very smooth and supple. “I want you to…float, float on…♪♫♪” (The Floaters, 1977). I get that braking ability is important, but aside from that, who really needs to “handle” or corner in a car like this? To the same, basic point made recently in comments by both our own Jason Shafer and commenter Dan Cluley, parking or navigating a car of this size isn’t that big of a deal, if one can see all four corners of it – as would be the case here.
Shortly after the dawn of the 1980s, my family had then moved from a neighborhood that was mostly black to one that was mostly white. Again, much of my experience of cars of the ’80s was then tied to what I remember hearing through car speakers out of open windows. There was danceable New Wave I grew to associate with an increasing number of “high tech”-image cars, including the front-wheel-drive Dodge Daytona / Chrysler Laser twins, and also the RWD, composite-bodied, two-seat Pontiac Fiero. Similarly, third-generation Chevy Camaros and concurrent El Caminos are very much tied in my mind to a driving, 4/4 rock drumbeat. Of course, this was in the diverse, prosperous Flint of the ’80s, when many people seemed to listen to everything (including my older brother) – which was a beautiful thing to observe.
Coincidentally, my Electra-love was reinforced after we had moved to the new house, as our neighbors across the street, a jazz musician and his wife (who looked a little like Flo from the TV show “Alice”), had a beautiful, black ’78 Electra 225 coupe (see above) that shared their driveway with a late-second generation Pontiac Firebird. They were kind, sophisticated, and seemed every bit as soulful as folks in the Evergreen Valley, and I loved them for all of those reasons. I’ll wrap by reminiscing that the sight of this beautifully kept, red Electra sent me on the best mental trip “Back Down Memory Lane” (Minnie Riperton, 1979). In fact, perhaps the Electra nameplate could serve as some sort of metaphor for the late, lovely Ms. Riperton, as well as for Ms. Hyman: classy, beautiful, and missed to this day.
Sunday, May 20, 2012.
To complete this playlist, add the following selections to the ones referenced above, place device on “shuffle”, shake, pour, and enjoy:
- “You’re Special” – The Commodores (1979);
- “Very Special” – Debra Laws (1980);
- “I Need Your Lovin'” – Teena Marie (1980);
- “La Costa” – Natalie Cole (1977);
- “What You Won’t Do For Love” – Bobby Caldwell (1978);
- “I’m In Love” – Nancy Wilson (1978);
- “It Seems To Hang On” – Ashford & Simpson (1978);
- “The Glow Of Love” – Change featuring Luther Vandross (1980);
- “Dynamite” – Stacy Lattisaw (1980);
- “Always And Forever” – Heatwave (1978);
- “Wishing On A Star” – Rose Royce (1978);
- “Can’t Hide Love” – Earth, Wind & Fire (1976);
- “I Was Made For You” – Aretha Franklin (1979).