Imagine a world where there was no Internet–no Google search, no street views; no Amazon, no eBay, no Craigslist, no YouTube; no blogs, no social media, no email, no smartphones. In the 1980s, none of those things existed. How did we not die of boredom? Yet despite lacking the technology that we all take for granted today, the spirit of Curbside Classic–although not named as such–was still there. And I was getting the message out . . .
I was attending college at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark, and I was on the staff of The Vector (“With Magnitude and Direction”), the college newspaper. College newspapers are generally starved for things to write about, and I had some creative ideas that I thought were worth sharing.
One of my fascinations was cars of the ’50s, so I wrote about them in this feature article, published October 14th, 1988:
If you’ve seen my previous CC posts, you’ll recognize some familiar “themes”. At this time, most surviving 1950s cars were either junkers with one foot in graveyard, or occasional well-preserved examples typically driven by older people who for some reason didn’t want to give them up. To me, their styling and charisma were utterly fascinating, and I hoped to possess a ’50s car of my own some day.
Photographs I would have liked to add to help bring the article to life:
I also wrote an article about how the 1939 World’s Fair predicted many trends in architecture and transportation:
One of my major projects for The Vector was a series entitled “Newark Then & Now”. I had become fascinated by Newark and its architecture when my family and I had the occasion to drive through the city several years before. Driving into Newark at that time was like a descent into Hell. Scary and shocking for little 12-year-old me who was raised in the suburbs . . .
Block after block of bombed-out storefronts, everything looking shabby–but there was an artistic quality in the architecture that I found inspiring.
Many of the streets were still paved with Belgium blocks or brick . . .
I later discovered older photographs of other landmarks of great architectural beauty that had long since been demolished. I presented these photos side-by-side with modern views of the same locations:
The series was very popular, and many people were surprised by seeing how different things used to be. Even the mayor of Newark at that time (Sharpe James) sent me a letter commending me on my work.
The Student Senate had purchased a van. It was a 1987 Dodge Sportsman with every available option including an accent stripe (which they paid extra for), that Bob Zotti said make the van look like a skunk. Occasionally we Vector staff members would climb into the skunk van and drive around, looking for things to photograph and write about. We drove around Newark, taking pictures and writing articles based on what we saw. All I can tell you is that the newspaper staffs at Princeton or Harvard were not going to kind of places we were and coming up with the material we were getting:
One of our most memorable trips was to see the giant replica of Noah’s Ark being built in the center of the urban wasteland by a woman named Kea Tawana.
Eventually the city did force Kea to dismantle the Ark, which was very unfortunate in my opinion because this was a true work of “outsider art” on a par with Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles. It would have made a great tourist attraction, and it was sad that Kea had to undo all the work she put into building it.
Occasionally I would strike out on my own and take photos of streetscapes that I knew were doomed by upcoming urban renewal projects. The parked cars (which I wasn’t paying much attention to) would be considered genuine Curbside Classics if you saw them on the street now. Things like this have a way of showing you how much time has passed . . .
The following pictures I took show buildings which, to my knowledge, are still standing (but the cars have moved on to destinations and fates unknown):
Parking at NJIT was always a problem. So the staff come up with this little ditty to vent their frustration trying to find a place to park every day. A multi-level parking deck was eventually constructed, but it was completed long after we had graduated and moved on.
Looking back on it all; the articles, the photography, the cars, the houses, the experiences, the things I was trying to express–what was I really trying to say?
In 1960, Jean Shepherd, the great radio storyteller and raconteur read the following on the air, which was quoted in his biography. When I first read it, it didn’t make much sense. But after reflecting on it I now understand what he means (at least as much as I can). Maybe you can too.
“How can I say it? How can I say it? You know, when you’ve said it all. You still haven’t said any of it. You really haven’t, you know. You try to get it out–you try . . .
“I’m looking out, and I see a white ship way off in the distance, trailing a long black streamer of smoke. And I saw a white cloud and gray gulls. I could hear that wind beating down from the north . . .
“There was a kind of coolness in the air. There’s a coolness in the air in summer that says one day it’s going to be winter. It’s going to be winter. And in winter, there’s always a softness you can find that says it’s going to be summer. And so it shall be.
“I’m standing there, and I’m trying to figure out how to say it to you. I can’t. Never can. I guess that’s the final frustration. That nobody can ever say all of it to somebody else. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want. In fact, I think the more you want to say it, the least likely and the least able you are to do it.
“I’m standing there, and that ship just finally disappears. Hear it? Did you get?–listen. Listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I’ve been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it.
“Did you hear that? Oh yeah.
“You know, it’s going to be winter soon. Yes. Yes.”
-Quoted in Excelsior, You Fathead: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, by Eugene B. Bergmann (2005)