Curbside Classic Musings: 1990 Buick LeSabre – Still On The Road

(Thursday, 5:16 PM)  I’m beginning to feel a bit like a slacker here, since I haven’t done an original Curbside Classic in…I can’t remember how long. Why? Two very good reasons: the other contributors keep scheduling their superb CCs and COALs so there’s been no need; I’ve just been filling out the schedule with short posts and vintage reviews. And I’ve been down in Port Orford a lot this year; I just came back last night after staying in the pole barn-cabin for the first time. It felt great (an update will be forthcoming soon). I love building houses of all sorts, and there’s hardly a greater joy than finally sleeping in your new handiwork, right down to the home-built bed. The aroma of pine from the t&g paneled walls and ceiling complements the tangy ocean air.

We went for our very familiar urban hike on this brisk but sunny afternoon. It’s precisely how I started doing CCs back at the other site; I saw an old Cadillac on a walk just two blocks from where I found this Buick today, shot it, and wrote some memories of riding in one on my first big hitchhiking trip.

Since there’s nothing already scheduled for Friday morning and we’re meeting friends for dinner, I’m going to have to…pull something out of my bag of tricks. What can I say about this LeSabre that hasn’t already been said several times here at CC before? It’s not going to be about its lovely 3.8 L V6.

I’ve had Jack Kerouac on the brain, listening to a number of his books on Audible on the drives to and from Port Orford. It started with “On The Road”, followed by the original unedited scroll version (he typed it out on a 300′ long scroll of teletype paper over a period of three weeks). Part of me thinks I should be embarrassed for never having read it before; but then I kind of felt Why? back in the day.  I was living on the road, on and off for five years. Now I’m glad I waited, because my appreciation of this seminal book is undoubtedly very different than it would have been when I was 18.

I can’t get into it too deeply here—there’s this Buick I’m supposed to be writing up that’s patiently waiting—but let’s just say that Kerouac and On The Road is commonly misunderstood. Kerouac was by nature a conservative person, a product of his time and Catholic upbringing. He never really left that behind; his traditional values and religion (Catholicism and Buddhism) come through loud and clear, if you don’t get hung up on the whole beat thing too much. Kerouac was in the tradition of Walt Whitman and others who were looking for the America they deeply loved, to experience it in its depth and breadth.

Kerouac undoubtedly disappointed his followers who saw him as the father of the Beat era when he became overtly conservative in the sixties; the huge success of OTR overwhelmed this insecure and private man, and brought his early demise, as he drank himself to death, unable to cope with being a celebrity. What he wanted was to be recognized by the serious literary world, not millions of kids and the intrusive media.

He couldn’t quite turn down Steve Allen, but refused to engage with the obligatory rehearsals before the live show.

When he made this appearance on William Buckley’s show nine years later (in 1968) he was very drunk and mostly not happy to discuss the topic: The Hippies. He wanted nothing to do with all that. One year later he was dead.

I’ve gone on to listen to several more of his books and journals on Audible, and am in the middle of Big Sur, one of his last books that chronicles his decline into alcoholism as well as the obvious struggles with mental health. Kerouac was discharged in WW2 due to a mental health diagnosis, and his wild mood swings and struggles with are the essence of all of his writings. His description of a alcohol withdrawal (DT) induced borderline psychotic episode was one of the more gripping things I’ve read. His ability to remember and describe every feeling and thought is incredible; it’s the closest thing to experiencing it oneself. Painful, utterly absorbing, and it left me with a deeper insight and sympathy for those that have to live with these kinds of experiences.

No, Jack Kerouac and On The Road is not about having kicks on Route 66; it’s the struggle for meaning, inner peace and acceptance of the inevitable end of life.


Must talk about this Buick   We’ll, it’s obviously on the road, from Indiana no less. I can’t consciously remember seeing an Indiana plate in Eugene before. Nice covered bridge; we have several nearby Eugene too. When I discovered why so many old wood bridges were covered, it was one of the bigger Aha! moments in my life. It’s not to keep folks dry in the rain, obviously; it’s to keep the bridge dry! To keep the wood from rotting! Why was that not obvious to me until someone pointed that out when I was maybe 18 or 20. I feel dumb now; but I was really dumb back then.

How recently did this Buick make the long trek on the Oregon Trail? Hard to say, but it looks to belong to a woman, and someone who is into wool caps and such, hand knitted, quite obviously. Is she the knitter? Probably. Do you know that Stephanie used to be called Mrs. Knittermeyer when she taught handwork at the Waldorf-inspired charter school? I still call her that when I see her with needles in hand and a ball of wool in her lap. She once taught me to knit; it’s a remarkable activity, as it’s something productive that can be done while doing something else, like at long meetings or such. The brain really can multitask effectively.

Knitting was once something women did in traditional cultures whenever their hands weren’t needed elsewhere. Now the smartphone has largely taken that place. The problem is that the stuff on phones engages and stimulates the mind at the expense of just about everything else, whereas knitting is almost meditative, and allows the knitter to also be engaged in other mental activity, with a calmer mind. I suspect a person knitting in a meeting is less likely to be aroused and agitated than non-knitters. Perhaps we should make knitting in Congress mandatory?

A young child is obviously a part of this constellation. I can see them in my mind’s eye, wearing a hand-knit hat and mittens.

Do I feel a bit like a voyeur looking into people’s cars? I guess somewhat so. But then even the outsides of cars often reveals a lot about the owner. I seem to lack the restraint that other CC’ers—and folks in general—have about certain perceived boundaries.

But then I still pick up hitchhikers, including this man my age, who goes by the name of Bama. I picked him up a few miles north of Port Orford in a steady rain. He was heading into town for a bit of shopping from his camp 12 miles up the Sixes River, where he had been living since he moved here in October, after living 25 years  some 12 miles and 5,000 feet up in the mountains behind Ashland, OR. Before that he used to mine for gold, with just a shovel and a sluice box, in the wild rivers of the California Sierras. He was married for seven years, but his wife tried too hard to civilize him, so they split up (no kids) and he headed back for the hills.

Does he consider himself “homeless”? Oh no; nature has provided him with many homes, as well as part of his food, as he’s become an expert on wild edibles. This shot was taken when we went mushroom hunting together a few days later.

It’s been cold and rainy, and Bama wanted to move out of the even colder deep Sixes valley, which gets almost no sunshine in the winter. We spent a few days and meals together, and then I told him he was welcome to stay in our little camping trailer on our property until winter was over. I decided that I should tell our neighbors, because they do keep an eye out on our place. Two out of three thought it was great; “that’s so nice of you”. He’s a delightful guy with endless stories.

But the third one got all worked up and told me that he had bought this place up on the hill precisely to get away from the homeless scum down in the flats of the town (there’s exactly three tents in an empty wooded lot behind the supermarket). He told me that if I let him stay here, he’d report me to the authorities, as I didn’t have the proper permits to actually reside there. True, and he’s totally fine about us staying there. Just no homeless scum.

So I helped Bama find an ocean view campsite just a quarter mile from the edge of town, on a ledge above the beach. It’s public land. But it’s also exposed to the winds when the storms come in, so it’s not totally ideal. I bought him a Rocket Stove, as it can get too windy for a fire. I should have told the neighbor that he was my older brother.

We had numerous dinners together (he still comes up to visit), and a he’s brought the fixings and cooked once or twice. And I’ve agreed in principle that next summer I’m going to take him to one of his old mining sites in California where he’s convinced that pack rats have stored away a lot of gold in a pile of big rocks that the forty-niners pulled out of the river. He’s figured out how we’re going to move them with tire chains and a come-along. He’s been trying to convince folks to take him there for years; they didn’t believe him that there’s likely to be gold in there. I don’t care, so I can’t be disappointed, but it sounds like a fun trip.

It’s now 8:46 PM, and we’ve just returned from having dinner at the Friendly Gardens food court (6 blocks away), where our current favorite band, Deva Priyo was playing. It was 34 degrees outside, and dancing was a good way to warm up. But I should have stopped doing so before I started recording this video.

So where was I?

Oh right; trying to write something about this Buick. Actually, that’s a lie. I never had that intention or even tried. The truth is, I’ve said everything I have to say about a whole lot of cars, like this one. So I leave it to others or you all via the comments. I still enjoy exploring areas that are unknown to me already, like old vintage trucks, and old snapshots and ads and such. But I have nothing more or new to say about this Buick, except that it really was quite a good effort by GM to reinvent the traditional American car.

I’ve talked a lot about the long and inevitable decline of the big American RWD car, and that death was hastened by cars like this and the Taurus, both of which were part of a paradigm shift, embracing the space efficient FWD format that had become established in Europe and was clearly the way forward. These cars were as roomy inside—if not more so—than their RWD predecessors, they rode nicely, and handled well and just felt so much more self-contained than the big barges of yore. Yes, certain things were sacrificed, but mostly it was just…excess; in size, weight, appetite, and so much more, literally.

They proved what Studebaker so vividly showed the world: cut away the excess of the typical American car and reveal the perfectly adequate reasonably-sized car hiding inside.

I hope you’re not disappointed that I’m not writing the kind of articles I once felt a great urgency to get out of myself. I had so much to say! All those GM deadly Sins to document! 6,656 total posts! But now I’ve said it mostly. Which means I have to recharge and draw upon new experiences and new interests. I’m not the ChatGTP AI bot that can churn out an essay on a Buick LeSabre in a few seconds. It has to come from the genuine desire to say something, which for years seemed almost endless. Now at times I feel emptied out when it comes to writing just about old cars.

There’s a circularity to this subject matter: that very first CC was a hitchhiking story. So is this one, mostly. I’m still on the road, and as long as I am, I’ll keep finding something to write about.


Some focused CC reading on the H-Body LeSabre:

Curbside Classic: 1986 Buick LeSabre Custom – Heavenly Hash  Perry Shoar

Curbside Classic: 1988 Buick LeSabre and LeSabre T-Type – The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde  Jim Cavanaugh

COAL: 1988 Buick LeSabre T-Type – A Young Man Buys An Old Man’s Car  Jim Klein