I photographed these two, fine specimens of 80’s American luxury at the same intersection (Jackson & Franklin) adjacent to the Willis (née Sears) Tower within the span of just under four years. It was the second shot (of the Lincoln) which triggered my memory of having taken a similar shot, earlier. Indeed, it has often felt as if I was playing the children’s game “Memory” when a sense of déjà vu occurs when taking photographs.
The contrast that was immediately apparent to me in both shots was that of the perceived differing social classes of drivers of luxury cars and bus riders by much of America. It’s true that I didn’t start regularly riding city buses until over two years of living in Chicago. Perhaps this was partially due to having grown up in a car-centric manufacturing town (Flint, Michigan), but up until my thirties I had held the perception that riding the bus was for losers.
Cars were for folks who were well enough to do that they could afford that form of personal mobility. Riding the train (the “L”, as we Chicagoans affectionately refer to it) was cool, as that mode of transportation seemed a perfect fit for sophisticated, metropolitan city dwellers (and the occasional, foul-smelling pandhandler). It wasn’t until the middle of the last decade that I discovered the sheer convenience of using the Windy City’s (mostly) clean and reliable grid of bus service.
Let’s now look at these cars. Both the Cadillac and Lincoln had been in production for more than a few years by the time each respective example rolled off the assembly line. The Cadillac’s styling was in its sixth year, and the Lincoln’s was in its tenth (and its last). The basic look of both body shells dated from 1980, with minor styling tweaks over the years, arguably the most substantial of which was a slanted rear panel for the Lincoln for ’85. No longer fresh designs when our examples were new, both cars still presented a very traditional, American style of luxury – RWD, V8 engines (a 125- or 135-hp HT-4100 for the Cadillac, and a 150-hp 5.0L Windsor for the Lincoln), plush and pillowy interiors, and the identity of a marque that still held a considerable amount of prestige in the eyes of many consumers. Both of the featured examples weighed almost exactly two tons in base form.
A fact of life of living in a large city is that the closer one lives to downtown and the action, generally, the more it costs. Shorter commute times mean greater convenience and a quality of life improved by the amount of time saved on the way to, and from, work. Granted, CTA buses can be ridiculously crowded during rush hour, in contrast to the stretch-out comfort in either the Fleetwood Brougham or the Town Car (or even the CTA Red Line train, comparatively speaking), but perhaps the true luxury lies in not having to drive your brougham into the city, for work or otherwise.
Both public and private transportation have their innate and unique benefits, and its true that many cities in the United States do not have the boon of comprehensive, clean, affordable, and reliable public transit like in Chicago. I feel incredibly thankful to live in a place where the ownership of a car is an option and not a necessity. Contrary to what I had once believed, buses are not just for losers – even among auto aficionados. Perhaps the money I save by using public transport may one day enable me to afford and garage a classic car of my own.
Downtown, the Loop, Chicago, Illinois, at Jackson & Franklin.
Northbound Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham photographed on Thursday, July 12, 2012;
Eastbound Lincoln Town Car shot on Thursday, April 21, 2016.