This past week found me back in the beautiful, American Midwestern city of Omaha, Nebraska for business travel. Twenty-Nineteen marks my ninth, consecutive year of spending time in that city, and each time, I’ve found something new to like or love about it. During this trip, the College World Series (of baseball) was being held downtown at TD Ameritrade Park, which brought many tourists and energy into what is already a somewhat bustling, urban center. (Believe it.) I didn’t know about these sports events prior to booking this trip, and I’m not necessarily a sports fan, but I’m not at all anti-sports, either. I liked that there was a big deal like this one happening at the time, as a kind of “landmark” for my memory banks.
After a satisfying meatloaf dinner with local friends at one of the nice gastropubs in the historic Old Market district, I decided to walk around with my camera, when this ’68 El Camino pulled into a parking spot close to a row of nearby storefronts. Almost instinctively, I started walking toward the vehicle as soon as I saw the couple get out of it. “Nice truck,” I offered. They waved, smiled, and looked like they were in something of a hurry (for dinner reservations, perhaps?), so I quickly abandoned any thoughts of giving them a brief interview about their Elky. A little more on this super-cool truck in just a moment.
Many people suffer from some degree of social anxiety, and I self-identify as one of them. I’m personable, can make good conversation, and even approach strangers sometimes, as I just described. I very much enjoyed the CC meetup that some of us attended in Detroit almost exactly two years ago, but often, ease in these situations does not come innately to me. I consider myself more of a “practiced extrovert”. Business travel used to be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience for me, but acknowledging my own introverted tendencies has been a way to take back some of my own power in that regard. I’ve learned to relax, remember to be authentically me, understand my own “triggers”, and act accordingly.
I’ve also found a way to combine these business trips with other things I enjoy, like spending time alone on foot with my camera. Doing so has enabled me to view these trips in advance as things to look forward to. I’ve also come to appreciate some of the genuine friendships with my clients that we’ve forged over the years. At the end of the day, we’re all just people, and we all need to work at something to earn a living. We might as well try to make it as enjoyable as we can.
I’ve heard it said of the El Camino, in general, that it is much like the automotive equivalent of the “mullet” hairstyle: “business up front, party in the back“. It is for this reason that I found the appearance of this El Camino to be extremely timely, occurring as it did during a business trip. My first day in Omaha started almost immediately with having to be “on” in front of some of my insurance agents (I’m an underwriter who represents my company), and ended with dinner, a couple of drinks, an ice cream waffle cone from local favorite Ted & Wally’s, and a fun walkabout with my trusty Canon.
I had photographed this El Camino with both my camera and my phone, and had initially mislabeled it as a ’69 when posting a picture of it on social media. This would have been a rookie mistake for an inexperienced classic car fan, with an easy ’68 identifier (from the rear, anyway) being the vent windows on the doors, but I really had no excuse, as I’ve loved classic Chevys for years. (The front grille with its fine mesh pattern is also an easy clue.) There were SS 396 badges on it, which would be in keeping with the throaty rumble of the engine / exhaust combo. (“You can take the man out of Flint, but you can’t take the ‘Flint’ out of the man.”) I’m a sucker for a classic American machine and the way they look, sound, smell and feel.
In ’68, the first year of this generation, there were about 41,800 El Caminos produced (a new sales record), of which 5,190 were SS396 models. There were three optional 396 V8s available, with 325, 350, or 375 horsepower on tap. Starting weight for the Super Sport would have been around 3,700 pounds. The El Camino sat on the same 116″ wheelbase as the sedan and wagon bodystyles of the midsized Chevelle, on which it was based, while the Chevelle coupe had a wheelbase of only 112″ – which aided the coupe’s slick proportions. (The ’69 Chevelle is one of my favorite cars of all time.)
For comparison’s sake, the same-year ’68 Ford Ranchero, which was also in the first year of its redesign, sold 16,700 copies. There was also a top-trim, high-performance Ranchero GT offered that year, with a 428-cubic inch “Cobra Jet” V8 engine available as an option, packing 340 horsepower. I found it interesting that in this year in which both Chevrolet and Ford offered new designs for their sport-trucks, the Chevy outsold the Ford by a factor of about two-and-a-half. (For the record, I like both vehicles.) It’s also funny now to realize that Chrysler Corporation never offered a similar coupe utility (“ute”) here in the United States until the ’80s, given the popularity of their B-Body midsizers in the late ’60s. The Pentastar brand would eventually take a (brief) stab at a ute with the 1982 introduction of the front-wheel-drive, L-Body-based Dodge Rampage and (’83-only) Plymouth Scamp.
As I had put pen to paper to draft this piece while sitting at Eppley International Airport in Omaha, waiting to board my flight back to Chicago, I thought about how nice it was going to be to sleep in my own bed that night. In a way, the sight of this ’68 El Camino (“the road” in Spanish, apt for this stretch of business travel) was almost like seeing an old friend, and a reminder that I’m never too far away from the comforts and sights of familiar people, places, and things, even while away on a company trip.
While I wouldn’t necessarily say I “partied” on this trip, the “party in the back” portion of the titular phrase entailed a successful integration of both business and pleasure. I feel I “passed” this personal test, yet again, with flying colors, and now also have the memory of the sight of this El Camino with which to mark this trip. For all of these things, I am thankful. Until next time, beautiful Omaha.
Old Market District, Omaha, Nebraska.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019.