One constant throughout my life is the considerable amount of time I have spent daydreaming. Each of us has his or her own obstacles to overcome and realities to face, but my vivid imagination has often enough provided escape into future possibilities, and I consider it to be a true and special gift. The real test becomes identifying the steps to take to make those daydreams reality, then executing those plans, but it all starts with the idea of conceiving what one seeks to accomplish. This process for me has sometimes involved my passive observation of passing clouds in the background – not as an actual focal point, but something for me to look toward as I process my thoughts.
There are also times when I have looked at clouds for their own sake, as they dominate the sky with their vast, white expanses of suspended moisture moving steadily and surely above, in ever shifting forms and shapes. I remember my mother having said years ago that one thing she remembered from my family’s time of living in Flint during my upbringing was that there were a lot of cloudy, overcast days. Perhaps it had never occurred to me that this, by itself, was necessarily a bad thing.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Monday, July 15, 2019.
I’m a regular beachgoer during warm weather months here in Chicago, and it’s true that sometimes toward the end of summer when beachworthy days are numbered with increasing obviousness, my plans have been derailed when an otherwise warm day meant I had to stay inside if a canopy of thick clouds and/or rain was in the forecast. From my kitchen table workstation, I have a nearly unbroken view of the sky, passing clouds, and airplanes arriving to O’Hare that can sometimes serve as a welcome diversion amid the tackling of my daily business.
Today’s featured car, unlike many others I have written about, is one with which I actually have some degree of personal experience. In the mid-’90s, my brother had owned an ’83 Ninety-Eight Regency, also white in color, but with a burgundy landau roof and velour interior, and the wire wheel covers (not the standard discs as seen on this example). He had purchased it as the $1,000 “dealer’s special” on the lot, and it was in fine shape for a car that was around fifteen years old at the time. When I had gone to visit him one year while on spring break, he was working during part of our visit. I had a couple of options one day while he was at work: to hang out at the house and wait for him to get home, or take the “Mothership” out for a drive around Stockton.
I probably took a lot more risks in my twenties than I have so far in my forties, but even with that in mind, I was extremely reluctant to drive my brother’s car. It just seemed so huge, all 221.1 inches long of it. Aside from the ’72 Plymouth Fury I was almost born in, my brother’s Ninety-Eight was, far and away, the largest car anyone in my immediate family had ever owned. It was the most un-California car he could have selected for purchase, but thrift runs in our family (self included), and the price was right. After probably less than an hour of deciding while thumbing through his CD collection, I grabbed the keys and was out the door.
What struck me immediately was how cloudlike the ride of the big, C-Body Olds was and how rich and luxurious the interior felt. The other car I had grown to associate with my brother, a base-model ’85 Renault Encore hatchback (without even an AM radio), seemed exactly one hundred eighty degrees from this Ninety-Eight. While the Encore remains a positive memory with peppy, responsive acceleration, comfortable seating, top-notch utility, reliability (not a typo), and a certain, spartan charm, the Oldsmobile was quiet and smooth, coddled me in its pillow-tufted seats, had acres of interior room, and felt a little cave-like, as if I could have reclined the front seat and taken a nap in there if circumstances necessitated it for some reason.
Depressing the accelerator definitely produced some cloudlike sensations of moving forward, in the slow and deliberate manner of a billowy nimbus cloud wallowing its way across the sky… ahem, intersection. I don’t remember what was under the hood, but for both 1982 and ’83, a 125-hp, four-barrel, 4.1L V6 (a car this large came with a V6) engine was standard equipment, with a 140-horse Olds 307 V8 and a diesel 350 V8 with only 105 horsepower also available. Any estimated zero-to-sixty mph time is of little relevance in a car like this. Suffice it to say that my brother’s 3,900-pound Oldsmobile had enough scoot during the afternoon I drove it around so that it didn’t embarrass either itself or me.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
It was probably around the time our featured car was new, model year 1982, that I had started to notice a disturbing trend that minor year-to-year changes in car models either weren’t happening or were so minor as to seem insignificant. Eighty-two was the third model year of the reskinned GM full-sized cars that arrived for ’77, and the only way I was able to tell the model year of this example was by a license plate search. As it went in ’82, these were popular mid-range big cars with almost 91,000 sold, outselling C-Body platform-mate Buick Electra (76,000 units) and Ford’s Panther-platform Mercury Marquis (77,000 units), both of which also included a station wagon in their numbers. It’s also noteworthy that two-doors accounted for only 13% of Ninety-Eight sales in ’82.
I normally get to see my brother and his family during the Thanksgiving holidays, but unfortunately, that will not be the case this year. Almost as unfortunate is the fact the only old picture I could find of the Mothership didn’t include me in it, so to spare my brother any unwanted attention, I’ve omitted that photo from this essay. I miss my brother’s family, and I also miss Oldsmobile, which had already passed the fifteenth year of its disappearance last year, with the last Alero rolling off the line in April of 2004.
There had been various Oldsmobiles that had captured my imagination over the years, though admittedly, most of them were Cutlasses or variants thereof. Nonetheless, like a sky full of clouds, I had taken for granted that Olds would always be there, continuing on in the background, forevermore producing cars for middle America. Then, after I had focused on other things for what seemed like a short, indeterminate amount of time, like a passing cloud, Olds was gone.
Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, January 3, 2016.