It was wonderful to take my first days off from work this year the week of Labor Day Monday. Before this happened, that little break from work was something I didn’t even realize would do me that much good. It’s odd for me to think about not having taken any form of transportation for over six months, but a true blessing of living where I do is that I can travel on foot to most places I need to go. This year, unlike those prior, there were no end-of-summer barbecues. The beaches were still closed, though many parks were still open. I miss many friends. I had taken time off from work not because I was particularly out of sorts or feeling overworked, but simply because they were available.
“Vacation time” has taken on new meaning this year, given my reluctance to travel. That doesn’t mean that I had spent all of my leisure time this summer on my couch in front of the television. What I came to realize is that travel is as much a state of mind as it is an actual thing one does. For an example of what I mean by this, many areas around my neighborhood look very different while exploring them on foot than when I had previously passed by or through them from a CTA train or ride share. Often times, my observations of places, houses, parks and storefronts were limited to the split-second takes afforded me from a window seat in a moving vehicle.
Even some of the parks I had passed maybe even a hundred times in a car while on Lake Shore Drive next to Lake Michigan have suddenly looked completely different when traversing their trails by foot. It has sometimes almost felt like I had moved to a different city while exploring new areas. A little more focus on the “micro” versus what had previously been observed on a “macro” level has given me a whole, new appreciation for many locales that are basically just beyond my backyard.
One thing that helped me maximize my so-called “staycation” time was to be deliberate about what I was going to do that week. As I had mentioned last Tuesday, the weather forecast for the week of September 7th was substantially cooler than what had come immediately before, overcast most of the time, and even rainy for a couple of those days. Knowing that I was likely going to be homebound for much of the week, I made a point to do my household chores and cleaning or catch up on my entertainment watching during those dark, wet days. The exception was Labor Day Monday, which had a warm and sunny forecast. It was on that Monday that I set out on a miles-long loop with my camera that both started and ended at my house.
I’ll get to the featured car in a moment, but I also want to share what has been something I have enjoyed very much as I await getting to use my recently renewed passport. YouTube has innumerable videos available (for free) of walking tours through many cities throughout the world. It has brought me great joy, especially on days that are cloudy or when the outdoors are otherwise off limits to me for some reason, to pick a city, queue up some accompanying music on my stereo (as if I had my earbuds in), and do some exploring for an hour or more from the comfort of my own couch.
At first, I had worried that this activity might make it too painful to face the reality that I won’t be traveling anywhere abroad anytime soon, but the opposite has turned out to be true. Not only has this been an amazing, fun, and cost-effective pastime, it has been a way to see the world in some way and started to give me some ideas of where I’d like to go once it’s much safer to do so. I treasure my 2017 vacation trip to Italy. I’ll be ready to go somewhere else once all the dust settles from the current pandemic.
I was of this mindset while taking a walk on the week of my vacation when I stumbled upon this dark yellow FIAT 500L parked in front of one of my favorite gastropubs. Car-spotting hadn’t been part of my deliberate, initial plans for Labor Day, but when I saw this diminutive car, I figured it was worth a look since only one stoplight stood between me and it.
This car is really tiny. Of these accompanying photographs, it’s the wide shot of the car parked in front of a row of businesses that gives any sort of true perception of its miniscule dimensions. Parked on the street, it comes up to only a little above the waist of an average-sized passerby on the slightly elevated sidewalk. The base model 500s measure only just under 117 inches long, riding on a 72″ wheelbase. (I’m about six feet tall, so this would be like me laying down on the sidewalk next to it, with the top of my head and the bottom of my toes reaching the wheel center at each axle.) I find it almost comical that their width, at 52″, and height, at 52.6″, are almost identical. Base curb weight was just under 1,200 pounds.
The original 500’s proportions, especially the similar width and height, seem almost like those of the AMC Pacer, but rotated on its lengthwise horizontal axis (or something like that). Of course, the Pacer coupe only looked as long as it was wide. Just for fun, try these comparisons with the 500 on for size: its length of 171.8″ was 54.8″ longer (+32%) and its width of 77.3″ was 25.3″ wider (+49%), while its height was about the same, at 52.8″ (vs. 52.6″). Three 500Ls parked side by side would be about as wide as two Pacers.
The “L” submodel of the 500, which was produced from between 1967 and ’71, was a fancier version of the standard “F” model next to which it was sold next to for a few model years. (The “F” was sold between 1965 and ’73.) The easiest external identifier of the “L”, I’ve learned, are the tubular bumper guards affixed to the front and rear that increase the overall length by a couple of inches. The “L” included many upgrades over the base car, including and not limited to exterior bright trim, a nicer dashboard, door cards, and steering wheel, and a few more things. I see these upgrades not so much as making the 500 into a truly luxurious small car (the “L” stood for “lusso”, or luxury), so much as making up the difference between, say, an early Chevette “Scooter” and a regular one.
I tried hard to think of some metaphor or common, Italian point of reference with which to compare the color of this one’s exterior. It doesn’t have enough red in it for the deep orange of Aperol, and… well, that’s all I could come up with. According to Google , “spicy mustard” would translate as “senape piccante”. I think this is somewhat fitting, given that mustard seeds are also tiny. It’s a shame the popularity of the reborn 500 in the United States didn’t take off and spread like mustard plants are capable of doing, with this line being discontinued here as of the end of 2019. I did take note of many of these older 500s on the streets of Rome, three years ago. I’m the meantime, I’ll continue to do my due diligence to research what I hope will be my next, great adventure traveling abroad. Ciao for now.
Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, September 7, 2020.