Sunday, November 20, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles...and books

Everything changes.

I happen to be the proud owner of a Chevrolet Corvair--you know, the car made famous by Ralph Nader? That's right. I own an "Unsafe at any speed" Corvair. Mr. Nader may know some things, but he was full of crap about the Corvair--and now, almost 50 years later, the Corvair has one of the highest survival rates (relative to overall production) of any car from its era. Part of this is due to a dedicated owners club and a good supply of parts from several suppliers, and a lot of it is due to the durability of the car.

But make no mistake--the Corvair is a dinosaur. EVERY car from that era is--Mustangs, Camaros, Ramblers, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs...they are all relics of an age that is gone forever. The 60's are long gone, and cars run for 100,000 miles without a tune-up nowadays. Corvairs were unloved "used cars" for years, but now prices are creeping up. A 1965 Corvair convertible recently sold for almost $40,000 at auction.

Once upon a time, Trans World Airlines relied on a plane known as the "Super-Connie", the Lockheed L-1049G. This was the great passenger airliner of the late 1940's and 1940's, in an era when an airline meal was edible, a female flight attendant was called a "Stewardess", and when air travel was comfortable. The Super-Connie became obsolete when jet-engined airliners came on the scene, but the Super-Connie hung on as a passenger airliner until the late 60's. The jets that replaced the Super-Connie are long gone from passenger air travel themselves.

The Electromotive F7 was the standard freight locomotive of the late 40's and 1950's, and F-units were also used in passenger service. The Santa Fe Super Chief was pulled by F-units (there's a nice shot of that train in the movie "White Christmas", which is hilarious--as the train ran from California to Chicago, IL, not to Vermont), and for many people the Santa Fe F-unit was the face of American railroading, after Lionel made a best-selling model of the Santa Fe locomotive.

These were the iconic machines of the postwar world, along with Edsels, Cadillacs, Alco PA passenger locomotives, and Boeing 707's. They exist now, if at all, in collections, museums, and scrap yards.

I love planes, trains, and autos...but I think they pale in comparison to words. A story lives forever. Tom Sawyer is timeless. Huck Finn is still relevant today, maybe more relevant than ever. Gone With The Wind will still be read when I have turned to dust, and Steinbeck will endure.
Maybe someday the book as a medium will disappear, relegated to the dustbin of history like the Corvair. But people will still read. Rhett will chase Scarlett, Huck and Jim will raft the Mississippi, and Of Mice and Men will still be on student reading lists. We may read with a tablet, but the medium will never be as important as the message. We all have to tell our story, and we will need to read about this experience known as life, as long as humans feel, think, laugh, cry, plot, kill, work, play, and love. 

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