Commentary: Northern Exposure

Spring Has Sprung Show
Photo by Randy Stern

I came to Minnesota to celebrate V&R's Fifth Anniversary. However…

Last weekend I had the chance to drive 10 hours north to Minneapolis, MN, the home of Victory & Reseda, to visit with Randy and experience the Minnesota Nissan Infiniti (MNNI) Spring Has Sprung event. This trip was my first foray back into automotive enthusiasm. I've been thinking about car culture for awhile now, but this trip gave me a lot to think about in regards to what car culture could and should be.

Cars have always been about travel for me. I am always interested in where my car can take me, and how much do I enjoy the drive there. Perfection for me is the open road, music and audio books with my wife Katelyn. Cars for others, especially those in the Minnesota car scene, are an extension of themselves. They are a mechanical creation meant to inspire respect and earn acceptance from others. Cars are their personalities incarnate, but the culture that is associated with these mechanical vessels of personality is lacking the openness and acceptance that each enthusiast is looking for.

Car culture is a wonderful thing that can foster a strong sense of camaraderie, but there is also a great deal of judgment wrapped up in the ethos of car culture. There are no defined rules of what is right and wrong, but if you ask someone what is good or bad there is no hesitation to share their opinion on what is wrong with their community.

One of the most derogatory terms that is thrown around, especially at a meet showcasing Nissans and Infinitis, is "rice." It is a word that has no official automotive definition, but can be applied to any car that someone deems incomplete, inappropriate or incorrectly built that hails from Japan or South Korea. Why is such a word that has racist and hateful overtones a tolerated word in a community that is supposed to be about bringing people together not tearing them apart?

Right and wrong have been powerful concepts throughout all of human history. Humans will never be fully rational and many decisions are made by thoughts that swirl below the surface of our consciousness. Car communities are not immune to these thoughts. Building and tuning your own car can feel like a limitless endeavor, but those that came before you have already decided what is right and wrong. Choosing to exist outside of the realm of the right and the proper can be a lonely path.

While I was in Minneapolis, I heard a great many complaints leveled at the individuals who were ruining the Minnesota car community. I didn't hear much in the way of appreciation or happiness. Even those in the same groups were keen to tease and poke fun at each other's cars. It seems like a difficult way to gain confidence to truly innovate or move the culture forward.

I know all of this seems negative itself, but there were some wonderful moments during my time in Minneapolis. One of the brightest was my conversation with an impassioned Nissan 300ZX owner. Their car wasn’t perfect in any sense of the world. A mix of good and bad elements like many cars on the road today. It would be easy to overlook this specific car, but it was the emotions that it brought forward in its owner that truly stood out to me. This owner wanted a car that he could drive everyday. They wanted a car that was fast. A car that would give them something to pour their energies into while understanding that perfection wouldn’t be attainable.

There is a concept in Japanese philosophy known as Wabi-Sabi. It is a philosophy of enjoying the imperfection in the world instead of striving for perfection. This is the philosophy that I believe the car community of Minnesota and everywhere should live by. Instead of judging every car on how close it attains perfection the community should embrace imperfections. They should embrace the blemishes and road damage that makes each car a canvas of its travels.

As I drove away from Minneapolis, I found myself thinking about how much I enjoyed the imperfections of my own car and my own life. The dents and dings that others might see as imperfect are what make my car unique. I may not drive a desirable car, but I want it to be accepted on its own terms, just as I want to be accepted on my own terms as a person.

Being accepted as a person is the point of car culture. Cars are extensions of our being that are used to tell the world who we are. Car culture just like any other culture must strive to be more tolerant and accepting. Car culture can't just be about the strong and the confident. It must be a community that empowers the quiet and the reserved as well. Sometimes it is the owners and the cars that no one notices that help move the idea of car culture forward. If no one takes the time to listen or look they might miss out on the beautiful ideas that exist in their community.

The Twin Cities are filled with beautiful lakes, parks and people. There is a genuine, earnest goodness in almost everyone you meet. I've been told in my past that I have to give up my Midwest sensibilities, but I think these sensibilities are what make Midwest car culture so beautiful. Take the Minnesota goodbye for example. As Randy and I rolled away in his tester for the week, an Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 2016 Lexus IS 200t, we were inundated with so many heartfelt good byes that it felt we might never make it out of the parking lot. It was nice to feel the warmth and acceptance that emanated from these goodbyes.

I truly didn't want to say goodbye to the Twin Cities. There was so much left for my wife and I to explore, but real life beckoned for me to return to Indiana. I truly enjoyed getting to know the good and the bad of the Minnesota car community. I would like the warmth and acceptance I felt from the Minnesota goodbye to be the defining feature of car culture in Minnesota. Cars might be the material aspect of car culture, but it is the people that truly brings those cars to life. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into the lives of Minnesota car enthusiasts. I hope I can come back soon!

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