Commentary: The Story Continues…

1964 Ford Galaxie 500 3
Photo by Randy Stern

Today is Super Bowl Sunday…for most of us.

For me, it is just another Sunday. Actually, this date is a historic one normally marked annually by some magical event that occurred at dawn on this date 48 years ago.

Somewhere along the Ventura Freeway at a hospital on Balboa Boulevard in Encino, California, a baby boy was born to a Barbara Jean Stern and her husband Sheldon. He was a healthy infant – a bit chubby, but no signs of immediate health issues. They brought him home…and the rest is, well, history.

There is a tinge of embarrassment in telling this story. I'm getting to an age where birthdays become somewhat meaningless. Don't get me wrong, I have no qualms about celebrating it. It's just that it doesn’t have the cache as it once had.

Of course, I'll say this now and my 50th comes up in two years…black balloons, coffin cakes and all.

I still believe in trying to do something special on this day. This Super Bowl is not it, I'm afraid. Sure, we'll argue about the National Football League's new Collective Bargaining Agreement that includes a clause protecting players on the basis of sexual orientation. Then again, half the country would rather kneel alongside Tim Tebow than even acknowledge this advance in professional sports labor relations.

Or, watch the state of Minnesota fall into another budget crisis on Zygi Wilf's desire to build a stadium for his pathetic NFL franchise.

Furthermore, what's the point of watching the Super Bowl anyway when most of the commercials have already been aired on YouTube? I hate to say it, but neither of these spots had the raw emotion of Chrysler's "Born of Fire" (Eminem and the 200 rolling through Detroit with a gospel choir at the Fox Theatre) and Volkswagen’s "Little Darth Vader" (for the Passat) for last year. Not even Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno's Acura NSX spot did it for me. Sorry, I'm not a fan of either one of these semi-funny celebrities.

Oh, and Honda, we've seen this before…in the 1980s. I'd like to keep it back there, please?

Don't get me wrong – I'm not entirely a grumpy old man at 48 years old. There's still some youth left in me. I believe in embracing the new while celebrating the past. This is why the 2013 Dodge Dart seems appropriate as one of the subjects I will be examining further at the Chicago Auto Show later this week. When I was born, the Dart helped shape Chrysler's decade as it was about to embark on a complete reconfiguration of its lineup for 1965. Today, the Dart marks a new beginning for the company. It is the first fruit of a promise made in late 2009 by Sergio Marchionne to bring a series of new Chryslers that embody the best of the Pentastar and its guiding partner in Fiat.

Cadillac will also play a part in this extended celebration as I also get to examine the ATS in Chicago – General Motors’ answer to the growing small premium sedan segment. In 1964, a Cadillac was seen as a beautifully sculpted symbol of American luxury. You can get a Cadillac in one size – big – or even bigger if you have a chauffeur on your payroll. Today, you have a choice of sizes to fit your lifestyle. No one in 1964 would have ever dreamt of the lineup Cadillac will have in its showrooms by this summer.

Who would have ever dreamt 48 years ago that a Japanese automaker would have such a presence in this country? Toyota’s march to market leadership was a steady one, despite its recent fall due to legal actions and corporate corrections to its products. No one envisioned a vehicle more luxurious than the 1964 Crown – one with its own brand name. Neither were we prepared for propulsion technology fusing an electric motor with an internal combustion engine, a gearless transmission and batteries more efficient than the ones we used to put distilled water in. Toyota, Lexus and Scion will be stops along the way in Chicago as well.

Of course, one would not forget about the contributions Europe made back then. If you shopped around at the time of my birth, you would have a wide variety of foreign cars at your disposal. There were Opels sold at Buick dealers, Vauxhalls at Pontiac dealers, Simcas and Sunbeams could be had at your local Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial dealer, and British-built Ford Cortinas sat alongside Falcons and Fairlanes. We used to see Renaults, Peugeots, Citroens, Triumphs, MGs, Rovers, Alfa Romeos and Lancias on our roads. Holdens were sold at Pontiac dealers in Hawaii around this time as well. Mercedes-Benz was starting to gain traction as an alternative luxury product against the Jaguar/Cadillac/Lincoln/Imperial/Rolls-Royce set.

Only a select few remain on sale from Europe today, it is Asia that leads all foreign makes on this soil. There’s still relevance in the Eurozone, despite impending recession in Spain, debt crises in various EU states and unemployment around 10% across the continent. Still, we buy automobiles from German brands – some of which are built outside of the EU. Though we're seeing a resurgence of the automotive industry on these shores, Saab is in bankruptcy proceedings and GM Europe is faced with a dilemma to remain operational or reduce its presence tremendously. On the flip side, BMW outsold Mercedes-Benz last year and Audi made significant gains in market share. Volkswagen is coming back strong. We are also seeing a new side to Jaguar as Tata is guiding both the big cat along with its Land/Range Rover brother towards a rebound. There may still be some semblance of life across the pond.

My birth era was an interesting one. The previous November saw a popular American President assassinated, effectively ending an era of glamour and grace. Days after I arrived in the world, a popular musical group from Liverpool arrived in this country to the hysteria of the universe. Then, the Ford Mustang arrived. It changed the way we drive.

Today is also an interesting time. Knowing what I know now, I am seeing both acceptance and retraction for who I am. I found a home in the automotive industry as a journalist, commentator and photography. Being an out gay man has been an asset working in this field, not a liability as I found out in some corridors of the professional sports world. As part of the LGBT press, I am also wedged by my dedication to my subject matter and the back-and-forth socio-political struggles of my culture and community.

I am thankful for what I have gone through to get to this stage in my life. To be able to live my passion through the experience of telling stories about the automobile has been a blessing I only dreamed about a decade ago. Turning this age may not be as exciting as turning 50 or 60, but I embrace every minute this universe provides even as I go about the business of storytelling.

This is how I will spend my birthday…sharing this story with you.

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