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I was once the dazzling dream girl of a hundred million beating hearts. All aglow and glittering, I was the sweet little roadster desired by a restless middle class on the move and craving motion. I was the gleaming Buick, Ford or Chevy chariot that blazed across the landscape. I was the gaudy, popsicle-colored Chrysler, Caddy, Pontiac or De Soto that made grown men smile with childish delight.
Every headlamp, turn signal, trim strip and tire was proudly mounted by hand. Although rushed and threatened, by shop stewards and union bosses, the men on that Michigan assembly line took pride in their work. They grumbled under their breath, but I took their breath away. I rolled off the line as a polished jewel and into a showroom. I was a chrome-plated, safety glass gemstone in an array of candy colors. Red, yellow and blue, two-tone, sky blue, canary yellow, crimson or even pastel pink; whatever color it took to catch the eye and sweep those blues away.
My polished chrome and glowing paint spoke of prosperity and postwar hope. Wide whitewall tires and soft cushioned seats were designed to give the driver a feeling he was riding a low slung cloud. After the weary war years, who wouldn't want to drift on a soft cloud? The candy colored paint and gargantuan chrome dispelled the gloom beneath a gaudy circus wagon of excess. America built me to reflect the newfound boom of the Fabulous Fifties. Even roads were designed and built'called freeways and interstates'to serve me. The sinewy earth was carved and pavement poured and asphalt smoothed to become a bed, a beltway, a playpen for me and my proud owner to explore.
I was the sleek, promised hope of the postwar generation. Indeed, I was the Promised Land made manifest and mobile, a coach befitting any upwardly mobile, middle class Solomon or Sheba. My sturdy steel frame and powerful cast iron engine a testament to the rising industrial might of America. I was you, America, more than you would like to admit. I sped over your hills, indifferent to the sprawling suburbs scattered there. I left the decaying inner cities in my rearview mirror. That speck of rust on my bumper distressed you far more than the dying rustbelt of your industrial base. But with the press of my gas pedal, you could speed away from such thoughts and leave all your doubts behind.
I was the gleam in your eye, your chrome-plated ambition. So we two rolled along on the super highway of your desires. I was your escape, your comfort, your solace, even when the world would intrude. Cold War? No problem; just turn up the heater. Missile crises or nuclear threat? Just turn up the radio louder, we agreed. If only you could play enough personal anthems and syrupy love songs, if only my paint didn't fade and my chrome didn't dull, the world seemed far less gruesome and all your problems appeared to diminish in the rearview mirror.
But rust never sleeps. And ambitions, whether fulfilled or deferred, become tiresome. You grew tired of me as the shiny new models beckoned. Sold and resold, I became just another car. Then one day I was parked. My owner moved. Or died; I never really knew.
No longer a bright personal chariot, I became a stationary eyesore by the side of the road. Who needed me now? So you rolled along without me into maturity, with the industrial might of your nation in decline, and I rolled into obscurity. Left to rot and rust in the weeds, like the old factory of Bethlehem Steel.
Yet once upon a time I represented America. A glowing roadster of a country, with options and gadgets galore, and glowing instrument panels; I was your candy-colored dream! I was the phaeton of your glorious fate! I was the soft, luxurious ride into the gilded sunset of your personal Manifest Destiny! I took you wherever you wanted to go, faster than a mile a minute. I was your aspiration and your destination combined.
Did you let me down, or was my decay inevitable? After all of our cushy rides together, into the sunrise of work and the sunset of leisure, were we both destined to roll into the overgrown thickets of extinction? Were we denied one last ride into the proverbial sunset? American highways still call their siren song, a tantalizing tune of longing that never fails to thrill. Still time, still time, we both say, to roll down that road together. And if you go, remember me as you pass by.