(Full Disclaimer: I was able to interview John, but I was not able to get pictures of his cars due to a scheduling problem. However, the story he told is so compelling that I felt the need to write about it)
John is old school. He doesn’t care about the internet; he doesn’t care about Apple’s newest iteration of its i-device. What John cares about is living out the rest of his life in peace. Unfortunately, according to John the rest of his life is not a very long time. The fact of the matter is that John will die at some point, and he feels that death will come a lot sooner than later.
There was a book that described old folk as ancient sculptures carved out of stone, because they have been around for so long, they might as well be as old as the mountains themselves. Continuing that sculpture analogy – John’s stone sculpture would have been fractured, burnt and defaced – yet still holding together. John served in Vietnam on the tip of the spear, and from what little details I could gather, he was doused with agent orange, shot at, and experienced events that were so traumatic when the interview started he said “…and Vietnam – I won’t go there.”
And that’s where his two cars come in. John’s 1948 Ford F1 and his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air are identical models to the ones his parents owned in his youth. Both the truck and the Bel Air were total basket cases when he picked them up and John restored them both to immaculate condition. The Bel Air has been extensively modified and features a hand painted stunning memorial to Vietnam on the underside of the Hood. His Ford has been painted a bright Yellow and features a similar build quality to the Bel Air.
In a way, both vehicles represent John’s attempt to forget the war and return even deeper into the past before the Vietnam War when his father was still alive and America was (in his opinion) at its heyday. Some of John’s fondest memories were of him driving in a 1948 Ford Pickup with his father to go fishing, or cruising around town with his parents in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. So by fixing up these two neglected cars, he is actively repairing the abuse they endured over the years. In a more metaphorical sense, by restoring the cars he grew up with to their childhood glory, he is, in a way, restoring a piece of himself to its pre-war status.
What is really interesting though is John’s take on the future. He is intensely pessimistic about the future, to the point that when asked if there was some overarching lesson in his life, he dismissed the question with a statement about how the future is hopeless. And this is where I disagree with John. His declaration that the future is hopeless flies directly in the face of what he is trying to do with his grandkids. He regularly takes them to go fishing in the truck and tries to instill in them the same good values that his father taught him. This hope is tied intrinsically to the cars, because they are that time machine to his youth – the way to reach to before the Vietnam War and grab those lessons out of the past. His hope, as I interpret, is that these rolling bits of his America can help create at least a couple of good individuals in this world.
And that all makes sense, because hope is one of the things that keep people moving, and in John’s words “Working and maintaining these cars - that is the reason I still get up every morning.”