It was a year ago this week that my father had his post bypass surgery stroke and never regained consciousness. For the next four months we cared for him as well as expected (as he went through 300 miles and five different facilities), until he left us for good the morning after Easter.
But in his honor my all time favorite memory of him was going to car shows (he called them "rod and custom shows"), and this wasn't the illustrious Chicago Auto Show (though we went to that too), this was more like "World of Wheels" and "Chevy Vette Fest".
So I remember this "rod and custom show", it was at McCormick Place, which is now called "Lakeside Center" and the old man was cheap (he never paid for parking), so we rode in his 1975 Oldsmobile 98 Regency and he parked in on the street west of King Drive about 25th Street when there were still side streets and apartments there before the other McCormick Places were built.
And then we walked up the hill on King up to where the old McCormick Inn was (remember that?), and walked up 22nd Street to the main doors of McCormick Place (before all that was closed off), even the bus came up there (and my dad was a CTA mechanic), and I remember it being cold as hell, so it had to be February or so.
We get into McCormick Place and the show is right there and it was not real fancy, lots of cars, vendors, blaring music and people yelling, seriously that's what I remember.
There were also many dealers selling parts, some vendors doing what we now would call "infomercials" and yes some scantily dressed models promoting something, I don't remember what.
The first of these shows my father took me to I must have been about eight years old, so that means it was 1984. My only recollection of the date is I remember one of the scantily dressed models dancing to Madonna's "Like a Virgin", oh yeah when you are eight years old you remember that.
Anyway the old man was shopping for parts and deals, he was still working on his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and I think he still had the 1969 blue Volkswagen Bug (with a rotten floor), so he was looking to get both in good running order. And finish the custom work on both and the old man never paid full price for anything.
We walked around and he pointed out the various custom cars (I remember several 1957 Chevrolet Bel Airs), and those that had the hood open he'd define the different parts of the engine. He told me which cars he liked and which ones he thought sucked.
And then we went through many parts bins, people selling parts on folding tables, even parts laid out on blankets, the old man knew his parts and he loved a deal. And if you sold something for a dollar, he was interested, didn't matter what it was. My mother long said you could literally sell crap in a bag and charge a buck and my dad would buy it.
The old man also loved vendors who did the whole infomercial thing (like a state fair), especially if it was car wax (never mind we had gallons of wax at home), if a guy was rubbing a hood of a car and talking loud the old man was hooked. And usually that's all it was, a salesman with a hood of a car on saw horses. He'd been rubbing on that hood for three days and there should have been an army of genies lined up he rubbed that hood so much. But yeah dad bought the wax.
But dad did get parts for his project cars, he explained to me what he was getting and why. See my old man was real popular back home in West Pullman, rarely was he able to work on a car in the garage without someone seeing the light on and stopping by. So this one on one time with the old man was special.
Seriously the most important thing was my father spending time with me and teaching me about cars and life. The old man didn't pull punches, he told you how it was.
I remember after the show the old man and I ate at Lawrence's Fisheries on Canal Street, it was great (no really Lawrence's is awesome), but the meal with the old man was exceptional, he worked swing shift so we didn't eat much together.
Then we drove back to West Pullman and life went back to normal and 30 years later I remember it like it was yesterday and never forgot how the old man took the time out of his busy schedule to share his passion.
The picture is from my local car show I attend every summer, I can't wait to take my forthcoming child and keep this tradition going, thanks dad.
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