- January 30, 2019
It's a sunny Saturday morning in some agrarian, eastern European country that ends in -ia or -stan.
Villagers arise to a bucolic setting, grab a creamy mug of dhallë and head to the main square to chat with old friends or make some new ones.
It's a few kilometers down the rutted dirt road, so maybe they walk, ride a bike, hitch an ox to a cart or fire up a decades-old, Soviet-era tractor that runs on anything from kerosene to cooking oil. Either way, the fellowship is obvious as the villagers chat about things they love: the harvest, livestock, who really owns the means of production or that wacky Borat fellow.
A gathering of like-minded people enjoying each other's company.
Here in the USA, on a sunny Saturday morning, the sentiment is much the same, replayed in gatherings over and over from Miami to Seattle with origins further back than the real-life people who inspired "American Graffiti."
It's a motor-crazy staple called a Cars and Coffee meet-up. A gathering of like-minded-people enjoying each other's company and chatting about things they love: rumbling muscle cars, six-figure exotics, classic vintage sportsters, built-from-the-ground-up hot rods, hatchbacks seemingly propelled by their stereo systems alone and zoomy rebuilds of what once were sensible econoboxes.
We might say we hate bumper-to-bumper traffic, $4.75 gas, spiraling insurance premiums, red-light cameras, slow-pokes in the passing lane, 55 mph speed limits, radar guns and parking meters — the trappings that accompany everyday commuting. But we love our cars and the freedom they deliver unconditionally, to the point that all other headaches pale once we, quoting Steppenwolf here, "get your motor running."
So unconditional is that love, mind you, that a driver's license is not required.
Meet Brian Sanchez, a soon-to-be fourth grader from St. Petersburg whose Lakewood Ranch grandfather is as car crazy as he is. The two of them could hardly be slowed at a recent automotive gathering long enough to chat about cars and car stuff, but during a breather alongside a waist-high-to-an-adult Ford GT that even Sanchez towered above, the youngster made clear that soccer is cool, video games are cooler, but internal combustion, man…
"Look at them all," Sanchez said, shooting a smile at his grandfather not far away and plugging his ears when a monster-sized motor fired up 20 feet away, instantly turning a few bucks worth of refined former dinosaur into noise, heat, fumes and boyhood joy. "I'm not sure which one is my favorite. … This one maybe."
John and Nita Govoni, of Bradenton have owned their 1963 Chevrolet Corvette coupe since he bought it in 1969 at age 22. To look at it today, you'd think John F. Kennedy was still a newly minted president and a gallon of Sinclair was still 30 cents. They drove their blue, split-window fastback to hang out with other owners of America's quintessential sports car, doing what most everyone at such an event does: chat with anyone who stops by.
"It's gotta be in your blood, you've gotta be a gearhead, I've been messing around with cars since I was 15," John said, adding he brought eight cars with him when he and Nita moved to Florida. "If we didn't have these cars, we wouldn't meet anybody. You know, neither of us work. If you're working at a job, you meet people. So with these cars, we go to shows, and we meet all kinds of people. You talk to them, we all got something in common: We spent all our money on cars."
He's had the Corvette brought back to original condition through a laborious restoration. Although it's not a daily driver, Govoni said he and his wife regularly enjoy the memories it delivers.
"My daughter, she grew up in the car," he said, adding the Corvette is probably worth about $150,000 (original list price in 1963: about $4,300), adding the "not-for-sale price is $250,000."
"If someone wanted it bad enough and they wanted to spend $250 (thousand)," he said, pausing for a moment, "I gotta give it to my daughter. She loves it. My granddaughter, she gets in there, you know, the young kids, she'll roll the window up, roll the window down, roll the window up, roll the window down."
Robert Alfarone's 1955 Chevrolet pickup truck is more than a play thing. He uses it as part of his ice cream catering business and, a bit, as a connection to his wife, who died of cancer in 2015. Together, they had worked on the truck since 2003.
"It's an ongoing project," he said, agreeing with a passerby who added "they always are."
"That's it: It's kind of a fun project. It kind of, sort of keeps me out of trouble — until you get in and start the motor."
Oh, the motor.
It's a rumbling 350 cubic inch (that's 5.7 liters, kids) V-8 that's been modified to displace 383 cubic inches — a far cry from its factory-original six cylinders. He's designed the truck's look, the custom interior, the custom wood bed. "It's a labor of love. Every time I walk into the garage, I find something new to do on it. It keeps me busy, it keeps me out of the bars."
Alfarone said he's at a car gathering most every weekend with his dog, but he likes the atmosphere of a Cars and Coffee meet up the best.
"I love the get-togethers," he said. "And this is even nicer because there's no pressure, you don't have to win a trophy, you just come and show up. The truck and him are the star. I'm just the chauffeur."
The night previous to a visit to a car show, Alfarone said, he made $450 with his ice cream business, selling scoops out of the back. Ice cream, he'll sell. The truck, well…
"I could never sell it," he said. "And again only because my wife and I had 19 years into it before she passed away. So no, it's going to my daughter when I'm done."
On the opposite end of a recent car gathering was a more civilized corner, far from the bluster of American iron and muscle. Rich Barbieri's car-show neighbors were, shall we say, a little more refined and continental. He loves his new 1968 Jaguar E-type, broadly considered one of the sexiest machines ever built.
No wonder Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery drives one.
Barbieri has owned the Jaguar a little more than a year, but other classics such as a BMW M3, Porsches, a Ferrari are in his garage as well. "I own seven cars, which is kid of silly."
This one, though, is something special. It's that sexiness, even without air conditioning.
"I've always liked the styling," he said. "Enzo Ferrari said it it was the nicest car he'd ever seen, which is saying a lot coming from Enzo."
A recent gathering was the first time he had brought the butter-yellow convertible out to a car show. He said he looks at a lot of cars and always had a soft spot for the Jaguar — he's in cool company: Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis, Brigette Bardot also owned one.
So does the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
"There's something nostalgic about older cars, so that's a lot of fun," Barbieri said.