Some things you auto know

Cars are our cathedrals
— Roland Barthes

Holly Chabowski would certainly buy that premise.  She’s a Danish tourist who travelled across Canada with her girlfriend last summer.  She was so moved by the experience she wrote an ‘open letter’ to all of us. The letter was published in the Ottawa Citizen.

Long story short: the Danes loved Canadians. Hated the Canadian car culture. “We were tourists in your country for five weeks” she wrote. “Our overwhelming memory of Canada is cars, traffic, parking and the related obesity and unfulfilled communities. We were treated like second-class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.”

Of all the nerve. I find Ms. Chabowski’s comments rude, impertinent, unsettling and unseemly.

Too bad she’s dead right.

A goldfish never figures out that it lives in a glass bowl; North Americans don’t seem to notice that we live in a world customized for stinking, cacophonous, resource-guzzling, lethal motorized conveyances. Some day ages hence, historians will look back and shake their heads at the way we allowed mere vehicles to dictate how we lived. They’ll find it hard to accept that we fouled our own air, gutted our cities for freeways, paved farmland for suburbs and cloverleafs and built multi-storey parking garages to house two-ton machines many of which were only used a couple of hours a day.

Perhaps it takes a Holly Chabowski to open our eyes. She grew up in cities that were built before the car took over. Europeans must have an instinctive appreciation for non-car culture, right?

Well...I’m not sure. There is, after all, Vasteras. It’s a typical small town not known for much, other than that one insane weekend each summer when masses of chrome and steel land yachts, many of them more than half a century old, show up for a phenomenon called Power Big Meet. Which just happens to the biggest — and possibly grossest — automobile show in the world.

Eighteen thousand cars showed up for Power Big Meet 2014 this July. Not sleek Aston Martins, dinky Smart cars or even stodgy Volvos. They were great hulking Pontiacs, Fords, Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets. Detroit behemoths of 1960’s and 1970’s vintage.

In North America such cars are considered beaters, junkers and gas-guzzling dinosaurs.

In Vasteras they call them Pure Gold.  They say that for that one weekend there’s more classic Detroit iron in the tiny town of Vasteras than in all of the United States. They celebrate their clunkers with drag races, car parades, very loud country music...and they drink an awful lot of beer.

Sounds a lot like a Down South tailgate party but Power Big Meet happens a little north and east of Dixie.  Vasteras is a small town an hour’s drive north of Stockholm..Sweden!

You know Sweden...Denmark’s next-door neighbour? Don’t look now, Holly Chabowski, but your goldfish bowl is showing.

— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS.  E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca.

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