Cars: Fuel for Thought

Letter from the Editor

In the car world, there’s “aftermarket,” (the auto industry term for the lucrative business of post-purchase upgrades). And then there’s aftermarket, the eccentric stuff owners do to modify their personal transportation.

My most recent sighting of a “customized” traffic-stopper was in a parking lot in downtown Ypsilanti, where a compact car zipped past, sporting what appeared to be a mobile zoo of toy reptiles. Glued-on plastic dinosaurs and snakes studded the entire body.

In my travels about town, I’ve seen a “hillbilly space shuttle,” as proclaimed in crude lettering on the side of a truck, and the more common all-over lamination of in-your-face bumper stickers, not to mention squirrel tails flying windsock-style from antennae.

Cars are a form of theater, public entertainment that thrives in this town above all.

Creativity bubbling up from street level is the lifeblood of cities. This is the month for fresh thought, which is aided by the shocking wake-up call of frigid temperatures, like a splash of cold water on the face.

Cars embody ideas, even beyond the potential of their engines waiting to spring into motion. Just owning one serves as inspiration. With a car at your beck and call, the possibility of taking the great American road trip is as close as the keys in your hand. Even on short hops, alone with cruising music and the windshield panorama before you like a movie screen, ideas flow.

Maybe Phil Power, the retired media mogul, was behind the wheel of his car and deep in thought when he decided to form The Center for Michigan, an organization dedicated to tempering the destructive bitterness of political discourse.

Politics and public debate have become the conversational version of road rage. And, as Power says, it’s time to steer toward the more sane middle of the road.

With extreme politics aside, perhaps we could talk about another kind of ride, one that gives us an occasional vacation from workaday traffic jams, which will surely worsen when the I-75 roadwork ensues.

More than seven years ago, in this magazine, I wrote about the future of public transit in metro Detroit. Experts advised that we begin with better buses, luxury coaches with footrests, reading lights, padded high-backed seats that recline, and maybe even television for watching the Today Show en route to our jobs.

In a wheel-oriented city such as this, creating fabulous buses should be a logical extension of our ability to design beauties like the one that graces our cover, a 1956 pink Cadillac believed to have been purchased by Cary Grant.

Some creative mind will find a way, perhaps while driving along, alone with just the music, an unfolding view, and a few wild ideas.