We drive east off Mercer Island, over blue Lake Washington, toward the ice-cube Cascades cut out from the cold, blue sky. We get to drive in the HOV lane. I set the cruise control. We’re headed to the world-famous Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In in Issaquah.
“Are you going to the car show, Daddy?” my 3-year-old, Vincent, asks. “Yes, I am going to the car show, buddy.” “And I am going to the car show, Daddy?” he asks. “Yes, you are going to the car show.” I tell him. “And Mommy is going to the car show? And Iris is going to the car show?” “No, buddy, Mommy and Iris are not going to the car show. Mommy and Iris are sick of us, buddy. We’re going to get lost for a couple of hours.”
We’ve opened the windows on the truck. Actually, I’ve opened the windows on the truck. Vincent opens and closes and opens and closes his window. We listen to the air. We’re chilled, but the breeze is tolerable. It smells better than decaying Clif Bars and animal cookies under Vincent’s car seat.
A good car show is like a good picnic or barbecue, only with strangers and their hobbies on display. Most of the car-show guys — they are almost all guys — appreciate the chance to talk with Vincent and me about their cars. They wake up early in the morning, tow or drive their cars to the show and set up shop nearby. A cooler, lawn chair, radio and umbrella outfit a great base camp.
The best car shows offer live music, good food and some kind of event schedule. I like talking with the people who have painted signs about their cars. Sign painters are car shows’ distinguished statesmen. They attend enough car shows to know which five or six questions they will have to answer all day long if they hadn’t gone through the trouble of neatly painting those facts on an attractive display. The signs save me the trouble of guessing the car’s make, vintage, engine displacement, mileage and heritage.
Cars and their owners clump together like sorority girls. Muscle cars park by muscle cars, imports park by imports, and so on. Their owners usually reinforce my preconceived ideas about the kinds of people who own those kinds of cars. Some of them are archivists. They build machines to go back in time to the days when their cars were sold. These guys will tell you about all of the equipment their cars came with from the factory. If I egg them on a little, they’ll talk about the other cars driving around when their cars were new. Other owners use their cars like a Christmas tree. They build the cars with flashy paint jobs and body modifications.
Trailer queens are cars that rarely drive on real streets. At super-high-end shows, their owners set out lights and mirrors to show off their cars’ best sides. Most car shows involve some kind of competition. Winning “Best in Show” is a big deal. “Best in Class” and “Audience Favorite” are big wins, too. The people who organize the event try to come up with a bunch of other awards so everyone feels like they might win something.
Vincent enjoys the merchandise booths. Vendors at themed car shows — All Porsche show, Rat Bastards Car Show, Emergency Vehicle Show — sell hats, pins, T-shirts and sometimes models. Too bad I’m not in the market for a “Mini Cooper Parking Only” sign. Sponsors also sell stuff. Vincent collects brochures for windows, waxes and gutter products, then pretends they’re money.
Douglas Grey is a part-time writer and full-time dad.
The Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In in Issaquah hosts vintage, collector and other themed car-club events almost every weekend from February through October. Most are free.
This article originally appeared in the June, 2010 issue of ParentMap.