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Gulf Oil Gas Station Circa 1979

Total Freedom

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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I love old gas stations.

I grew up with them.

They weren't just places of rest and refueling, but shining symbols of total freedom in my young life — and still are.

I can vividly remember rolling over the signal hose that sounded the service bell inside the garage.

Pulling up to the gas pump with the rolling analog numbers on the readout.

Walking across the hot pavement, baking under the summer sun.

Stepping into the shade of the marginally cooler lobby — the creaky, rattling wood-framed glass door tinkling the brass cowbell hung above.

The smell of old grease, oil, gasoline, and solvents permeating the air.

The sound of an air tool firing off inside a service bay — but the sound they used to make, like a an ear-splitting whizzzzz, all raspy and rough.

Some old guy at the counter, kinda greasy from working on something out in the garage.

The soda pop machine that dispensed old, thick, curvy glass bottles of Coca-Cola or Pepsi — you know, the kind where you had to open the heavy-hinged glass door, rotate that hard lever, and quickly grab the bottle so the door didn't slam shut on you — and those old bottles that were cleaned and re-used so they had the rough wear marks on them where the glass had been chipped and ground off. Man, those things weren't just cold, either, they were ice cold — like, hurt your teeth ice cold.

Nothing like grabbing one of those on the road, in a classic American Muscle Car on a 95-degree day, out in the middle of nowhere — like finding a welcome oasis in the middle of a vast, desolate desert, where nobody gave a shit who you were, why you were there, or where you were heading.

That was an experience I remember having quite a bit, tootling around the countryside with my mother and grandfather in her '66 Mustang or his '67 El Camino — no A/C, just the windows rolled down, the sun scorching the gleaming, painted steel, and the hot wind buffeting me at freeway speed for hours.

Growing up that way gave me an appreciation for classic American Muscle Cars. Modern cars just can't replicate the amazing experiences the old ones provide. '50s, '60s and early '70s cars aren't just historically, technologically, and socially significant, they drive better than modern cars do — and by better I mean immersion in the driving experience: the car, the road, the air, and the scenery. By comparison, modern cars — especially electric cars — are just soulless husks that through ever advancing technology pull you further and further away from that visceral, mentally-engaged, soul-healing, utterly fulfilling driving experience you can get from vintage iron.

You don't climb into a classic Muscle Car to get somewhere, you settle into it to go somewhere. Anywhere. So long as you're in it, the carbureted V8 thundering just beyond the thin steel firewall, the sound of the dual exhaust and cadence of the cylinders pounding into your whole body like a relaxing massage, while the road rolls by underneath in a blur of textured pavement that subtly vibrates through the steering wheel and provides a soothing hum to your nervous system that just barely permeates the fringes of your mind, laser-focused on guiding the car down the road, navigating the twists and turns, as you become a part of the scenery so perfect, no photo could ever do it justice.

A car like that isn't a transportation appliance like a Prius, SUV, or Tesla, it's your most trusted friend that you can't wait to see again and share yet another incredible adventure with.

As far as I'm concerned, there's simply no finer living than hitting the open road on a hot summer's day in an even hotter piece of classic American iron.


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