by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Bye Bye Birdie

– Lot of Livin’ to do

I got a lot of living to do!
Sizzlin’ steaks all ready for tastin’
And there’s Cadillacs all shiny and new!
Gotta move, cause time is a-wastin’,
There’s such a lot of livin’ to do!

My late father and I hadn’t a lot in common. But we both had a passion for automobiles. His was boundless compared to mine. He surpassed my superficial fascination with horsepower and appearance by combining it with technical savvy, an elevation I was never inclined to imitate. Neither of us required encouragement to drive. My father was notorious for going on extended drives from Ontario to New Brunswick. Granted he had the plausible excuse to inspect the 170 acres of land he owned there, but I am certain he would have gone there or somewhere in any event.


A first-class automobile is one of only few things which excite me. My obsession doesn’t exemplify the sexual innuendo or other psychological quirk sometimes attributed to automobiles whether of the racy or classy status. It epitomizes mechanical integrity much the way a precision watch does. It is no accident that my paternal grandfather (who coincidentally drove Packard limousines) died owing forty watches. I therefore claim this affliction as genetic.

Being devoted to one’s automobile has its fetish corollaries. A clean car, inside and out, is one. Equally paramount is its mechanical flawlessness. Between the inevitable visits to the service department for repairs and adjustments of the car there is the constant preoccupation with removing dirt from it. I suspect I am one of few people in the world who knows the location of every reliable car wash between Ottawa and Hilton Head Island. Thanks to the marvel of GPS I have even saved those destinations to the on-board computer. I have also discovered the places to get the best detailing and hand-polishing. The less gladdening run-off of auto-ardor is that a mechanical hiccup plonks me into a disruptive catatonic state. My stupor is heightened by the fact that until the dilemma is ironed out I imagine endless consequences. The blight of mechanical malfunction utterly contaminates my being and even makes life for those around me unbearable.

On the other hand when my car is clean and performing well it is a sublime confluence! I have often likened the experience to what I imagine is the fascination equestrians sense when riding a thoroughbred horse. For me a fine automobile is the temporal manifestation of purity. As in all things it helps to be in tune with something to appreciate it. For example another of my obsessions is the piano. Having the ability to play “by ear” is not only an auditory talent but importantly a tactile ability. I flatter myself to believe that I have the capacity to sense machinery, to fathom its limits and to express its juices. I won’t of course become so poetic as to personify the car but neither will I downplay my sensitivity.

The rush to live is the hope to do it all before one dies (or at least before one becomes incapable of doing it). Every one and every thing has a shelf-life. Even a car has its limited crescendo of durability. I have never aspired to own a so-called antique or classic model. Years ago I may have held onto a car for 2 -3 years. I have lately traded automobiles every year for a new one. I am the first to confess the egregious economic folly. But I have never regretted it. With the passage of time I have learned to accommodate. I derive so much pleasure from “Cadillacs all shiny and new” that I have enormous difficulty resisting them. I am reminded that my father suffered a similar consternation. He told me that as a young man he made a choice between cars and booze. I am also regularly discovering that I am not the only one in the world who has a towering rage for automobiles. Knowing I am not alone is a considerable solace.

On a sunny day there is little that competes with the sheer delight of driving. As much as I cherish an invigorating bicycle ride, the luxury of sitting behind the wheel of a comfortable sedan with the windows open wide is unmatched, sailing along the pristine corridors of the Island or upon the open freeways. There are any number of other pleasures in life that I would readily forgo before giving up driving. Naturally I shudder to contemplate the day when I must. Until then, “There’s such a lot of livin’ to do!”