I never envisioned myself owning a car in the City, but due to a recent series of events, I’ve aquired not just any car, but a behemoth beast on wheels. When we purchased our car on a whim from eBay and picked it up in the backroads of Kentucky, we had no idea the response it would evoke upon arriving back in Manhattan. A gold 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car stretching almost twenty ft. in length, this mass of metal was built when a car was allowed to be a car, when an automobile deserved to be called an automobile.
People smile when they see it; their jaws relax, stress lines in their foreheads disappearing as if injected with a strong dose of Botox. People of all ages and ethnicities shout “Cool ride,” and “Love your car, man!” New Yorkers seem to slow down altogether when they see the car, sometimes stopping to stare, savoring the scene as we roll by. It seems to have some kind of transformative power – even I had questioned the practicality at first, before becoming a Continental convert.
My husband Niklas’ obsession with this particular model had begun months before. It was my idea to buy a car – the make was of no importance to me, only that it was cheap – a clunker just dependable enough to get us around the country for a six-week-long road trip we’d been planning. I intended to sell it right afterwards, in order to avoid the high cost of a rental car.
Niklas liked the idea, but on two conditions: it had to be an American car… and it had to be big. Being from Sweden, his excitement grew along with the size of the cars he researched. I became concerned as the price was also extending beyond what we had originally discussed, but he began to convince me that we were not buying a car, but an experience.
What an experience it has been. It took no time until we were fully initiated into the underworld of New York City car ownership. We have become part of a curbside culture and entered a world of practices and procedures previously unknown to us, which centers on one common goal: parking. Alternate side parking, we found, is an alternate universe, a sort of secret society.
We had lived together in the West Village for a couple of years and met absolutely noone. Suddenly, people began to approach us and our car. Everyone seems to have a story to tell and they take the time to tell it. Old-timers respond to it since they grew up in an age of larger than life cars. My parents’ generation is reminded of a simpler time, before seat belt laws, before global warming, before political correctness, before 9/11, before tsunamis and winters getting warmer right before your eyes. People our age either had the same model in high school or talk of memories of their mom or dad’s car.
The overwhelming response to our oversized sedan feeds our wanderlust as we venture forth on our extensive road trip that inspired us to buy it in the first place. The automobile has made friends of strangers in our neighborhood, and I imagine she will continue to spark conversation as we cruise from coast to coast across this beautiful country, going continental in our Continental.
Niklas Andersson is a lighting designer and photographer from Gothenburg, Sweden, who has recently set his sights—and lights—on New York City. With a passion for big American cars and a love of the open road, he offers a unique perspective, from both behind the wheel and behind the lens.
Christie Grotheim is a New York-based writer whose personal essays can be found at www.MrBellersNeighborhood.com, www.Ducts.org and www.SmithMag.net. Though her workspace is in the West Village, she prefers writing longhand from the passenger seat with the world whizzing by and the wind in her hair.