After having attended almost every year since the mid-80s, this may have been the last one.
No, the auto show isn’t going anywhere — at least not yet — but Dad is. A big part of going to the show is to spend the time with him. It was always a bit of a “homecoming” for me, a jam-packed weekend of experiencing as much as I could of the world where I grew up, but Dad was always the draw.
When I was a kid, back when the show was at the old Civic Center, heading into the city with him was almost as exciting as seeing the cars on the floor. He grew up in Philadelphia. He knew where to park, where to eat and how to avoid the sports traffic. It was one of those blueprint opportunities for a young kid to look up to Dad, and the old man did not disappoint.
That first year, I’m fairly certain my Mom went along as well, as the family was in the market for a new car. In later years, many shared with school friends with whom I’d jump into any and every unlocked car in the hall, it morphed into the father and son event we do know.
One of the biggest changes was the location, as the city built a magnificent convention center in the downtown across from the landmark Reading Terminal Market.
In the early days we’d grab a bagel for breakfast in that giant public market that was once a train shed for the Reading Railroad, as my senses were bombarded with the sights and smells of the region — meat and produce from Lancaster County, seafood from the Jersey shore, Italian bakeries and Philadelphia delicacies.
In those days, after the show, we’d head to Chinatown for dim sum, before making our way back home to “the sticks.”
Fast forward 20 years, the bagel has been replaced by sitting down at a diner in the market, and dim sum with an Italian dinner, but it’s still something I look forward to all year long.
Then there’s the show itself. Back in my youth, it was billed as an “international” auto show, ad due to the large nature of the city and region, drew manufacturers you might not see at more “regional” shows. As a kid, I was amazed to sit in something exotic like a Jaguar.
These days, auto shows are becoming more remarkable for who doesn’t come. In recent years, that has included Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW and MINI, just to name a few. I’m sure they have plenty of statistics to justify those decisions, but as someone who loves cars but hates facing the sales pressure at a car dealership and looks at an auto show as a way to avoid that, they lost me.
Also of note is what they don’t bring, as manufacturers phase out more coupes and sedans for SUVs. Don’t get me wrong — SUVs have their uses and we have one in our driveway — but one is enough. I long for the days of boulevard cruisers or well-appointed sports sedans I can throw into a corner and drive. I have a hard time believing an SUV is ever going to provide me with that kind of driving experience. And don’t get me started on finding a standard-cab pickup!
All of which makes me a little cranky, but then, I’m a lot closer to 50 than that wide-eyed kid of 15, so I guess it comes with the territory. That kid had a Corvette taste and a Chevette budget, and not much has changed. Dad and I both spent a healthy amount of time around that brand new mid-engine Stingray.
Seems like the perfect ride for this trip down memory lane.