Start your engines

When dressing for the Sacramento Autorama, remember the three H’s: Harley-Davidson, Hot August Nights and Hooters. Since this was my first visit to “the country’s second oldest indoor car show,” my friends had given me this indispensable piece of wardrobe advice. Alas, my closet lacked garments representative of the three-H rule, so I settled for my Dreamy Tees shirt with the “Ocean City, MD, 3073 Miles” road sign printed on it.

As we inched toward Cal Expo through the inevitable Arden-area traffic, I had time to wonder why I, a woman who doesn’t own a car and is direly afraid of driving, had agreed to come to an auto show. The $2-off coupon from Les Schwab Tire Center provided a mild incentive, although the $16 admission and $7 parking fee seemed awfully steep for an event that didn’t include waterslides or a concert by Tower of Power. After further deliberation, I attributed my gearhead pilgrimage to the lure of human curiosity.

During the nine-year period that began when I got my driver’s license and ended when I gave up driving for the safety of all humankind, I was in three car-totaling accidents. (None of which were my fault; just ask AAA.) During the last collision, as my truck spun out of control on Alhambra Boulevard, I realized the universe was telling me that in life, there are passengers, and there are drivers, and I was the former.

Since then, I’ve discovered innumerable benefits to pedestrian living: regular exercise, disposable income, less guilt over air pollution and international oil conflicts, and the peace that comes from never having my budget hijacked by a failed transmission. Of course, there’s also the fact that I am frightened out of my motor skills by the thought of another accident (a fear validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s statistic that auto crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 3 to 33).

So, I was curious to meet people on the opposite end of the driving spectrum, those who not only utilize the automobile for daily errands, but also embrace it, revere it and happily pay $16 to look at customized specimens of it. And there they were, milling around with the three H’s on their chests, doing what you do at an autorama: standing in front of parked cars, going, “Ooh. Cool.”

The cars, displayed on carpets with props, lights and strategically placed mirrors, were eye candy in an almost literal sense. Their shiny, metallic paint made our mouths water as if they were giant, revolving Jolly Rancher candies. Some of the custom paint jobs were unbearably cheesy, like the car with stealth bombers breaking through airbrushed clouds that caused my friend to gasp, “That makes my heart hurt!”

Most of the vehicles had been lowered so dramatically I doubted they could traverse shag carpet without a tow. “Why would you work so hard on a car and then lower it so far you couldn’t drive it?” I asked, earning looks of scorn from nearby attendees.

“Because it looks cool,” my friend said with the patience of a preschool teacher talking to a child. The cars did look cool, like the pink, creamy “Sweet and Low”—a dream for a 1950s girl gang—or the futuristic bubble-top 1955 Ford that had everyone humming the theme to The Jetsons.

There were a few other highlights, such as watching a hefty gentleman getting his Rascal Powerchair detailed or hearing cover band Captain and the Diva perform a righteous .38 Special jam that almost—almost—inspired the audience to stand up. But ultimately, we were just watching parked cars.

Pretty as they were, I found it hard to be impressed by custom lowriders when my own feet are better equipped to cross a speed bump. After an hour, I’d seen enough to know I’m not an autorama gal.

Now I just needed a ride home.