I’ve been cooped up in my room writing up my end of the Winter Semester Hausarbeit. I stuck my head out the window and there it was, half a block away and obscured by the other cars on the street, but that thimble-sized orange fleck registered right away in my brain. It is the second Dodge Charger I’ve ever seen, a 1970. The first was perched high off the ground in a junkyard at the edge of the next town over back in Northern California. My friend and I, hundred degree heat, tired on our bikes, about to start the long ride home. I only had a moment to glance at its neon green hue framed against that flawless blue sky.
Seeing this equally eye-piercing orange example parked in front of the store of one of Berlin’s foremost fashion designers reminded me of another orange muscle car I spotted on my street a few months before: a widebody Pontiac Firebird. The cars themselves are only a year or two apart in age, now distanced by less than a year in my sightings, or by a different measure, only a few parking spaces. Both of their shapes were penned in the same American city and with the same European designs in mind. Their rear fenders swell to look fast and they gaze out with deep, open, 1970s faces.
To what degree are these cars separated? Born of like vision at the height of their age and in the same hometown, both restored and shipped to faraway Berlin, again reunited by a student’s camera. They now sit a few ones and zeros apart on my hard drive, sitting in the same year abroad and on the same street, even.
On their stamped steel sides swirl both a few meters and thousands of miles, a few months and a few decades. In the Firebird I see the first car to draw my eye – a black car, not orange. Its two headlamps stared at me on the way to a friend’s house every weekend in junior high. In the Challenger I see that backward glance I took in the summer after sophomore year. In the heat I was looking back at my home. For years I biked all over town looking to spot a rare car like this, and finally I’d spotted one in my last summer at home, in the house I grew up in. These pictures of this Dodge here do not freeze a time and a place. The sun rises and sets on its hood for as long as my memory lasts. Fresh spring air in Berlin and excitement one moment,twilight in the middle of the day on the edge of Woodland, CA in another. The reflections on this car do not only show the buildings lining the street in Germany’s capitol – look at how the shadows shift on its curved flanks. What memories wave like the shadows on this Challenger? They are not just stirred up by its sight – they live inside it. I wonder what lies in this car for its owner, or for any other Berliner who happens upon its strange and halting shape, or hears its noise passing by.
And remember too, this car is no building, no table, no chair! It was born to move, to transport. This orange machine in specific, clean and refurbished, was created to thrill, to excite, to arouse emotion. How will it drive about in my brain? What memories will I have of it a year from now, recalling my encounter here on my street in Berlin? Reflections on its sheetmetal change as the days change, as I walk around it to take pictures of it. I can see my home in it. I see that Berlin lives in it too, something I will remember clearly after I’ve flown back to the States. So long as my memory stands, this car has the sweat of a California kid, momentarily lost in nostalgia, living within. So long as my memory stands, I won’t have fully left Germany, just as this car has not fully left America so long as I remember my home every time I see it. Distance and time are curious things when memories are on the mind. Not only telephones and e-mails shrink the world. Right now, everything seems bundled up in my head, just a fold of my brain apart.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written eleven months ago, on March 24, 2010.