The Continental Pt. 3: Cross Country
(This article is part of the 15-part series, The Continental, written by Christie Grotheim with photography by Niklas Andersson as the couple takes a six-week road trip across and around the United States in their 1979 Lincoln Continental. Click here to catch up on the full series.)
During the first few weeks having our car in the city, we sometimes went on random “drive-bys,” showing up at different friends’ houses, pulling up in Greenpoint or Williamsburg or Park Slope and blasting the high-pitched horn, unannounced and uninvited.
Niklas had been talking about the car for months in our circle. After a few beers, he would show any captive audience colorful pictures of ‘79 Lincoln Continentals on his iPhone.
“That’s our future car!” he would beam.
He was always met with the same response: “Where are you gonna park that thing?!” Then each and every person would launch into a spiel on the cost of gas, share their own political theories behind the rising prices along with their projections for summer prices, and then attempt to do the math on what we would be spending on gas…before giving up and taking another swig of beer.
Our friends had doubted we would buy the car, which made the drive-bys all the more satisfying. “We’ll show those cynical bastards!” Niklas said as he neared an apartment building and laid on the horn. I reminded him that even I had questioned the practicality at first, before becoming a Continental convert.
The car does seem to have a sort of transformative power. When people emerged from their apartments looking annoyed at being interrupted—and exhausted by life itself— we saw their furrowed brows relax, stress lines in their foreheads disappear as if injected with a strong dose of Botox. On each visit, after only a few minutes, a dreamy look washed over them one by one. They circled the car in awe, then explored the interior with child-like wonder, stroking the soft leather, playing with the buttons and knobs. When we took them for short spins, there was laughter and merriment all around. The trips seemed almost therapeutic, leaving passengers somehow more content upon exiting the vehicle. No longer neurotic New Yorkers, they seemed to radiate with a sense of inner peace.
I had the same experience driving back from Kentucky, perhaps nostalgic for a decade I barely knew. When this car came off the production line, Niklas and I were both six years old, me living in Longview, Texas, and him in Gothenburg, Sweden. Even though we were too young to fully appreciate the 70’s, there is proof we were part of it in faded photos with our siblings dressed in funky bellbottoms. Without a care in the world, I remember it being wonderful.
Before the seatbelt law and before the time when kids had to use carseats until they were practically preteens, society seemed altogether more relaxed. My parents certainly were. As a toddler, I remember standing in our Buick between Mom and Dad so I could see, and I often sat in Dad’s lap to help him drive. My three siblings and I rode in the back of pick-up trucks, and sometimes begged to ride in the trunk of the car on the way to a restaurant. What a way to travel! It was like being in a warm, dark cave. We rode with my father on his various motorcycles, my sister tucked in front and me hanging on in back. As children, we drove three-wheelers, mopeds and dirt bikes, barefoot on backroads.
That was before political correctness, before 9/11, before everyone went green. Before living in a constant state of fear of the repercussions of what this attitude would do to the environment. Before strange weather patterns and tsunamis and earthquakes and winters getting warmer right before your eyes. Before worrying about corn syrup, Monsanto, and processed food. Before mad-cow disease, the bird flu epidimic, and the second bird flu epidimic: the H5N1 mutation. Before the introduction of organic meat, the push toward plant-based foods, and the raw food craze. It was before I watched too many documentaries about too many things. It was a simpler, if more naive, time.
I think that’s what people respond to when they see our car… and boy do people respond. We get thumbs up left and right when we cruise around town. People smile when they see it; their jaws relax. People of all ages and ethnicities shout “Cool ride” and “Love your car, man!” They motion to roll down the window at stoplights to ask about the year of our car. People passing by stop to photograph the car with their phones. New Yorkers seem to slow down when they see the car, sometimes stopping to stare, savoring the scene as we roll by.
It’s a real conversation starter, more powerful than a cute puppy. 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 the age of larger than life cars and tell us the makes and models they owned that were similar. My parents’ generation is reminded of a time when America was still America. And even people our age either had the same model in high school or talk of their mom or dad’s car—a Mark IV Continental or an old Cadillac Coupe De Ville or a ‘78 Chevy Impala. Even toddlers point to it: “Look at dat funny car, Daddy,” I heard one say.
And when we drive our behemoth around town, I notice other drivers give us plenty of room. The car creates for us room to breathe, room to move, room to roam. And roam we will. Now that we have explored Manhattan thoroughly we are ready for the freedom of the open road and a bigger road map. We’re ready for the six-week road trip that inspired us to buy the car in the first place.
The overwhelming response to The Cream Dream feeds our wanderlust as we venture forth. The automobile has successfully converted the skeptics and it has made friends of strangers. I can only imagine where it will lead us as we cruise from coast to coast across this beautiful country, going continental in our Continental.