The Honda Lucerne and Other Roadside Attractions

2067201883 The Honda Lucerne and Other Roadside AttractionsSpontaneous road trips are a like a treasure hunt without the clues. The prizes always appear unexpectedly. Like Goldendale’s night-shift police officer. “No, Mr. Niedermeyer, your speed was just fine. But you seem to have your high-beams on. That’s against the law within city limits. But… you’re free to go.” With those words of affirmation, our road trip to Wenatchee resumed. Adrenalin flowing, we were alert to the next roadside attraction.

The next morning, stumbling out of our dark motel room into the brilliant sunshine, my eye was dazzled by the chrome portholes on a red Buick Lucerne in front of our door. Wait a minute… whoa! Am I still dreaming? I took a step back and realized I was looking at a 2008 Honda Accord with Buick portholes proudly affixed to its upper front fenders.

Initially, this moment of auto-Zen discombobulated me. For the first time in a very long while, I failed to recognize a car instantly, succumbing to the power of an over-wrought styling cue. But then the pregnancy of this symbol consumed me, to the bewilderment of my wife, eager for her morning coffee.

During the seventies and eighties, Americans (owners and manufacturers alike) decorated their domestic cars with the trappings of upscale imports. It wasn’t unusual to see fake Mercedes and Rolls-Royce grilles, “Euro” Chevys, etc. But this Honda Lucerne played a different game.

That Accords have become so Americanized in size to carry off the Buick charade was strange. That incentivized Lucernes go for less than an Accord even more so. My guess: the driver wanted everyone to know that he “Wouldn’t you really rather have a” Buick, but had been burnt on the genuine article.

The Honda Lucerne was an encapsulated nugget of the changing cultural landscape of small-town America. Downtowns in this part of the country are a time warp of 1950’s Main Street: Sullivan’s Haberdashery, Monica’s Women’s Wear, Betty’s Bakery, “Meet Your Friends at the Igloo Caf.”

While we relished the chance to step back in time, I wondered and worried. The proprietors (as well as some of the goods on display) showed signs of advanced age. What will replace them? The kids have long moved on to Seattle.

Downtown Wenatchee felt like a living history museum with a short-term lease. The future is either shuttered doors or… Californication.

The automotive landscape was still rich in (genuine) domestics. The Toyota dealers didn’t carry Scions. Our xB generated stares. “What’s that? Is it from China?” But like the new Target on the edge of town, Hondas and Toyotas have infiltrated the last frontier.

Meanwhile, the old symbols have reincarnated. The former Sportsman Outdoor Store’s giant rotating hunter marquee, whose rifle goes off every revolution in a blast of red neon, overlooked a trendy bar. And Buick portholes graced the flanks of an Accord.

Our morning drive carried us up the Yakima Canyon, by a perfect fly-fishing river flanked by cliffs weathered to the colors of a fifteenth century Venetian tapestry. A dusting of fresh snow in the cracks of the basalt columns highlighted the textures– as if someone had sneezed powdered sugar on the ancient wall-hanging.

The empty winding road was a perfect wake-up drive in the morning sun. But our legs were ready for a stretch. A barely-marked pull-out suddenly appeared (screech). It turned out to be a trail-head into a side canyon. We reveled in the crystal morning air. The silence was punctuated only by hundreds of birds setting up housekeeping in the alders.

After several miles of hiking, the narrow canyon widened slightly, and signs of former human habitation appeared. Old gnarled apple trees straight out of The Wizard of Oz called out for a haircut. A set of concrete front steps signed by children and dated 1933 lead to… exceptionally thin air. I sat down and imagined the house, living there, isolated in every way.

For the first time on a road trip, I felt twinges of web-withdrawal. In Mexico, internet cafes are everywhere. Here, not even truck stops have web terminals anymore. Once again, I’m falling behind; it was time to buy a laptop. Or not. Maybe these homesteaders kept a Ford at the head of the canyon. The Model T was the internet of its time.

Highway 97 heads up into the rugged Wenatchee Mountains. Passing trucks in the 1.5-liter xB was a game of cat and mouse, evoking memories of 40hp VW Beetles. Since the trucks and the Scion have about triple the power today, the odds are still about the same.

After cresting Blewett Pass, it was a long coast down through endless apple orchards into Wenatchee. For dinner, we followed our noses that picked-up the scent of burning applewood and searing meat. That night I dreamed of transplanted portholes on shiny red apples.

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