Our car guy mourns the memory of decades worth of ephemera
About 15 years ago, I quit (OK, was fired) from a retail job and decided that with nothing to lose, it was time to see if I could make a go of it writing about cars. Amazingly, it turned out I could. It also turned out that compared to the professionals, I knew nothing, and I began turning my little hobbyist collection of literature into a reference library.
On February 14, it all went away.
By the beginning of this year, I had thousands of books, magazines and other ephemera. Compared to some of my peers, it was special, but still the result of endless hours tracking down obscure books, making trades and Craigslist deals all over the country, scrimping and saving.
Over the weekend of the 14th, however, a pipe burst upstairs from my office. The other tenants in the building had moved out and no one discovered it until about noon on Tuesday. For at least 36 hours, I had the equivalent of steady rain over my desk and bookcases, at least four inches of water (enough to fill up a glass Coke bottle to the top).
It got so wet that on most of my shelves things have swelled up so much they’re either wedged in like cement, or have just broken the shelves apart. Enough water fell to drill holes through things that were out flat, covering much of the space in a sort of papier mâché made of 100-year-old advertisements and brochures.
The past week before writing this has been a blur; in fact, this is the first thing I’ve even tried to write since it happened. I’m trying to tell myself it didn’t happen at home, no one was hurt, and it’s true that it’s only stuff. But it’s also the core of my life and my profession, and it’s set me adrift.
Insurance says they’ll cover it, so now I have to do a complete inventory and accounting, which is a lot like sifting through a cremated relative’s ashes. I have no idea what it’s all going to add up to, and how depressingly much they’ll depreciate, but I started with my camera and lenses (did I mention I had my good camera and all my lenses in there), and with 13 items on the list, it’s into five figures. Two thousand more entries to go.
Of course, I managed not to have my recalcitrant old laptop in there, just things I like. I have no idea how long it’s going to take to document the loss, just that it’s time I won’t be working. And then there’s replacing everything.
Cameras, hard drives, furniture, I can order with a click. Out of curiosity last week, I started browsing for replacements collector car auction catalogs, often a vital source of information when researching ownership of a specific car. What I learned was, no one sells them. Oh, there are a few random ones out there on eBay, but to get complete runs, like I had, it’s going to be one at a time, at an average of about $55 each.
And where in the world am I going to find issues of The Marmon News from 1968? How am I going to replace the Mazda Cosmo “Supercar” brochure given to me by a friend who worked for Mazda in South Africa in the 1960s?
In 1992, a movie called Brother’s Keeper was released (it’s on Netflix, watch it right now if you haven’t). At the end, filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky asks one of the brothers (Lyman, I think) if his life is different now. “Ayup,” he says, “I’m going to start it all over new again.”
That’s pretty damn good advice from an illiterate dirt farmer. I guess I have to do at least as well as that.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. He welcomes the inevitable and probably richly deserved kvetching about Air Bag and anything else on Twitter as @proscriptus.