Every summer I escape the blistering heat of Arkansas to spend a couple of months in the blistering heat of Georgia. This year my trip was bookended by visits to two museums — both filled with vehicles cooler than anything I will ever drive. On the way down south in June, I passed through Mississippi and stopped at the Tupelo Auto Museum, home to one of the largest private collections of vintage cars in the country. The 120,000-square-foot building is so huge that my house could fit in the Welcome Center with room left over for the postcard rack.
The museum is home to 150 beautifully-restored cars spanning over a century of automotive history. From an 1880s Benz to a 1994 Dodge Viper, the collection charts the evolution of driving. It has rare cars like the famous 1948 Tucker — only 50 were made before the company folded — and the pricey 1929 Duesenberg. There is even a Lincoln that belonged to Elvis Presley. Since the collection is worth in excess of $6 million, it is in effect the most expensive parking lot in Mississippi.
By contrast, the parking lot at the Tupelo Wal-Mart was pretty sad. Though I did spot a rare 1978 Ford Pinto near the Garden Center.
On my way back to Searcy in August, I went to Birmingham and — for the sake of symmetry — stopped at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. There I saw a collection of 1500 motorcycles, again covering a century of production. Naturally, the place was full of Harleys, Indians, Hondas, Yamahas and so forth, all immaculately restored and displayed on five floors. There were World War II military bikes, as well as vehicles driven by motorsports legends. It was all overwhelming.
Now, I didn’t exactly break down in tears like the time I saw Roy Acuff’s collection of hand-painted neckties in Nashville. In fact, I do not have the same emotional connection to motorcycles that many others do. I have been on that kind of bike exactly once in my life. I was probably 10 when I was offered a short ride on the back of a friend’s three wheeler. As I recall, we made it up to speeds well over nine miles per hour. My memory is a little fuzzy on this — probably because of all of the vomiting — but I think I spent the entire ride begging my friend to slow down and promising God I’d reform if I ever got back to solid ground. I wasn’t the most macho 10-year-old.
And as I drove to and from these two museums this summer, I reflected on just how little had changed in the past three decades. I still have no taste for speed — no matter what the Parkin Police Department may claim. And I’ve been driving the same shabby Toyota for the past 17 years. It still runs fine, though in July, two more hubcaps and the passenger-side mirror fell off. That same week, a small skin tag dropped off my chin as well. So it’s fitting that my Camry and I are falling apart together. Both of us may soon be patched up with duct tape.
I mailed a postcard from the Tupelo Auto Museum to a friend and joked that they had asked me to consider donating my Toyota. He wrote back to suggest that if I did put my car in the museum, I should be sure to get out of it first.
Of course he’s right, but I can’t help but think how fitting it would be for us both to go on display. My Camry — a relic from the late 90s that will soon crest 275,000 miles — and me — a Luddite from the early 70s ill-at-ease in the tech-filled 21st century. In fact, it might be rather nice to spend my twilight years in a museum, perched behind the wheel of my beloved Toyota, hand-painted necktie flapping out the window, a stash of Werther’s candy in the cup holder.
I can picture a father taking his son through the collection, commenting on the exhibits:
Dad: “Hey, look! I had one of those when I was young.”
Boy: “You mean the guy with silver tape on his face?”
Dad: “No, son. The car. Except mine had more hubcaps.”