Friday, June 29, 2007

Screen Saver

I thought I'd better check in with everyone. No, I did not fall into the vault at Tulsarama. Unfortunately, I viewed the events from the relative comfort of my office. My faithful companion was in her usual space, between the keyboard and the monitor. I call her my little screen saver.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tulsarama!-The Musical

Tul-sa-ra-ma, where the Plymouth should've had a drain
Cause the plastic bag, will start to sag
After fifty years all full of rain.

Tul-sa-ra-ma, Ev'ry night Miss Belvedere and I
Will discuss our fears, for fifty years
Hope the vault is keeping nice and dry.

The promised it was waterproof
And we hope they were telling the truth!
And when we say -Yay!
She's comin out today!
We're only hopin'
Don't drown the car, Tulsarama!
Tulsa-rama, okay?

Tul-sa-ra-ma, where the vault filled to the brim with rain
And the car was trapped, and filled with crap
And you know, it doesn't look the same.

Tul-sa-ra-ma, I can see, Miss Belvedere's a wreck
But the folks still came, and gave her fame
And they all still loved her, what the heck

We know we relied on the bag
But the seams didn't hold, what a drag!
And when we say Yay!
It's Tul-sa-ra-ma day!
You know we're thinkin'
Just dry her off , Tulsarama
Tulsarama, okay?


The vault kept it safe from the bomb
But the water leaked in all along!
And when we say
Go tow that wreck away!
We're only sayin'
We had a blast, Tulsarama!
Tulsarama, Okay!

Monday, June 18, 2007


All eyes were on Miss Belvedere Friday Night as she made what is perhaps the most anticipated Debut in modern times. After fifty years in waiting, unfortunately most of that time submerged due to limitations of the technology that sought to protect her, the cover was lifted off of the most famous 1957 Plymouth of all time. There was thunderous applause.

She has made the transition from automobile to artifact. Completely fused by rust into a solid mass of metal, she looks like a sculpture. Some dismiss her as an old rusty wreck, but she is much more multifaceted than that. In some ways, she is perfect- her sides are arrow straight. She has never endured so much as a door ding. Her tires have full original tread depth, and the names of people who signed them in 1957 are still legible. She never scuffed a whitewall, never tapped a bumper in a parking lot. No ice cream cones were ever dropped on her upholstery. Her gasoline tank was never even filled. She was simply drowned in place and entombed in the red Oklahoma clay.

In the end, she turns out to be a more intimate testimony to the state of society in 1957 than was anticipated. Her vault was proudly described as bomb proof, which eloquently describes the mental state of civic leaders at that time. A bomb was anticipated as a greater threat than the waters that consumed her. Her waterproof gunnite vault, which had no capacity for drainage, proved to be her swimming pool. Her protective high-tech metalam barrier ended up sticking to her finish, the thin layer of aluminum no doubt inspiring electrolysis on her body. And the highly touted custom made Kennedy Car liner, her vacuum sealed bag, failed along the lower heat sealed seams (the ones carefully sealed on site) inviting the waters in and turning her into the Plymouth Aquarium.

None of this post game analysis detracted in the least from the excitement of her unearthing and unveiling. While people would have no doubt loved to have seen her emerge as a Pristine Christine, they nonetheless appreciated her for the artifact she has become. She served as a marvelous bridge to our recent past. People travelled all over the globe to welcome her back. And the physical condition was far less important that just the ability to lay eyes on what had been legend for fifty years. She is one degree of separation from 1957.

People came who had seen her then, and watched her lowered into the vault. People came whose loved ones were part of Tulsarama but no are longer with us. They became the eyes and ears of their predecessors, keeping the promise to be there when the car was unearthed. People came who had never seen her, and never been to Tulsa. They came to watch the completion of an ambitious dream of fifty years ago. She is a marvelous link to a kinder and gentler time. I hope she is preserved exactly as she is.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Free At Last

Miss Belvedere was gently lifted from her vault this afternoon at the Tulsa Courthouse The crane operator twirled her around for the excited audience. People from all over the world watched a live stream on the Internet. I watched, literally teared up.

Why do I love this car so much? First, I am mad about the fifties. It was our last few minutes as an unconquered nation. We believed in our technology, and in our selves. We thought that we could accomplish anything. So it was hardly surprising that the Golden Jubilee Committee of Tulsa thought that they had the technology to encase an automobile underground and have it emerge intact.

I love her because she was a conscious gift from 1957 to the people of 2007. We all try to leave a legacy for our children. Some legacies, like this poor waterlogged Plymouth, are less than perfect. But I love all of the effort that went into trying. Even in her likely rusted state, she is a precious gift to us- a representation of what 1957 America thought of their lives.

Welcome back, Miss Belvedere. I Think you're just gorgeous.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Dreams

Miss Belvedere will come up looking like this...


Well, my out and out obsession with Miss Belvedere and Tulsarama continues. I guess with Paris in the hoosegow and Lindsay in rehab again, I just can't find anything else to focus on.

So here's the news of the day- lift off! The crane successfully test lifted Miss Belvedere this afternoon. This crew is leaving nothing to chance. They even did a "test lift" over the weekend with an identical borrowed Belvedere. Take a look at her sexy left rear tailfin peeking out from the plastic for the first time since the Eisehnower Administrarion - is she coated in Cosmoline or rust?

At this point, I'm okay with either. Guess who'll be glued to the net all day tomorrow?
(Photo courtesy of they have a fabulous picture page of her)

A Cool Dip

Chrysler Corporation planned a very dramatic show car for the 1957 season. The fashion statement of the moment was personified by tail fins and the wrap around windshield. The 1957 production cars had the tallest fins of their day and dramatically swept wrap around windshields- but the show car would do them one better- it had NO windshield pillars at all. Door glass met windshield glass in a dramatic sweep. It also featured concealed headlamps, a fastback roofline and tall tailfins, of course. Named the Norseman, it was hand made by craftsmen at Ghia Studios in Turin, Italy.

Unfortunately, we never got to see it. Once completed, the car was carefully wrapped and placed on board a ship to New York. They loaded the Norseman aboard the Andrea Doria in July of 1956, and as you can imagine, it is still there. One cannot imagine if anything actually remains after 50 years in cold salt water.

Like other gearheads, I have often had dreams about finding a truly lost car- stumbling upon something amazing. Perhaps that is the root of my fascination with Tulsarama- the brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Hardtop, nicknamed Miss Belvedere, locked away (in this case, literally underground) and untouched for fifty years. I imagine the world that encased it and the one that unearthed it. Perhaps she won't want to come out...

A pair of unfortunate events for Tulsarama this week-first, that my co-driver flaked on Monday and left me unable to attend, which is deeply disappointing, and second, that the vault was opened Wednesday to find Miss Belvedere resting in two feet of water. Water marks on the walls of the vault indicate that it may have been completely filled at times. Rusty streaks running down the sides suggest that the watertight seal of the roof simply did not hold.

I have to admit that I am not terribly surprised. The description of the vault, concrete lined with waterproof gunnite, was a fairly common construction technique of the postwar decade. It is, in fact, a swimming pool. And like the swimming pool, had much more tendency to keep water in than keep it out. The planners were aware of the possibility, even inevitability, and took steps to waterproof Miss Belvedere. To quote an article from the Tulsa Tribune of June 6, 1957:

"The car will be covered with a special preservative provided by the Dobeckmun Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, a casing developed during World War II to protect military equipment. The encapsulating, the goo itself, and two company representative all were donated by Dobeckmun."

So in the end, it will all come down to the plastic, kind of like Twin Peaks. I'm hoping with fingers crossed that Miss Belvedere remained vacuum tight in her five layers of plastic. Otherwise, she'll be another Norseman. Either way, I think of the (possibly myopic) vision of the City Fathers fifty years ago to bury a car as a gift to the future. I imagine all of the planning, the hard work, the feeling of accomplishment when the vault was sealed. I hope they pulled it off. I just can't wait to meet her.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


The fair city of Tulsa, Oklahoma turned fifty years old in 1957. The City, named by Time Magazine as America's Most Beautiful City, staged a Golden Jubilee to celebrate. The city fathers, looking ahead to Tulsa's Centennial only 50 years hence, decided to create a very special memento to the future- a time capsule. Not to be satisfied with any ordinary footlocker dipped in wax, they chose a most unusual commemoration of Mid Century Tulsa Living- they buried a brand spanking-new 1957 Plymouth.

Yes, a Plymouth. At the City Fathers' request, a Belvedere Sport Coupe in Desert Gold and Sand Dune White was donated by the Plymouth Division, no doubt imagining all the goodwill they would derive from the promotion and how it would most certainly spike sales of the 2007 Plymouths after the unveiling. Oops. And not to be content with just a car, they added ephemera of everyday life in Tulsa. A case of Schlitz beer. Home brewed gasoline and oil. An unpaid parking ticket. Even the contents of a lady's purse- cigarettes, tranquilizers, tissues, and all. Sort of a Valley of the Dolls Time Capsule.

Outside the Courthouse Building, the City Fathers created a Vault for the handsomely accessorized Plymouth. Lined with concrete and Gunnite, it was not so much a burial vault as a swimming pool. The car was lowered onto a steel framework by a crane and a (hopefully) watertight lid was fitted and sealed, then the entire vault was covered by three feet of topsoil.

On Friday, June 15, 2007, the capsule will be opened and the Golden Belvedere exposed to sunlight for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration. The car should be in fabulous condition, if everything behaved according to plan. Or the swimming pool could be full of water, as swimming pools sometimes tend to be, and there might be nothing left but the beer and the tranquilizers. Not to mention that some of the other contests are less akin to a time capsule and more along the lines of an EPA Superfund site. Fifty year old Gasoline. Yeah, right.

The point of this all is that my buddy David (the one I can usually talk into crazy things) and I have realized that we cannot possibly continue living if we are not there to witness the event, s0 we are driving to Tulsarama. We're going to witness the opening of what may be the most unusual Time Capsule ever created. It could only come from the fifties. We've elected to drive for the authenticity of it all, and because we both love a good road trip. While in Tulsa, I insist we visit the Golden Driller (a 76 foot tall golden statue of an Oil Driller that's been part of the Tulsa Fairgrounds since 1966) the Lortondale Neighborhood, and the Admiral Twin Drive-In, one of only eight left in Oklahoma. I'm scanning the 'net for authentic Roadside Diners.

I'll be travelling with laptop so I can blog en route. If anyone has suggestions of fabulous Fifties Tulsa architecture that I should not miss, please drop me a note. I'm totally excited about Tulsa- one has to love a community that buries brand-new 1957 Plymouths and erects 76-foot tall Golden Oil Driller statuary. If only Los Angeles were so forward thinking.

Palm Springs Weekend

I spent the weekend in Palm Springs with my friend Jim at his condo off Racquet Club. It's over by the Movie Colony. which is one of the oldest sections of town. He called on Thursday to ask if I had any absolutely unchangeable plans, and through some miracle of nature I hadn't. Cher can wait. I wasn't even scheduled to work this weekend.

Only 100 miles from LA, Palm Springs is a different world. Relaxed, even slow paced. It's one of my favorite places in the world to do NOTHING. Easy to get to, I commented- "just head East on I-10 and get off in 1957".

Actually, we stopped a bit before that. Outside of town there are thousands of windmills generating electricity. They operate on all but the windiest days (too much risk of propeller damage). It's a beautiful sight to drive through. We stopped at the side of the highway so I could snap a picture. I emailed it to a friend with the caption "Because I'm not one of your FANS". I tend to do things like that in the Springs.

We spent some time by the pool, and stopped by a bar called Toucan's to play video trivia with the locals. We drank Margaritas and chatted up a woman whose husband was one of The Tubes. I serenaded her with songs from Xanadu. It was stupid and wonderful. We went home and made Martinis and grilled steaks. We hopped from video bars (I danced! to "Love Shack", no less...) to leather bars and ended up chatting and cocktailing on the patio until 2 am.

On Sunday, we had a relaxing breakfast around noon at Hamburger Mary's. I love watching straight families who stumble in. It's way fun when they realize where they are. They look around, and slowly begin to notice the high concentration of hunky males unaccompanied by females, except for possibly one to a party. Some pick up quickly, and some don't. Some don't even get it until their check a red stiletto heel.

After lunch, we went off for more shopping. We found a brand new little GayMart called b fabulous and flirted with the very cute help. I bought a terrific new book called "When I Knew", in which gay people tell of the moment when they realized. I bought it on a whim, and read it aloud to Jim in the car on the way home (after we stopped at the Barracks and got our picture in the local bar rag- Talk about being treated like fresh meat!) Anyway, the book. It's full of funny, touching tales of guys and girls coming to the realization that they really, really are one of THOSE. The stories are sweet, and sad, and funny, and embarrassing, and affirming, and they reinforced to me that we really are born with this, its not the result of bad parenting or funny uncles. We are, and we have a right to be. Highly recommended little book.

I love Palm Springs.

Starving Actor

I used to work on Auto Shows for General Motors. These shows would feature sets that would be shipped from town to town. An advance man would be sent out to supervise the assembly of the exhibit space and prepare the display for opening night.

My favorite was a white haired New Yorker named John. He was a lighting technician on Broadway starting in the mid-1950's. He lit Bells Are Ringing for Judy Holliday, one of my personal icons. And he had GREAT theater stories, both past and current. It was John that convinced me to see Angels In America on one of my Easter trips to Manhattan. He was a very friendly and gregarious guy.

It seems that in the late 1950's, John had just gotten married to a beautiful Rockette named Lynn. They had a small apartment in New York, and not unlike other Theatrical couples of the day, they had a starving actor living on their living room floor. John described him as a hilarious young comic actor who was struggling to find his big break, the one that would make him a household name. Unlike so many others, he did find his. A small part in Bye Bye Birdie led to a much better role in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and a Tony Award. The actor found when he went to register his name that someone already had done so, and thus he was compelled to register his full name: Charles Nelson Reilly.

I had dinner with CNR in 1995. We were setting up the LA Auto Show. I picked up the telephone and an unmistakable voice asked for John. "Tell him it's Charles", he said. He needn't have, there was no doubt who it was. John invited me to join them at the Daily Grill. We were waiting in the lobby for him when an ancient brown Mercedes with CNR plates pulled up. Within moments, I realized that the wacky television persona was not a part, it was Charles. Dinner was like being on the set of Match Game, albeit with cocktails and warm bread.

The pattern was thus: John would tell a story, and Charles would edit. "Charles is from Hartford", John said. "You mean Paris", Charles interjected. "Paris sounds soooo much better".
And on it went- an evening spent with two old friends, one of whom happened to be an icon in the television of my childhood. And one of only two openly gay people this boy from Southern Lower Michigan had ready access to for many years. Charles and Paul Lynde were about the only role models I had. Which might, in fact, explain a lot.

Here's to you, Charles. Thanks for everything.