Last Sunday (10/23/16) my husband and I started driving to Seattle to see a new exhibit at SAM. When we were near the Tacoma the traffic started to slow down drastically and then it came to a standstill at Tacoma. Since a traffic jam is in no way an unusual phenomenon we were patient at first; however, after waiting for one and a half hours in a dead-stop position we could no longer wait for the traffic to clear up (supposedly there was a traffic accident at Cleveland Ave. exit) because we would not have any time to see the exhibit by the time we’d arrive at the museum. So we decided to get out of I 5 to visit America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, which we happened to have a glimpse of on our left as we waited for the cars to move. After all, it was the museum that my husband had wanted to visit for some time.
The collection of the museum was fairly extensive but in many ways organized somewhat chaotically, clearly showing off the collector’s passion for automobiles from BMWs (so many of them, for some reason) to NASCAR racing cars. But what I found most interesting was a collection of custom-made coach-style automobiles, which were certainly reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages of pre-modern Europe. The coach cars exhibited were often opulent and class conscious (some coach cars did not have a covering over the driver’s seat), and thus reminded me of the hierarchical origin of passenger cars. What changed such a classist origin of passenger cars was, of course, the appearance of Ford’s model T — I was shocked to learn they costed almost one tenth of the cost of other cars (not necessarily luxury cars). “Hurrah for the assembly-line mass production!” one might say, while others might disagree with such simplistic reaction to the democratization of societies (the climate change, too much carbon emissions, you know). Henry Ford’s acumen and cunning (he wanted every one of his employees to be able to buy his car – a clever way to expand the market) created modern America of the 1930s onto present, culminating in the very “modern” phenomenon of traffic jams. (Traffic jams may be, in a way, negatively symbolic of the democratization of society.) However, I have to admit that Ford’s Model T certainly looked shabby and uncouth compared with other hand-made luxury cars, such as old Rolls Royce. Ford’s Model T totally lacked the “aura” that Walter Benjamin discussed in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” though it gave the general populace a means to equalize the mode of transportation.