A historical market place stacked with classic cars. One by one they are sent of by the Gentleman Speaker. A beautiful picture, it truly is, but for how much longer?
Burbling, roaring and whisper soft lipsing they are ready to take of for an attempt to add this ninth Dijken en Kreken Rally to their palmares. From Jaguars, little Trabants and beefy Benz’s to the Opels that were once sold by the local dealership. The field is divers and colorful. The participants decked out as if the just drove in from an era long gone. It’s a magnificent display, a sportive challenge and a crowd puller all in one. No wonder the terraces surrounding the square are this crowded this early on the day, here you are seated first rank.
Before I can set my ‘old flash’ into the country side, we and our starting number 81 need to practice some patience. The nervous vigour at the front of the starting field is still far away for us. Relaxed we behold the departure of the vehicles that are supposed to enter the spectacle long before us. Minute by minute they are released from the square, sent of on their way with a route book and stamp card. Steadily the line moves towards the arch that marks the starting line. Quietly idling, sometimes shook up by a more or less modest push on the loud pedal. For one day this market square isn’t the ordinary parking lot it usually is, today it’s the ‘parc fermé’ of a serious motorsports event.
And then, slowly but surely, a nasty feeling starts creeping into my head. A sentiment of finiteness. That things can’t go on like this, won’t go on like this forever. The order seems unimportant. Enjoying the participants leaving, we share innocent jokes about the richness of some engines mixture. We are petrolheads, children from a generation that could smell the difference between cars with and without catalysts, that preferred to spill leaded petrol to the more environmentally friendly species we have today. Simply because it smelled better. More familiar. A familiarity that these last few years has swiftly turned into a consciousness that what the odour we love so much isn’t very healthy at all, to say the least. An awareness that hangs like Damocles’ Sword above our mobility, above our hobby.
We might not be completely aware of the scale of things, but our society is changing rapidly. We now silently take modifications for granted that we would have laughed at not very long ago. Alternative fuels are welcomed by vastly expanding groups of people, our individual mobility does no longer seem to be the required standard. Of course, we are still grumpy about congestions charges and other measures taken, but usually it is the way things are organized that irritates, not the reasons that make us rethink our achievements so drastically. Times they are a changing. And fast.
That’s how I am enjoying the spectacle at the market square here in Hulst. Are my hands still smelling of the petrol and grease they absorbed the day before when I was doing some last minute repairs on my 69 year old lump of iron. Am I almost blissfully breathing in the to many malodorous fumes of a hundred years of individual freedom. Am I enjoying this feast of recognition and becoming melancholic by the awareness sinking in that we are moving towards a dead end. How much time will remain until the crowd on the terraces surrounding the square will turn away from our smoky and rattly heritage in disgust? In my head a song pops up that seems to be at home in the context. Lesley Gore sings it and I hum along while I turn my old Citroën on to the road, ‘it’s my party and I cry if I want to, cry if I want to… You would cry too if it happened to you’.
Marc GF Zaan