This is a terrific time of year. Spring is here, the birds are singing, gray skies and rain are pretty much gone for a while. Along with flowers, green grass and balmy days, it's the start of the car show season.
This area is hosting several car shows this month, and the next five months promise some fun times with vintage autos and trucks.
You might be surprised at the high level of interest in old cars here in Merced. Yes, this is a small San Joaquin Valley town a ways away from major metropolitan areas -- but it's been a hotbed of vintage vehicle interest for many decades. Folks dig their old cars.
Hardly a day goes by that you don't see some neat car or truck on the street. I'm confident there are hundreds, if not thousands, of street rods, antiques and classics, muscle cars, trucks and customs tucked away in garages, barns and warehouses right in the Merced area.
They don't come out very often, but when they do it's something that shouldn't be missed. I'll be stoked for weeks after attending a car show and can't wait for the next one.
To me, the venue's not nearly as important as the event itself -- I don't particularly care where it's held. Car shows take place on Main Street, the county fairgrounds, big-box store parking lots, the Castle Air Museum, at hamburger joints, even Lake Yosemite. All of these places make super settings for a car show.
The attractions range from loosely organized cruise nights to more formal events, but they're all good. There's no such thing as a bad car show; if you get to see even a half-dozen dynamite cars lined up next to each other, that's a win in my book.
Early in the year there are several indoor car shows in the bigger cities in Northern California and they're terrific, too.
With about 4,000 cars, the Goodguys' West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton in late August is one you don't want to miss. Big auto swap meets loosely fall into the car show category, too, with the added bonus of being able to buy someone else's no-longer-wanted treasure.
I'm a magazine junkie and can't get enough of hot rods, street rods, customs, pickups and even stock vehicles. To be able to see these gems up close and personal is just too good to be true.
Many contemporary car events are free, but some have nominal spectator charges and local charities often benefit, which makes it even better. Personally, I come to see the cars, not the auxiliary attractions offered to attract even more people, but face-painting, clowns, bands and souvenir booths have their place, and that's fine.
The mix of vehicles you'll see at a car show is staggering.
A 1932 Ford roadster may be parked next to a 1970 Dodge Challenger, with a 1955 Ford sedan sitting next to it.
Most of these treasures are nicely finished; some have been around for a while and are showing some wear around the edges, while others look better than they did on the showroom floor many moons ago.
Still other cars and trucks can be classified as "in progress," which means they may have primer for paint, the interior hasn't been finished or trim parts are missing. That's fine, too.
There's room for everybody in the old car hobby. By and large, auto buffs are pretty tolerant of others and their varied interests. Variety truly is the spice of life, and I'd bet each show has at least a handful of old cars that appeal to everyone.
People are welcome to check out each vehicle in detail -- but remember the "no touch" rule. It's not cool to put your hands on someone's ride.
Old car enthusiasts understandably aren't going to tolerate such intrusions. Vintage vehicles are pretty valuable and ice cream fingerprints or stroller scratches are about as welcome as a skunk in the backyard.
Another fun element of the old car scene is to share your love of old cars with others.
Friendships are made and rekindled at each car show -- and that's a real bonus. Take your son or daughter, grandson, girlfriend, significant other or next-door neighbor and share the hobby with others.
This is a grand time of year, and it just doesn't get much better than being able to hear the throaty rumble of a 1970 Camaro or the rattle-rattle of a Model T four-banger in the Lowe's parking lot. Check it out for yourself.
You can reach Doane Yawger at firstname.lastname@example.org.