AutoMatters & More: “Wagons” & “Laughter on the 23rd Floor

“Wagons.... Weekend Warriors” at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Here is a question for you: what is the origin of the term ‘station wagon?’ Give up? I could not believe that in all my years of driving that included being behind the wheel of more than a few station wagons, I never thought to find out where that term came from.

Thanks to a new exhibit showcasing the many decades of evolution of the station wagon – foreign and domestic, large and small – at the San Diego Automotive Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the answer to that question has been revealed. Way back when railroads were the main mode of transportation and the automobile was still in its infancy, cars with lots of room for people and their luggage were needed for duty at train stations, hence the term ‘station wagon.”

A fascinating history of the station wagon is told at the San Diego Automotive Museum’s website (http://sdautomuseum.org/exhibit/wagons-0). The first station wagons were commercial, to transport travelers and their luggage between train stations and their places of lodging. Station wagons for personal use did not come on the scene until the 1930’s, by which time glass windows became standard. Early bodies were custom made, manufactured from wood because it was much less expensive and more versatile to use than stamped metal.

At a time when car ownership was just beginning to become commonplace, station wagons tended to be second cars owned by the wealthy. Some were literally called ‘Estate Wagons.’ U.S. manufacturers of station wagons included Ford, Dodge, Plymouth, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Pontiac and, in 1940, Buick.

An Oscar-nominated art director in Hollywood once owned one of the earliest station wagons in the exhibit. It is a 1929 Ford Model A. It produced all of 40HP to propel its weight of 2,255 pounds to a top speed of around 65MPH.

The British are represented by a diminutive 1964 Mini Countryman, complete with a vintage surfboard on its roof. Low to the ground, small and nimble, it offered great fuel economy in response to an oil shortage and fuel rationing in Western Europe.

On the other end of the size scale is a veritable land yacht: a 1972 Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon, granddaddy to the subcompact Ford Pinto Country Squire Wagon.

“Wagons.... Weekend Warriors” will be at the San Diego Automotive Museum through January 29th, 2017.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” – a delightful comedy by Neil Simon at the North Coast Repertory Theatre

Regional theater is alive and well and thriving in Solana Beach at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, now in its 35th season.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” directed by Tom Markus, is set in the 1950’s in the writers’ room of an NBC comedy TV show. It was written by Neil Simon, the brilliant playwright who brought us such wonderful Broadway hits as “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot in the Park.”

Early in his career Simon was a writer for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” Recalling that time and place, this fast-paced comedy loosely revolves around a group of wacky, competitive comedy writers, each of whom has rather unique, comical idiosyncrasies. They play off each other continually as they compete to write comedy for Max Prince (actor and North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein), the star of the show. Max is a likeable guy but his behavior is often ‘loony,’ creating laugh-out-loud situations. Along the way they all must face the fact that television programming is fundamentally changing.

The cast brings a wealth of experience from the stage, movies and television to their performances. In this small, intimate theater, the audience is seated close enough to the stage to observe even the subtle expressions of the performers.

My favorite character is writer Ira Stone (actor Omri Schein). Continually late for work, Ira blames a litany of dire, life threatening maladies – not that any of his co-writers believe him of course. His expressions are hilarious; his fixed stare is at once piercing and puppy dog sad. One has to feel at least a little bit sorry for him, in between bouts of laughing. Schein’s acting credits include “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Hopefully that will be performed again.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is onstage through November 20th. For tickets and more information phone (858) 481-1055 or visit www.northcoastrep.org.

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Copyright © 2016 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #460

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