The duct-taped Cadillac that drove its imposing Detroit silhouette into my memory is an illustration of the incongruity of brand symbolism and personal struggle, er, resourcefulness.
Drawing from a foggy recollection (literally and figuratively) I was about 7, when we took a family road trip to Oregon, up the coast, inland here and there, and ultimately to Newport, I believe, give or take 100 miles (leaning on Google here for general plausibility). We stopped at a landing adjacent to a bridge that I only remember as impressive. Until this point, brands as symbols didn’t mean much to me, especially brands for adults, like Cadillac. Of course, cars were generally an exception because they’re toys. Car dreams were lived out through Hot Wheels, which were also a precursor to an education in brand awareness. At least aesthetically, certain cars are more appealing or intuitively fun, at any scale. So a Ferrari isn’t so much a Ferrari as a status symbol, but a fun looking toy (and Magnum PI’s suave whip). A Cadillac was a majestic slab of steel if nothing else.
The Caddy was parked in the lot where we stopped. I took in that at least a third of the white body was covered in silver duct tape: The trunk was fully mummified, as was a vast portion of the back half of the vast car. The car was unoccupied, so there were no prejudices I could ascertain about the owner, no judgement I could pass. The owner’s plight was seemingly written in yards and yards of duct tape—a black hole for interpretation. The gesture seemed extremely straightforward, one could assume that economics dictated the type of rudimentary solution to any structural problem that the all-healing adhesive substrate is famous for, least of all taping HVAC ductwork.
This trip was a formative one for me creatively, I remember snapping a scene of a fog-enveloped pond with a vacant bench in the foreground. I remember having the impulse to take a picture of the Caddy, but was probably too embarrassed to get my 110 camera. Nevertheless, the early lesson in irony was permanent and is a type of electrical impulse that I can easily relate to today, even though I’ve tried to restrain or refine my impulses for ironic expression.
Practically speaking, until quite recently I sported my own taped-up solution to a broken side mirror, on a ’97 Honda Accord Wagon (stolen, October 2014, likely still rolling strong wherever she is now). Some jerkoff sideswiped my mirror while it was parked on my street, leaving it broken and useless on the ground. The broke and cheap bastard that I was, and am, I bought an ultra generic off-the-shelf auto parts store side mirror (“Honda” or “OEM” weren’t even entertained) and taped it on, as well as taped-on a glass mirror, it was quite a piece of… sculpture. For years, at six month intervals, we’d re-tape the mirror. I say we, but it was really my former girlfriend who insisted.
Left to my own devices, I’d let the tape monster deteriorate until the tape was flapping at 80 miles an hour going up the 101 and the glass mirror was at risk of falling out, then make an emergency stop at Home Depot, pick up some Gorilla Tape, crudely re-tape and head out again. Gorilla Tape, for the uninitiated, is an awesome product, heir to duct tape’s long-reigning utility as the premiere super-strength adhesive tape, although it’s black so if a car or the mirror mounting bracket is any other color, it will stand out even more.
I adapted to this janky existence for years, to the point that I didn’t see a taped-up mirror, a blinding symbol of failure, but just a mirror. At a particularly low point I jotted a note to self that I was living in the taped-together years. Years of life imbalance, improvisation without substantive action, drifting, and poor financial judgement. It seems like part of the black hole I’d discovered in Oregon, early in my creative journey, manifested itself in Gorilla Tape, a cosmic ligature between my journey with the anonymous Caddy parked in my mind, and miles from any fluid state of luxury.