No matter how happy our childhoods were, most of us have ended up with at least a few regrets that stick out in our mind. For whatever reason, random happenings tend to stick out as pivotal events in our life's chronology. Swinging at that ninth inning pitch in the dirt in little league. Not having the nerve to ask Suzy Creamcheese to prom. Being the last to the party with the Flock of Seagulls haircut. Sometimes, things that shouldn't be significant at all become just that – lodging in our cranial craws like grains of sand in an oyster. All of which explains how I came to find myself sheepishly appealing to the Mercedes-Benz PR team for an SLS AMG to drive to the 25th Anniversary showing of Back to the Future.
Allow me to explain.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL
Most of us were fortunate enough to grow up with moms and dads who looked out for our best interests. Mine did exactly that. As a young 'un, I desperately wanted a dirt bike for Christmas, but instead, I received a violin. (Despite being half-Asian and born to a pair of professional classical musicians, this Yuletide substitution somehow managed to come as a complete surprise). Hindsight shows that Mom and Dad were on solid ground here, but most everyone I've talked to still carries around small memories from childhood like this where we felt shorted by the adults in our life – rightfully or wrongly.
As a youngster, I didn't get to watch much television, let alone see many movies. It was ingrained in me that sitting in front of a screen for longer than brief periods would not only rot my brain, it'd eventually degrade my vision to the point that I would go blind. Seriously. This, of course, neatly explains why I now spend most of my day working on a computer. It also clarifies why I wasn't allowed to catch a double-bill matinee of Ghostbusters and Back to the Future as a child.
How's that, you ask? After all, Ghostbusters was released on in June 8, 1984, and Back to the Future didn't come out until over a year later on July 3, 1985 (my birthday, coincidentally). One of the local theaters in my childhood hometown of Cleveland, Ohio had brought the Stay Puft crew back for a special sci-fi comedy twin feature. And while two of my friends were cleared to go and one of their parents had agreed to drive, my mother would only reluctantly concede to let me see one film.
This Judgment of Solomon-style parenting wasn't surprising, as sitting through a double-feature would surely be enough to fatigue my virgin eyes to the point they'd crust over and fall out somewhere in the middle of the second film. I actually remember picturing my desiccated eyeballs cascading downward in slow motion and landing with a thud on the slanted, sticky floor before rolling into the nether regions of the theater to join the lost coins, errant Milk Duds and dozens of other stray eyeballs belonging to children with less responsible parents. Had I been older, I probably would've finagled a way to see both films, but I wasn't even ten years yet, and at that point I was still a Pretty Good Kid™ – respectful and tantrum-free.
I chose to see Ghostbusters.
Nevermind that I had actually seen it before. Why was I going to see the same movie again? Truth be told, I didn't know too much about Back to the Future, and being a car crazy youth, I was endlessly fascinated by the movie's 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance-turned-Ecto-1 (not to mention the idea of living in a repurposed big city fire station). And since I so rarely went to the cinema, I must've figured that I'd better not risk the experience on a bad flick. At least that's how I rationalize it to myself now.
Getting to the theater a bit early on that rainy day, I can still clearly recall standing inside the hallway and peering into the theater in which Marty McFly was doing what he could to rectify the time-space continuum. I arrived just as Michael J. Fox spectacularly reemerged in 1985, crashing his iconic gullwing DeLorean DMC12 into Hill Valley's boarded-up town square theater, awakening the wino asleep on a bench. In that moment, I not only deeply regretted making a second date with Sigourney Weaver, I sparked a lifelong fascination with gullwing doors.
I didn't actually see the rest of Back to the Future for a couple of years, eventually watching it at a friend's sleepover. But for some reason, as silly as it sounds, never seeing the movie in the theater always bothered me – as if I had a small but significant blemish on my childhood résumé, missing out on a phenomenon that everyone else my age experienced. I never figured that I'd get the chance to rectify this omission, but thanks to some eerily coordinated timing with the film's return to theaters and Mercedes launching its own four-wheeled bit of gullwing'd nostalgia in the same year, I had my opening.
It's at this point that I should mention that even though Benz's SLS AMG is only about a year old, the car and I have a fair bit of history. We've hot-lapped Laguna Seca and the coastal California roads around Monterey together. We've high-tailed it across Mexico at triple-digit velocities with the Federales clearing the way as we retraced the route of the Carrera Panamericana. In other words, we've come to know, trust and respect each other rather well – and who better to take to the theater on such an occasion than an old friend?
And so it came to pass on a late Fall Saturday that my girlfriend and I drove out to the Detroit suburb of Livonia accompanied by a throaty, 563-horsepower, 6.2-liter soundtrack to take in a digitally remastered 25th anniversary print of Back to the Future at the AMC Theatres 20. Ideally, I would've returned back to the same moviehouse of my childhood, but unfortunately, all of Cleveland didn't have a scheduled showing, and besides, the original theater had been turned into one of those massive discount shoe warehouse stores years ago.
We made a point to get to the AMC early – not just to take the photos, but also to let other theater patrons inspect and appreciate Affelterbach's masterwork. It was amazing to see how many moviegoers got the connection, their faces lighting up as the SLS' gullwing doors soared skyward. Letting everyone see how the doors worked, feel the snugness of the red leather seats and gawk at its jewelry-like 240-mph speedo elicited giggles, whoops, hasty cell phone camera snaps and all-around gushing.
Interestingly, a handful of people outside the cinema still talked with a perceptible air of wonder in their voice about DeLorean's stainless steel coupe. Indeed, it's remarkable how Back to the Future has managed to lodge what can otherwise only be called a failed and not terribly sporting piece of machinery into our collective consciousness. More remarkably, it did so long after the DeLorean factory lines in Dunmurry, Ireland had gone silent – production ceased in late 1982 and Doc Brown didn't show off his plutonium-powered time traveler until the summer of 1985. The mania continues to the present day – the DeLorean Motor Company is reborn and churning out restored and remanufactured DMC-12s in Humble, Texas. It's the close of 2010 and we're still mobbing stores for tangentially related memorabilia, for goodness sake.
Twenty-five years from now, will the SLS AMG enjoy the same sort of soft spot in our hearts that the DeLorean does? It's a truly special car, but I doubt it. The graceful, ageless beauty that is the original 1954 300SL will still have the corner on gullwing memories in Mercedes lore.
Well, most of them, at any rate. Even better than watching everyone's faces as they fawned over the SLS was the chance to hear them excitedly utter things like, "Man, where were you when I was a kid?" One mother actually said, "Thank you, I think you just made my son's year."
The Benz may not actually be a time machine like the one popularized by Robert Zemeckis and the fantastic Mr. Fox, but improbably enough, fashioning new memories for complete strangers with Mercedes' gullwing helped make peace with my own childhood. And for that, the SLS AMG didn't need roads.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL