Tales from the Garage
A Tale of No Tail
Text by Rodney Kemerer | Image by Craig Bernard
In this Tales From The Garage we are going to have lunch. How exciting you say? Well, doesn’t that depend on who you are having lunch with? I think so.
I am a big fan of the chance encounter, and allowing fate to make connections can be one of life’s greatest joys. On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Pasadena, California, I had one of those encounters.
Every year The ArtCenter College of Design Hillside Campus in Pasadena holds an Open House event. The ArtCenter is the mecca of car design as the auto industry regularly hires its designers directly from graduation. High in the hills, the stunning 1960s architecture by Craig Ellwood greets you as you drive up the hill. I had heard of this event for years but never managed to attend until this year. The theme was 70 Years of ArtCenter Influence as many of the cars on display were designed by ArtCenter alumni. Impressive to say the least. Equally exciting was walking through the classrooms and design studios to see, pinned to the walls, illustrations of the future of the automobile and, by connection, what will ultimately be in your garage at some point.
The event is outdoors as well and the food service was set up with a series of umbrellas to shade everyone from the blistering sun. My friend and I found a table with some available seats just as a couple was leaving. The remnants of other lunches were everywhere. We cleared the table and as we were about to begin our lunch, an older couple approached the table and I welcomed them to join us. Introductions all around, first names only. We began to make small talk and the first question was, “What brings you to The ArtCenter?” Another man had just joined us and was the first to answer the question. “Oh, I came with my grandparents, Bruce and Winnie,” indicating the couple next to me. I turned to them and asked the same question. She answered, “We are here with the car, The Manx.”
Sometimes my brain really does work remarkably well and I blurted out, “The Bruce Meyers and The Meyers Manx?” Yes, she said and thus began a remarkable conversation with a remarkable man. Here are some highlights of that lunch.
First, full disclosure: I have never owned a Meyers Manx or, for that matter, even ridden in one. While I was growing up a Manx was a tailless cat. So, there was no “Oh, my God your car changed my life” declaration. But I was fully aware that the Original Meyers Manx was a watershed moment in car history and one that continues to enrich people’s lives today. I had a million questions for Bruce and Winnie.
At 92, Bruce Meyers is an inspiration. Despite some hearing and vision loss, he freely engages in conversation on a wide variety of subjects. With advanced age he has become introspective and reflective which led us directly to the beginning of his life and his time spent in the Merchant Marines and the U.S. Navy. With so few World War II veterans available and willing to talk about the war, it is precious to find one.
I let Bruce take the conversation anywhere he wanted and he wanted to tell me a very vivid and gruesome tale of himself as a 19-year-old boy dealing with the cleanup of a bombed out ship full of dead sailors. Rough stuff. Winnie looked at me for my “consent” to hear such detail. I nodded approval as Bruce was clearly eager to talk. It felt like he was trying, all these years later, to make sense of those horrific experiences. I suggested to him that perhaps his reaction to this dark side of life was to create something that was “joyful” and “life affirming.” His face lit up with a look of relief, as though he had thought it, but I said it for him. All of his young life was full of adventure, some good and some not so good, but it all became the fabric in his creative process. His lifelong love of the sea and water can clearly be seen in the wave-like flow of the shape of the Manx fiberglass body shell. How many days and nights alone at sea fused in his mind to create something so organic yet highly practical. The artist and the engineer.
Creative people create. It is the process and not always the end result that counts. Bruce’s “tools” in that process include nuts and bolts, fiberglass and welding, but he also sculpted, painted, sketched and played music. Each of these, from the welding torch to the guitar pick, made his creations alive with a soul and a very human touch. It is not hard to see why the Manx was so successful and created dozens of imitations. It evolved from the creative spirit, Bruce’s spirit.
My own connection with dune buggies and the Manx in particular is limited to the printed page and movies. I can think of literally hundreds of images of people riding dune buggies over the beach while selling everything from cigarettes to beer to clothing to vacations. What they were really selling, was freedom.
I said to Bruce that I thought it must feel really good to know that he had put something into the world that made it better. He smiled. Later during the lunch he told me about how grown men come up to him and tell him how the car changed their lives. Boys who had been heading down the wrong path in life had started building his car, often with their fathers, in their driveways or garages and discovered their sense of self. For Bruce, his contribution to changing the lives of others, has become the most meaningful part of his own life — perhaps, in his own way, saving one young life on land to make up for each one lost at sea.
As we all get older, the thought of our legacy begins to appear. What do we have to show for our time? A life of creativity has many children, and for Bruce Meyers those creative children populate the earth with a sense of the joy of living. The freedom to fly over a sand dune and break the bond with the earth, if only for a moment, captures the human spirit.
That is Bruce Meyers. | GSM