Ancient Tail Lights

Photograph of vintage auto tail lights

This glittering selection of slightly used lighting components was on display at a vintage auto show. I found it way in the back, where the junk sellers set up folding tables, unload rusted station wagons, and set out all the carefully curated inventory they didn’t sell at their last event – or the one before that…

It drew me in like a magnet: aging red plastic and corroded chrome, baking under a hot sun, like salvaged starship parts in a back street junkyard on Tatooine. Tiny crash-landed alien shuttle craft hauled out in the desert sand to await the laser cutting torches of the scrappers.

When I was a kid, these parts were bright, shiny and new and and had electricity in them. Automobile designs still came from artists, not corporate focus groups, and drew on Cold War imagery of jet fighters and imaginary space ships- hence the sci-fi tail fins, and lights like rocket nose cones. Surely the real flying cars were just around the corner.

cadillac tail fin

The introduction of the automobile added rivers of glowing tail lights and forests of red and yellow warnings to the urban night. Ever since then, any red light is an alarm buzzer: warning, alert, danger ahead. Jet engine igniting.

But these ancient tail lights have lost their power and are now laying in the desert sun, slowly turning to sand.

Technology ages quickly. Someday I hope to photograph a field of discarded laptops, tablets and digital cameras with weeds and wildflowers growing up through them.

More aging autos here.

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