Thursday, October 21, 2010

If Cars Could Talk

Not long ago I had a chat with a fellow whose hobby it is to restore rare old cars. He spends years searching out parts and thousands of dollars rebuilding a car from bottom up. The end result is a beautiful automobile that looks like it just came from the factory…a real treasure. I’ve noticed that a lot of men like to express themselves in the cars they drive. My son wanted a truck, not because he really needed a truck but because he felt it said something about who he is. Custom features, detailing, even color can be and often are an expression of the owner’s personality. Think of the Batmobile or James Bond’s car.

Of course some cars seem to have a personality of their own. That was certainly true of the old Volkswagen that my friend, Don, drove back in the late seventies. It was a Beetle with a
big heart and enough eccentricities to keep life interesting. Come to think of it, the same thing could probably have been said about Don. The car was easily recognizable even from a distance. Not only was it red, it was almost completely covered in bumper stickers that were slapped on like haphazard band aids proclaiming the slogans of the Jesus Generation to the world. My mother was always acutely embarrassed whenever he parked it in our driveway. My friends and I would all pile in and Don would drive off waving to the neighbors as we passed. I have to admit we enjoyed the stares and raised eyebrows.

We travelled a lot of miles in that old car. With a little judicious squeezing and stacking we could fit seven passengers in it and still leave Don enough room to handle the stick shift. Breathing was a little difficult but over the short haul it was doable. We even did some occasional off roading. The old girl was tough enough to handle driving down the steps in Bell Park without the wheels falling off and if we did happen to sink to the axels driving up the side of a sand pit, there were usually enough of us to lift her out.

We never had an actual breakdown that I can remember but there were plenty of quirks that made driving a bit interesting. Don was the only one who could manage it. The gas pedal tended to stick from time to time so he had to drive with no shoe on his right foot. That way he could curl his toes around the end of the pedal and pull it up if he had to. The heater only seemed to work in summer and sometimes it just refused to turn off. Good thing the windows didn’t stick. Driving in the rain could also be a problem since the windshield wipers were a trifle uncoordinated. They would start out keeping time well enough but before long they would begin to operate independent of each other. Their smooth side to side motion would become more and more disjointed until inevitably they would meet in the middle and come to a shuddering stop, hopelessly tangled. Don would smack his fist against the inside of the window and that would be enough to shake them free of each other to start the dance all over again. If he hit the window too hard they would spring apart with such force that they ended up standing straight up in the air and waving about like disconnected eyebrows until someone rolled a window down far enough to reach out and pull them back to rest on the glass once more. In the winter the defroster would only clear a spot about the size of a coaster in the bottom left corner of the windshield. Don would drive all hunched over, peering out through that little peephole and it was the job of whoever was riding shotgun to ply the scraper in an attempt to clear the rest of the window to enlarge the view. Ah, so many fond memories!

Eventually, the Beetle went the way of the Dodo and we all moved on. We grew and changed and the things that are expressions of who we are changed with us. These days Don is driving a Jaguar and that fits perfectly in the world of finance that has become his milieu. Still, I have no doubt that there is still a small part of him that wouldn’t mind driving down some stairs in a beat up Volkswagen Beetle just for old time’s sake.

1 comment:

  1. Great story and memories. My brother had a bug and we would take the magical mystery tour to school every winter.