Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Volkswagens and My Formative Years

There are a couple reasons I love Volkswagens, and one of them is the distinctive clack-clack of their valves. You always know when an old-school VDub is in the neighborhood, and even though I only know what I know about cars because my first car, a Honda Civic station wagon, became unreliable in its old age, I have to love a vehicle that could be fixed with a rubber band and a piece of gum.

Just to be clear, this is not a story about the Passat, the Jetta, or the Golf, nor about the "new" Beetle, which is charming in the way a child who looks a lot, but not totally, like her parent is charming.

When I was growing up, our neighbors had an early-70s white VW Westfalia camper. It had a pop-top and a stool that fit exactly between the refrigerator/stove and the sink so you could sit "up front" with the driver and the person in the front seat (note: This was in the '70s, before anyone knew about seat belts). There was a table that folded out of the wall, and the cloth-covered seat folded down to make a bed. There were little cabinets for storage and a child could stand at the stove. Their camper had an AM radio and an eight-track tape player on which we sang along with the one eight-track tape they owned everywhere we went.

I loved that camper. We used to sit in it and play Submarine or even House while it was parked in the garage. I remember that the first time I went to a Burger King we were on the way back from Great America and we five kids sat around the table in the back eating onion rings and hamburgers. I was very sad when they exchanged it for a brown Buick station wagon; I think most of the kids in the neighborhood were. We had a lot of experience with station wagons but the camper was different.

Plus, it was the end of singing along with "The Chapel of Love."

Years later I went to college and started dating Denver D. Denver D had a blue 1971 or '72 VW microbus called "The Orcan Tumbril." It was black vinyl inside, but had all the same basics as the first camper, including the stool (which, this being the late '80s, remained unused) and minus the pop-top. When we were freshmen, Denver D had the only vehicle in our circle of friends, and he took us to the movies, the mall, and to Denny's in it. As we both had roommates, he and I had many private moments in the bus.

The bus' major organs failed in Utah about 40 miles from the Wyoming border when Phil and Denver D were headed back to Colorado. They hitch-hiked to an auto shop and Denver D wound up selling it for five ten-dollar bills and a bus ticket to Denver.

As it happens, Zirpu was driving a Jetta when we met. Nothing exciting happened in that car. It's the old, pre-1980 VW's I love.

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