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The other day I commented aloud to the family that the one deadly sin of which I was sure I was never guilty, was envy. It's not part of my nature to be envious.
No sooner said than, bang, I was hit by pangs of said sin that turned me pea green. It hit me like a lightening bolt when my daughter-in-law announced that she had just purchased a 1987 VW Bus, followed by the news that my son was about to purchase a VW Beetle of about the same vintage.
The happiest driving days of my life were spent behind wheels of both vehicles. If we hadn't moved to Maine where good heat is necessary in one's cars, I'd still have one of each in my driveway right now.
As a matter of fact, we made the trip up here in a bus and a bug. My husband and I, with 5 cats, drove in the bus and our sons and two dogs followed in the bug. Four of the cats and I slept in the center section of the bus. One of the cats had to be screened off in the back of the bus because she was terribly neurotic and could not get along with her feline siblings. The boys could hardly wait to tell us about their experience going through a tollbooth in Connecticut.
"Would you believe it?" they were asked by the incredulous toll taker. "That bus just ahead of you has a woman fast asleep with five cats sleeping, all cuddled up, in the middle of the car, and her husband chauffeuring the lot of them."
The boys, of course, never admitted their relationship to the weirdoes, just expressed the proper disbelief.
I had a great trip as far as Kittery where Roger and I changed places and he and the cats slept while I drove.
We drove both vehicles for several more years. Neither had sufficient heating systems and I don't know how people in their native Germany kept warm in them. It wasn't too hard to maintain body warmth in the bug if there were two or more people aboard. It was so small that shared body heat kept you from freezing. There was a need for a co-pilot, however, to scrape ice off the inside of the windshield. The bus was even more of a problem. No matter how many times we had a VW "specialist" fiddle with the heater, it never cranked out more than a minimal amount of warmth. I can remember being the object of much kidding whenever I ventured out on a winter's evening to cover some event or another for the paper. I wore heavy boots, covered my legs with a space blanket, plus two woolen ones. I wore mittens, of course, a parka, and earmuffs plus scarf over my head and around my neck, up to my nose. I kept my breathing to an absolute shallow minimum to keep the inside windshield as free of ice as possible.
Eventually, we replaced both bug and bus with a VW Rabbit, which we drove for years until it expired at the bottom of a hill. It was a great auto, but just not as much fun or a loveable as the cars it replaced.
It's hard to explain the charm of the bus and bug to anyone who has never driven or owned them. Just last week while sitting in the hospital lobby waiting for my daughter to pick me up, I was talking with a couple of men who had shared my experience. We all had happy memories.
I could tell about being able to drive the bus through mountain passes. It took a bit of sailing whenever the wind hit, but that, in itself was challenging fun. The compensation was the air-cooled engine. I remember going through the San Gabriel Mountains outside of LA and passing multiple cars stopped with vapor lock. A friend had the same thing happen when he visited Pike's Peak. It made him a Beetle lover forever. Our bus could go over a desert and up over 16,000 feet in the Sierras without losing a beat, merrily fording every stream along the way.
I knew a German engineer who had worked on the Aswan Dam in Egypt. They started out using Land Rovers on the job, but soon traded them in for VW Busses, which could go anywhere in the hot desert without so much as a gentle cough.
My daughter-in-law learned to drive in our VW's. She fell in love with the bus and has never been happy with every other car they have ever owned. Right now, she has the modern bus, a more luxurious model called a Vanagen. It's essentially the same but has automatic drive, which she doesn't like, and an excellent heater, which she does. She's having it painted with the old two-toned face.
My son had given her a coffee table book about the VW Bus inscribing it with words to the effect that, while she might never realize her dream of owning one, she could, at least, read about her dream car.
Her dream came true and I'm going around the color of Kermit the Frog.
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