I have a secret shame.
Now, before I begin, let me preface this entry with one indisputable fact: I am not a lesbian. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that’s there’s anything wrong with that. Not at all. But I am aggressively heterosexual, and I am well aware that the following entry about cars may call that into question for some. Lord knows, I get asked enough (my husband, around the time we started divorce proceedings, my parents, around the same time… it’s enough to make a person mad- as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mad, not betrayed lover mad). But despite my affinity for power tools, my work in technical theatre, my aversion to hairbrushes, cosmetics, and what the beauty industry likes to call “hair product”… and, yes, despite my love for cars, I am not gay. I’ve even asked one of my closest friends, Shelly, a pretty amazing woman who also happens to be gay (not that her sexual preference is anyone’s business but her own, but Shelly is so obviously gay that I thought she’d be a swell judge, and she was, since her answers agreed so vehemently with my own conclusions). Shelly assures me that a key component in lesbianism is actually wanting to have sex with women, a facet of my makeup that is apparently sorely lacking. The verdict is in: I am straight (you know, I hate that word. It implies that gay people are somehow crooked, like a hunchback or an old grandmother with severe osteoporosis. All the gay people I know walk upright.)
But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, cars.
Now, I don’t really pay attention to cars. Odd for someone who, just two paragraphs ago, said she loved cars. I do; I love feeling an engine turn, I love the simple mechanics of combustion engines that can boggle the mind like a puzzle when something ceases to behave properly, I love the smell of gasoline. But I don’t pay attention to the latest models; they all, unless they’re a Jeep (a REAL one, not those closed in things that have passed some insipid safety test) or a Volkswagen, look the same to me.
I guess I need to clarify: unless they’re an OLD Volkswagen.
I love Volkswagens- the old, air-cooled, engine-in-the-back, leavin’-a-breadcrumb-trail-of-oil, fill your toolbox with special tools, Volkswagens. After all, Volkswagen IS German for “special tool”. Anyone who has EVER owned a pre-1984 (or possibly later) VW knows what I mean.
My first memory of a car was a baby blue VW Beetle. I think my mom brought it with her into the marriage, sort of like a dowry. Before you laugh, you have to know my dad to understand how cool that was. I think I was about 4 or 5 before I realized that not all cars putted and that tranmissions could be “automatic”. Sadly, my dad and his brother (my godfather) were cruising down the Sawmill River Parkway one day when the front floor gave out and my Uncle Jerry did a quick Flintstones imitation as they drove along. Despite my protests (filled with the complete failure of my seven year old brain to understand rust and corrosion), we sold or junked the Beetle before we moved to Florida.
All, however, was not lost, and by this time the German Volkswagen virus ran through my father’s veins. When I was in third grade, my dad bought an old VW wagon of some sort (I don’t think it was a 411, but it sure looked like one) from a junkyard. This car laid waste to the notion that Volkswagens, like hope, float. Some guy had towed his boat to the beach with the little yellow guy and somehow ended up dunking the back half of the VW in the drink. Saltwater and engines REALLY don’t mix; for something like 60 bucks my dad got the car and proceeded to spend about a year picking sand out of the engine. He rebuilt it and it ran forever until he couldn’t get parts anymore (this was WAY before commercial internet services and aeons before eBay; if my mom and dad had an eBay account in the 80s, I’m convinved we’d still have that car).
The next car I remember was a 1983 dark green Volkswagen Rabbit. It had a tan interior and some sort of what I can only assume was fake leather. My mom would give me a ride to school in this car (along with five or six of my closest friends, and I can assure you, if you haven’t crammed eight preteen girls into a Rabbit, you haven’t lived), and, joy of joys, it had a tape player. Oh, unknown luxury. We must be rich, I thought, followed by the greatest joy of the 1980’s preteen: I can listen to my Wham! tape on the way to school. I’m fairly sure there’s a special place in heaven for my mother and others like her who heard “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” 167 days straight in 1985. I learned, despite my mother’s panic as I did so, to drive a manual transmission in this car.
That was the last of the Volkswagens I remember. My dad totalled it (this is a recurring theme in my family’s automotive history), and the white, VW Golf-type thing that came later. I still miss that car.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when I became obssessed with finding a Thing. This car, I can assure you, is the one car that makes Volkswagen stand out from all other car manufacturers. Simply put, it is the coolest car EVER. The doors come off. The roof (if it even has one) comes off. The windshield folds down. The back seat folds down (keep in mind these cars were early 70s in the US, and a fold down seat wasn’t that common then).
They were made of steel. Driving this incredibly cool car was like driving a little tank. Like it or not, you get attention when you cruise around in a Thing. (If you can’t picture one, go rent 50 First Dates, Drew Barrymore drives a nice one. Or watch Meet the Fockers, where the Focker dad drives one a little closer to the reality of a 30+ year old Thing.)
But steel rusts. A lot, as it turns out. And when a steel car lives in Florida for 30+ years and people who owned the car before you are complete idiots, they rust fast.
So I found one in August 2005, bought it that September, and sold her at Christmas 2006. After which I drove a Scooter, and, when 17 year old Sierra took pity on me and essentially GAVE me her 1995 Tercel, I drove that.
But the Tercel’s days were numbered. Last week she blew white smoke that rivaled forest fires in Georgia, and I knew it was time. Yes, a new car. One with a warranty and, against my inclinations, a car loan.
Of course, I chose Volkswagen. Did you know they recently started making Rabbits again? In all honesty, it’s the Golf, which is what they changed the Rabbit’s name to several years back. But, hey, a Rabbit.
Nevermind that NO ONE at the dealership had ever heard of a Thing, nevermind that the posters of old VW ads on the walls of the same dealership advertised benefits of Volkswagens that no longer existed (such as air-cooled engines that no longer existed ane rear-car engines), nevermind that the cheapest car Volkswagen makes will cost me over $15,000… It was Volkswagen, and I was happy.
So now, a week later, I have a brand-new tornado red Rabbit. Manual transmission, 2.5 liter engine, crafty German engineering… oh, yeah.
But there’s a problem, aside from the engine in the front of the car and the damn radiator.
This car goes. Fast. And it gets to “fast”, well, fast.
And you would think someone raised on submerged Volkswagens, Volkswagens with missing floors, and Volkswagens that you basically had to salvage parts locally or drive to Sundance in Plant City to get…. well, you’d think they wouldn’t like it.
But you know what? It feels wrong, like stealing the prom queen’s boyfriend or cheating on your taxes. It feels wrong, but it feels so good…
And that, my friends, is my secret squirrel.