Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Volkswagen Beetle, our only transportaion

"Can you get all that in that tiny little car?" he asked.

In 1961 my parents gave Gay and me our first car. This is the kind of car kids should be driving today to save on gasoline. A faded salmon-colored Volkswagen beetle was the skimpiest of cars - on size, on space and on speed.

We were students at the University of GA and, because it was difficult for us to find a ride home on weekends, my father, to our great surprise, bought us this used bug. No one could have been happier than Gay and I as we tossed our bags under the hood where the engine would have been in any other car. But in our little bug, the tiny motor resided in the rear.

Gay was not fond of driving, and since I was older, I became the driver and keeper of the car.

On Friday afternoons we'd load our bags into the VW. Often another student who needed a ride to Albany, would hitch a ride. Once our hitchhiker was a wide-shouldered, six feet tall, football player. Amazingly he doubled over, twisted and scrunched himself into the back seat.
His presence encumbered conversation between Gay and me since we didn't know this guy. Neither of us liked football. Evidently he was grateful for a free ride home. He didn't make a single complaint all though I know he had to be miserable.

The speed of the VW exceeded fifty miles per hour on a level course and also on the down side of a hill. But climbing tuckered the old girl, and she barely made thirty when I pushed her.

A normal four hour drive home stretched out to five or five and a half, causing us to arrive after dark when we drove the VW. Mother was relieved to see us make it with no car trouble.

After a fun-filled weekend with family and friends, we reluctantly loaded up and left on Sunday right after lunch. Our football player met us on our side of town, and folded himself into the back seat again. He and his bag filled the tiny back seat.

We rolled along at our normal pace, driving north toward Athens. Darkness overtook us about two hours south of our destination. As we approached north Georgia's hills, the effort to reach the summit of each became more and more difficult. The downhill speed slowed to a crawl as we rolled along in the rural darkness maxing at twenty miles per hour.

Inside the car, Gay and I discussed the VW's strange behavior.
"What do you think is wrong?" she asked me.
"I don't know. She's never been this sluggish," I answered.

The football player snoozed, recovering from partying all weekend. He finally became conscious of our snail pace. I was startled when his broad face suddenly appeared next to my head.

"What's the matter with the car? Why're you going so slow?"

"It won't go any faster," I said, wishing he'd stayed in his coma.

"Do you know anything about cars? Do you know what we could do?" Gay asked the boy.

"Nah. I don't know nothing about motors, especially these tin cans." He said, "I play football," as if that gave him immunity from having to understand automotives. "Maybe you need to pull into a gas station and see if anybody there can help."

"Do you see a gas station? There's nothing on this road until we reach Athens. We just have to hope it keeps running until we get there."

My nerves were stretched taunt as a spring on a screen door. I was the older sister. I was supposed to be in charge of the car. At that moment I felt like I had the beetle strapped to my back.

Having a rider with us made me feel even more responsible. "I have to be in the dorm by eleven o'clock," he said. "If I'm not I'm in big trouble."

All students had curfew. Being late was a major offense and could get us campused for a week or more.

Once I'd been before the "court of my peers" and I was punished with a month's restriction to my dorm, classrooms, and cafeteria. My fellow students were hard on me, I thought. Remembering that sentence, I certainly didn't want to miss check in on Sunday night.

I urged the car up a hill, leaning forward in the seat scanning the road ahead. The light from the tiny bug's eye pierced a short distance into the darkness. My neck hurt and my head ached as tension and fear spread through my body.
"Man," the football player mourned. "If I'm late, I won't get to play next week. Coach will bust my butt."

His words heaped more anxiety on me. Now I might be responsible for the Bulldogs losing next week. Even though I didn't care about the game, I didn't want the campus talking about our old car that wouldn't make it up the hills and how we caused one of our players to miss the game.

At that moment, I hated that VW and I furiously blamed my father. Why didn't he buy us a decent car? Didn't he care if we broke down on the road in the dark? Anything could happen to us with an undependable vehicle. He would be sorry.

When I thought the hard working beetle had done all it could do, and was dying right there in the road, I saw a glimmer of lights ahead. Houses loomed in the dark and windows glowed with warmth, and to me, safety. Now, if our little car quit on us, we could walk to one of these houses. We could find help. My shoulders began to relax.

Even in the dark, we started to recognize landmarks. We had made it to Athens. Now if we could just make it to our dorms. Barely creeping along on Lumpkin Avenue, we turned right and dropped off the football player at the athletes' dormitory. It was ten minutes until eleven o'clock. We had one more hill to climb before reaching Chandler Hall where Gay roomed and Mary Lyndon, my dorm. We could have walked and been home faster, but knew we had to get the car off the street. Besides we had luggage to carry.

The little car limped into the parking lot near the freshman dorm. With huge sighs of relief we scrambled out, snatched our suitcases from under the hood, and ran like scared rabbits in opposite directions, both making the curfew deadline by only seconds.

I never felt secure with the VW again, but it continued to carry us home and we were happy we had transportation. We had no more problems while I was in school there.

After I graduated, Gay and the VW had their share of problems, but that is another story.

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