Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

My first car was a ’69 Volkswagen microbus nicknamed “Warbaby.” I bought it for five hundred bucks from a hippy who threw in his battered copy of John Muir’s book, “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.” The pages were already dog-eared and smeared with grease, and over the two years I drove the Warbaby I added plenty more greasy fingerprints to them to keep her on the road.

I loved her because she was my first car, but there was no denying she was a dog. Not just sorry-looking, although her looks were pretty sad. She wore an overall dark shade of green, the paint fried by the relentless Texas sun to a dull matte finish. Weirdly, the white paint on the roof was in better shape than the rest of the body. There was very little rust so she must have been a native of the Southwest, but she had plenty of dings and dents, and I added a big one to the left rear quarter almost right after I bought her. The Warbaby wasn’t only my first car, she was my first traffic accident, too.

Like most veedubs I’ve owned over the years, the Warbaby was a four speed. It could make sixty miles an hour on a good day in third gear, then hold that speed in fourth, but it wouldn’t go any faster, and if I could see I was headed for a hill, I would have to downshift to third to gain mechanical advantage. Driving this veedub took a lot of strategic planning, and if I didn’t stay on top of it, I’d end up losing a lot of speed and instantly creating a tailback of a half a dozen angry motorists.

I was still a new used-car owner when I got cut off heading for an exit off the Loop 410 on the south side of San Antonio. The off ramp was uphill and I was still learning the trick of downshifting, so I didn’t pull it off very well. To the drivers around me, it must have looked like I’d decided this wasn’t my exit and hit the brakes to get back on the Loop. At least, that’s what the guy beside me thought, because he gunned his engine, cut in front of me and nearly ran me off the road.

That’s when I hit the brakes and realized I wasn’t going to be able to make the exit. I had to swerve back onto the Loop, floor the gas pedal and hope the little engine would have enough kick to catch me up to the traffic stream. I was crossing over the shoulder to get back to the Loop when suddenly I went from struggling to gain a little speed to being a turbo-charged formula one race car. Whoa! That couldn’t have been my veedub’s engine!

Fighting the wheel for control, I grabbed a quick glance over my shoulder to check traffic and caught a glimpse of a big old Chevy skidding across three lanes of traffic, headed for the ditch. Holy shit, did that guy just hit me?

I managed to straighten out the Warbaby and pull over to the shoulder, but I don’t remember doing it. When I jumped down out of the driver’s seat and turned to run back down the road I fully expected to be greeted by the sight of a flaming wreck piled up against the concrete barrier. Instead, the car I saw squealing out of control just a moment before was pulling up to a stop on the shoulder behind me. When the guy got out, he was obviously shaken up and more than a little mad but otherwise just fine.

I can’t remember what I said to him, probably just gibbered something stupid like “I am soooo sorry,” but I remember the first thing he said to me. Standing at arm’s length from the rear bumper of my bus, he pointed at the caved-in left quarter and bellowed at me, “Do you care about that piece of junk?”

It took me a moment to realize he was settling up. “Um, no?” I answered.

“Well, there’s no damage to my car, so I guess we’re all right,” he said, then got in his car and left me there, hyperventilating. I didn’t even wonder why, I was just glad neither one of us was hurt, and just a little more glad he didn’t try to hurt me. Taking a deep breath, then another and maybe even another, I got back into the bus and drove away.

A ding on the loop | 9:02 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, O'Folks, The O-Mobile | Tags:
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