Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

My very 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, 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 was my first traffic accident.

I got cut off heading for an exit off the Loop 410. Like most veedubs I’ve owned over the years, the Warbaby could accelerate only in the most literal definition of the word. Press down on the gas pedal and there would be a change in speed so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable at first, but it was happening. Driving a bus called for a strategic planning of the travel route. If I could see I was headed for a hill, as I was when I tried to make that exit, I would have to downshift to gain mechanical advantage if I didn’t want to slow down to half the speed of the traffic flow, and I didn’t, so I dropped it into third. There would’ve been a momentary hesitation while the gears meshed, and that might have been why the guy behind me cut me off. He saw me drop back and probably thought I changed my mind. Either that or he was just an asshole but, given the heap I was driving, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There wasn’t enough room on the exit ramp for both of us. I had to swerve back onto the loop, floor the gas pedal and hope against hope for more power so I could catch up to the traffic stream. I actually had to cross the shoulder to get back on because WHOAAAAA! Suddenly I went from being a lazy kite drifting on the breeze to a turbo-charged jet fighter, and the afterburners had just kicked in. 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 out of control 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 flaming wreck of the other guy’s car piled up against the concrete barrier. Instead, he was pulling up to a stop on the shoulder behind me, shaken and 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?”

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 turned and got back into the bus and headed back to the dorm.

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