Thursday, March 12, 2009

Driving a VW Bug...

I have now been driving an old VW bug for almost 8 months. I am by no means an expert in the car except for one thing: the reaction that I get while driving it. The VW bug, without a doubt, is this most cult car of all the cult cars I have owned. I joke with my wife, EP, that I will never pick up another girl which driving Little Blue. The bug, with it’s timeless styling, appeals to 2 demographics primarily: Old men and children under 10.

The first demographic, the old men, stop and stare when I drive by. If I happened to be stopped, I get talked to. Most ask the year and then tell the story of their first VW. These memories seem to come from the thought that, back then, times were tough but they made it through and can now afford cars that get serviced.

My insurance agent (an overly friendly guy who must have too much time on his hands since he talks to me endlessly and all I have with him is renter’s insurance) has a painted portrait of a late 60s bug above his desk. “My first car,” he told me. It seems to be there to remind him of his humble beginnings.

Recently, my landlord swung by one day and wanted to see the engine on Little Blue. He is an old VW driver (though not anymore) and his father still drives one. He was happy to see that it gets driven and I could see in his face that, when times were simpler, before kids and owning his own company, he was a "bug man". Just him and his little car against the world.

In a meeting at work a few months ago, someone stopped in to tell me that there was an old man having his son take pictures of him by Little Blue. Apparently, they had circled around the car, parked, and had gotten out, camera in hand, to stand by the car. This didn’t help the people at work understand it any more than they already don’t.

A homeless man recently stopped me as I drove by. He wanted to know how to tell the different years apart. I started trying to tell him from the driver’s seat, but ended up pulling the car into a parking space and getting out and walking him through the changes that I know (though, I don’t know them all very well). He was happy that I took the time and, although I tried to refuse it, gave me a plastic champagne bottle full of those firecracker poppers for my trouble. His name is Matt.

I’ve impressed many a toddling child with Little Blue as well. Most are confused as to why “Herbie” is not white. Especially when their parents (usually in a “stay away from the bearded hippie”-type voice) keep insisting that “it’s Herbie!” I try not to start up the car when they are around as I don’t want their childhood ideals of fighting global warming tainted by my exhaust.

Aside from the obvious demographics, it stuns me sometimes that the bug seems to impress the unobvious demographic. I was coming out of Best Buy a few weeks back at the same time a hip-hop-type was. I never figured he’d have the slightest interest in Little Blue. When he saw me getting into the bug, has said, “Oh man, you get to have all the fun while driving”. We spoke for a few minutes about the car and then we were off.

Another time, while registering Little Blue at the DMV, I parked next to another VW bug while the driver, a man in his 70s, was getting in. He got back out and we talked about our bugs – recent purchases and first bugs for both of us – for the next 15 minutes. He said it was the best car he had ever owned and was excited about doing the work himself.

And the little skate punks seem to like it as well. They invade downtown Petaluma on the weekends and I am too old now to act like I have any street cred. So I don’t. But most often, I get out, lock the car and am greeted by, “cool car, man”. Which makes me feel like I might have street cred after all. Maybe not, but at least I’m not worried that they will key it.

And how do you respond to the countless times someone says, "Cool car, man"? Do you say, "Thank you" as if you had something to do with it (which in the case of Little Blue is not at all true). Do you nod and walk away as if you are the cool guy with the cool car? Most often, unless they throw me off, I say, "yeah, we have a lot of fun with it". Which is why we bought the car in the first place.

Driving the bug is such an experience with the community that I have trouble turning it off sometimes. Peoples' cars will come up in casual conversation and I’ll ramble about the bug for 15 minutes, boring them to one word answers. Headlights, taillights, 6-volt, bla, bla, bla. Not everyone loves the bug. Or perhaps not everyone loves the bug until it is sitting in front of them.

I’ve owned many cars that have a cult following – a Jeep CJ-7, a MINI, a FJ-40, A K-20 Blazer – but none has gathered the attention of the general walkabouts like the bug. I have come to learn that anyone, at any time, regardless of their appearance or social status, might be interested in Little Blue. It’s a rolling piece of history that, like all history, seems to make the world a little smaller.



A fantastic post and oh so true! As Little Blue's #1 passenger fan, I can attest to the great fun when little kids stop in the middle of a crosswalk with their parents, to stare open mouthed at 'Herbie'. The magic possibilities flashing across their little faces is priceless. I laugh outloud each time and give them a big wave. I loved the story you told the other day of the little kid in the backseat giving you a thumbs up and a big smile as you zoomed by on the highway.Sometimes when I look at Little Blue, I can't help but think she's going to blink her eyelid any moment. Guess the magic never leaves whatever the age.


Great tales from the bearded one. More of those!!

PJ Alau

I disagree with some of the list, but look at the company the humble little bug keeps.

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