A Bug By Any Other Name Is Still a Bomb

16 Feb

by Roger White

It has been brought to my attention recently that I spend much time and space in this forum pining for yesterday. As one of my daughters’ buddies put it: “If you love the olden days so much, why don’t you marry them?” How does one respond to that? The only retort I could conjure at the time was, “Oh, yeah?” (I think on my seat much better than on my feet, you see). Looking back, I realize I should have said, “Your face!” or something to that effect. Apparently, insults regarding one’s visage are the comeback du jour among the teen set.

The kid has a point, I guess. In my defense, however, I must emphasize that waxing nostalgic is a cherished rite of passage into geezerdom. Besides, what else am I going to pine for? Tomorrow? That’s just silly. And if there’s one thing I won’t tolerate in this column, it’s silliness! So there. Nyah.

Besides, it has always been this way. Surely, Joe Cro-Magnon sat around the cave in his declining years (which was probably about age 17) grunting on about the salad days of his youth.
“Ah, Neanderthal. Good times. Cave warmer. Women slower.”

“Ugh, Dad.”

“Don’t ‘ugh, dad’ me!”

Despite my yearning for all things moth-balled, outmoded and sepia-toned, I must confess that the yesterday of my memory likely glosses over events and places and conquests as they really were. The mind has a way of sanding down the warts.

Case in point: my recent Volkswagen adventure. Or as my wife terms it, the Great Bug Fiasco. It’s important to note that in the spring of my years, I drove, among other bombs, a VW, cherry red with a killer eight-track stereo and an exhaust system held on with coat hangers. I loved that little car like a boy loves his dog. And this thing smelled like one.

But, man, she was fun—when she was running. This is a crucial detail I conveniently fogged over as the years went by.

As I grew older, like so many other family men driving nondescript workaday sedans, I spent much of my adulthood wishing I still had my hippie wheels. Oh, if that old VW could talk, the tales she could tell—and the money I would make because I would have a talking car!

Anyway, one of my benign fantasies of late was searching for just the right Bug to bring back those carefree days. In my spare time, at home, at work, at lunch, at work, at the coffee shop, at work—mainly at work—I would browse web sites like ebay and various car-sales sites. It was purely a personal fiction; I knew I’d never actually go through with it. For one thing, we hadn’t the money nor the room for a third car, and swapping the trusty sedan (with all its airbags and terrific gas mileage and dependable brakes and styling like a refrigerator) for a 40-year-old antique wasn’t the most prudent move for a middle-income family with two teenage girls and two and a half mortgages. Thing two, I’m about as mechanical as a blind nun—and before all you seeing-impaired women of the cloth start besieging me with treatises on your intimate knowledge of carburetors and intake manifolds, it just sounded good, OK? Thing Three (and this is a big one, so I capitalized the Three), wifey would have absolutely none of it.

With all this in mind, sure enough I found just the right Bug. Oh, was she a sweetie. A 1979 Super Beetle convertible, with new silver paint and a new black cloth top, immaculate interior, working A/C (a VW rarity if there ever was one), and an engine, as far as I could tell. And to top it off, the seller lived in Taylor, just down the road a piece!

Against all odds and adult judgment, I began the beseeching process. Honey, the bug would actually be good on gas. Honey, I could teach the girls how to drive a stick. Honey, the motor on this thing is so simple, even I could fix it. Honey, pleeeeeeease!

Pretty embarrassing, all right. I think she gave in just to shut me up. We met the guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot east of town. I insisted on a thorough inspection and test drive, of course. I drove her once around the Wal-Mart parking lot and said I’d take it. So happy was I, I even named it: Herman the German.

I will say I did have a mechanic give Herman the once-over. He said, and I quote, “It seems to be functioning.”

That was good enough for me, so we sealed the deal at my credit union, where Mr. Bug Seller actually shed a few tears. It was then and there I should have remembered my Shakespeare: “The seller doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet wasn’t buying a Volkswagen, but you get the gist.

And you can guess the rest of the story. A week after my proud purchase, Herman began listing severely to the right every time I tapped the brakes. I began to fear the car would keel over on its side if I ever slammed on them too hard. Then one day, on the way home from work, Herman coughed like a cat with a five-pound furball and crapped out right there on the highway. One grim towing bill later, I was told by a mechanic that the engine’s fuel intake regulator had compression re-uptake over-valve flatulence or some such. Anyway, he said he fixed it.

He didn’t. A week after that, Herman died going to work. I dared to look: the engine was hissing and steaming and spewing black muck like an espresso machine. I didn’t know whether to call a mechanic or put a coffee mug under the motor. Mmm. Espresso.

The mechanic got him running again, but the romance was over. I sold Herman to a man from Dallas, and he had that same dreamy look I once had. He had his mechanic look Herman up and down, too, and his grease guy said the same thing mine did. The buyer called me the next week to say the motor konked out on the highway.

What can I tell ya, I said. You want nostalgia, buy a tie-dye t-shirt. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

70 Responses to “A Bug By Any Other Name Is Still a Bomb”

  1. Lakia Gordon February 18, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Herman the German lol I loved the post!

  2. The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife February 18, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    It’s funny how we get attached to things. I felt the same way when my car – the one that brought my through high school, college, and my first years in the professional field – died a death by deer.

  3. thejamminjabber February 18, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Great post title. Totally drew me in.

    • Ryan February 18, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      The title really caught me in too.

      • digidwai February 20, 2011 at 3:44 am #

        Yup Me too, The title is Awesome ! 😛

  4. Mikalee Byerman February 18, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    You have a wonderful way with words: I long for all things sepia-toned, too! 😉

    Fun post — congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Well deserved…

  5. The Compulsive Writer February 18, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I loved that last picture. Reminded me of that old movie “Herbie”…not the remake with Lyndsey Lohan…the original one. I used to watch that as a kid, loved Herbie. So much in fact I named the dog that (the dog I had as a kid, that is…) My son, who is 5, calls slug bugs “lady bugs” we laugh and he laughs too. Gotta love the bugs!!!

  6. massagegps February 18, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Really liked reading this post. Thank you!

  7. Tori Nelson February 18, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Poor Herman! The things we do to relive the glory days!
    P.S. I never understood the “your face” comeback, but I used it on my sister as a teen and it completely shut her up. I would hold that in your pocket for the next go around 🙂

  8. J Roycroft February 18, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Congrats on FP.

  9. kristinawebb February 18, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Hah, my dad has a 1973 Volkswagen Thing. It actually runs great … I think Herman could have used it as inspiration. And regardless of age, everyone covets classic Volkswagens. They are incredibly cool and fun to drive.

  10. countoncross February 18, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Great post! I love the “good old days.” I am not old enough to have enjoyed them, but I collect “antiques” such as coke machines, juke boxes, wooden phone booth, ship s.o.s. spotlight, etc. -Thank you!

  11. Art Burton February 18, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    We all fondly remember the cars of our youth. Mine ranged from and Austin 850 Mini to a Datsun 240Z. They were great cars; I can’t remember why I got rid of them. It may have had something to do with my mechanic retiring and moving to Florida.

  12. jaredblakedicroce February 18, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Very fun and engaging post.
    My first love was a 1983 Dodge Daytona; with T-Tops, and pad breaks. She was a beaut, and quite a smooth drive, and i still often have pleasant dreams about driving her along a picturesque, serpentine highway with the T-top’s off and the wind in my hair.
    Now maybe thanks to you I’ll break down on that road and get the silly idea out of my head altogether.

  13. lifeintheboomerlane February 18, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Love this post. We all tend to fatasize our past experiences into some kind of perfect world. Except, of course, those of us who lived through the 60s and survived to tell the tale. What a time. I still get excited to see men with ponytails. My daughter is always horrified.

  14. humanitarikim February 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I drive a bug. It is by far my favorite car of all I’ve owned. 🙂

  15. Ava Aston's Muckery February 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    We all have a Herman in our past that we would trade an arm or a leg (or maybe even a spouse)for.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed…too bad Herman could not be Freshly Pressed!



  16. nothing you can see February 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    (1)By transacting non-Walmart business [the Bug purchase]ON Walmart property, you strayed from the path of Kapitalist morals, and surely offended Wall Socket Inalienable Dominion. Boy, am I glad I’m not you![I know someone at Walnut HO.]

    (2)”Sepia” memories…? Is that anything like “Misty Water Colour” memories? Oh, man! You are nearly Done!(My hippie memories still throb in swirling, groovy, far-out, light-show colour.)

    (3)HOW could you fall for the CLASSIC mid-life-I-NEED-this-car schnittlaugh?!

    Roger, adapt: you’re nearly dead. Try to go gracefully from now until then. You’re not only embarrassing yourself.

  17. Evie Garone February 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    I do love the way we remember the past better than it was… Your witty repartee with the kids was too funny, I was chuckling the whole way!

  18. auntflosvisit February 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    My father and I were just talking about how many of us just love to re-write the past in a more rosy (or perhaps “sepia-toned”) light. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  19. My Camera, My Friend February 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Great story. There are many times I think it would be fun to have a bug or a convertable, but I’m too practical to try.

    As for current youthful insults, the big immature ones seem to be “your mom” and “your face”. These combine to form the ultimate stupid insult: “your mom’s face!” I hope everyone forgets about them soon.

  20. Chris van Hasselt February 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    My first car was a Datsun 240Z, which was fun as hell, but I really have fond memories of my old, baby blue 1971 VW Bus. I loved that car, but left in California when I moved to North Carolina, seeing as the cross-country seemed like a bad idea, and a good bus should always retire in California, where it will warm an old hippies heart.

  21. Uncle Paul February 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    I noticed the increased popultion in Texas Are you guys learning to speak spanish?

    • oldspouse February 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks, Uncle Paul. And si.

  22. fireandair February 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    My first-first car was a leased Datsun 210. I hasten to add NOT a B-210 but a proper 210. That thing was so damn cute, but back to the dealer it went when the lease was up.

    The next thing I drove was *cringes* a Dodge Dart. Yes, one of THOSE. The car that was a beater the second you got it off the dealer’s lot. I cannot take enough time before the heat death of the universe to enumerate all of the ways in which this car was a POS. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve seen the ugly thing, and I still hate it.

  23. phd in yogurtry February 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    You obviously weren’t paying attention when you watched The Sound of Music. Those nuns were deviously car savvy! And yes, I form sweeping generalizations based on movie portrayals.

  24. emmblu February 18, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    You are right. The mind does have a way of “sanding down warts.” Nostalgia does make a rose smell sweeter, a smile seem lovelier and a “bug” run smoother. Too bad good ol’ reality is always around to smash the illusions!

  25. oldancestor February 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    You can’t be too old and in the way if you know how to manage one of these new-fangled blog things.

    I’ve turned into one of those people I made fun of when I was a teenager: Someone who doesn’t know anything about popular culture past his own generation.

    I can quote almost any film or sing along with almost any song. Provided it came out prior to 1990.

  26. johnlmalone February 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    A great post, Roger. I learnt from it. My blogging days are pretty new but you’ve given me some hints. thanks

  27. Steve February 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Everything old is new again. Or should be soon!

  28. harkheindzel February 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Hmmm…nostalgia, i know the feeling.

  29. Crispin February 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    I’m going to retort to some young person, “Your face!” That’s funny…

  30. shaun&krysta February 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    You are amazingly witty! I love all the one liners and silly side notes.

    “mmm… espresso…”

  31. Frank Lee MeiDere February 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    From: Web Log Standards Committee

    According to the Internet Blogging Edict of 1999, ratified and updated in 2009, blogs must contain at least seven (7) spelling errors, five (5) gross grammatical errors, and six (6) punctuation errors. This, of course, is a minimum; bloggers are encouraged to go above and beyond this.

    Aside from these easily maintained standards, it is also required that the writing be amateurish and, when billed as a “humour” blog, all humour contained therein must be telegraphed well in advance and accompanied by numerous exclamations indicating the hilarity of the situation.

    It is obvious that you are not maintaining these standards, but are instead creating well-written and professional posts. You have no wasted words, your imagery is apt, and you maintain a consistent voice throughout. We therefore officially request that you cease and desist all blogging activities until you learn to conduct yourself in a more abecedarian manner.

    Failure to comply could result in a coterie of discerning readers and the loss of your blogging licence.

    Thank you.

    PS: My old Volkswagen didn’t actually have brakes. Now that is challenging driving.

  32. eof737 February 19, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    That title made me smile 🙂

  33. leadinglight February 19, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    I enjoy sepia coloured items too. Retro is very “in” these days. My dad had a classic VW which he drove around in during his house calls as a doctor. If something in the past gave you joy, you are likely remember it with rose-coloured glasses even if it had faults.

  34. Jake February 19, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    I always wanted an EH Holden – the ultimate Australian surfmobile. I got one and had a very similar experience as you; steamed out on the way home after buying it, needed a pillow on the severely sunken bench seat, no seals but holes in the floor so the rain water could escape.

    After harrasing my neighbors for months with the morning ritual of trying to start the ancient engine, I gave up. All that and I never actually managed to use the expansive back bench seat for what it was intended – sleeping on it after spending a night at the pub of course.

    Old cars may look cool at a car show, but they’re always gonna drive like a whale on acid.

  35. Single Malt Monkey February 19, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    A great story – love your style. I’m a tie-dye t-shirt man myself with Grateful Dead logos on them. They date me pretty well.Well done on being spotted by the FP team.

  36. w8inglong February 19, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Your story reminded me of the green and white VW Bus we had. It was outfitted with black and white curtains, a portapotty and an awning in the same black and white pattern as the curtains. First(& last)trip was to Niagra Falls. Never got out of Ohio. It had to be towed home.

  37. ruthsartwork February 19, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    My husband had a 1967? VW van with only the two front seats when we met in the mid 70’s. Needless to say we drove my torino most of the time cause that bus was ALWAYS in the shop. And it even had a German repairman. Maybe that was why it was always in the shop. He was too embarrassed to work on it instead of the fancier German makes. We sold it when we moved to a college student. Didn’t hear back from him so maybe he had better VW karma.

  38. chris February 19, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I feel so sorry for the rusty luvbug, Its a great car Id love one. great post

  39. Richard February 19, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I have had two bugs. A 1965 and a 1963. The are great project cars and fun to work on.

  40. loonyduck February 19, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Awh poor Herman!
    Makes me feel so guilty about how our 13 year-old Golf decided to have a malfunction and poison us all with carbon monoxide just as we drove to the ferry to France. Through dense fog. At night. Still- I bet even a 40 year-old German would do better than that.

  41. nlvogs February 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Friendly and Enjoyable! Thanks for dusting off the old grandfather clock…

  42. Jorge February 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Great post! I too love old VW’s and the good memories of yesteryears never fade.

  43. laundromatthoughts February 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Love your posts especially this one!
    Check out my blog! http://laundromatthoughts.wordpress.com/

  44. polymathblues February 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    My dad used to drive an old orange bug back when I was a kid. This was in the days before car seats were required, and there’s a story about how I was once standing between the two front seats and my dad had to stop short, and I ended up with my face just behind the shifter. I was mostly unharmed, except for the black schmutz all over my face, and tears of shock (I must’ve been about 3 years old at the time). It must’ve been quite the funny sight, because both my parents were laughing their butts off, hehehe.

    The only memory I have of the car is walking towards it hand in hand with my dad as it was parked under a streetlight, when we got out of watching some movie or another at the theater. Maybe the bug was actually yellow, and I just remember it being orange from the light?

    Wonderfully entertaining post, I’m subscribing to your blog!

  45. Jumping in Mud Puddles February 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I don’t know. I still wince at the prospect of getting punched in the shoulder when a Bug would drive by. Slug Bug..

  46. gargpk February 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Yes friend. I too yearn for the past knowing and listening from younger lot ‘How silly’. Bit when we olld friends are together, we only talk and talk about the past. How silly……..

  47. Trinity River February 19, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Well Howdy fellow Texan. Love the term geezerdom. I accuse my husband of being on the brink of it almost every day, even though I’m older than him. Congrats on Freshly Pressed. It’s a pleasure to discover your blog.

  48. girlonapage February 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    First real laugh of the day! Thanks!

  49. shenanitim February 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Oh, the VW Bug. My cousin still has his locked in his garage. Totally rebuilt from when he bought it, new engine, absurdly painted the loudest pink he could find, tricked out with the loudest combination of speakers he could imagine. Then he got married, had kids, and stopped harassing the town with bass music and garish colors.

    This give me hope. Will he one day have a mid-life crisis and start driving it again? There is hope!

  50. Branden H. February 20, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    A much needed hearty laugh! Thanks!

  51. sroel February 20, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    the great photos.. 😆

  52. Chris February 20, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    Sunday morning, coffee in hand and stumbled upon your blog… what a great way to start the day! I actually owned my Herman in Germany… in the winter. While A/C may seem like a rare gift in Texas, in the northern climes, heat and defrost systems would have been welcome attributes in the people’s car. Ours, despite being fifteen years old at the time was supposed to be the family sedan, a move up from our Citroen Duck (I think they actually made those out of tin and canvas)… but that’s another story. We sold the Volksie in the spring, moved back to Canada and bought a rusty GMC half ton with a heater.

  53. grosir baju February 20, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    nice post again

  54. gmomj February 20, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I like the way you are straddling the generations with your kids.
    Very cool.
    The bug wagons now those were some fun rides!
    Love your style and looking forward to more from you.

  55. Jodi Lea February 20, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I too am a prior owner (victim?) of an old bug. Loved your post!

  56. businessxoblog February 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Nice post indeed!

  57. ryekatcher February 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I don’t even know how it is possible to write like this. It was an incredible and painfully hysterical post. You had me embarrassingly chuckling aloud. Good story and good lesson and AWESOMELY written. If you write a book please let me know so I can buy it.

  58. anne February 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    We had a car named Herman! It was a tiny 60’s or 70’s Honda, tho. My first car was a little square box of a fiat, in a color unknown in the real world… I loved it, though.

  59. List of 10 February 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Alas, I never had the privilege of even being inside a WV bug… But I used to drive a car that was able to climb a hill while in neutral.

  60. Harold February 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    My folks had Pintos. Glad they got rid of them before I learned how to drive. Lots of friends had VW’s. Nice story. Congrats on being FP.

  61. Tony Brant February 21, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Back in the day, when I was about 12 or 13, my dad bought a ’67 Bug Convertable partly for hunting and partly for saving gas on his 120 mile daily commute and, unknowingly, for us kids. You see, we lived in the country in South Carolina and had a big yard with rows of pecan trees down both sides. We also had what we called a hedge row down the front where the dirt road led into our yard. There was a ditch there along the hedge row. We found an old billboard and used that with some railroad cross ties to make a bridge over the ditch on the other side of the front yard from the dirt road and there we had it. Our own little driving track around the yard, all of about 1/4 mile. I’ll bet we drove that old vw around that circle hundreds if not thousands of times until we had a well worn road. My dad also rolled the vw about 3 times one night after a deer ran out in front of him. It landed upright and hardly had a scratch. Boy, that was a good memory your story brought back.

  62. Roda February 21, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Wow enjoyed the humour in your article. I remember my first love affair with a car was a yellow beetle and I have always wanted to own one but never have.

  63. sunn16 February 21, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    A great read, very well put. Made me think about a lot of things that I will change! I really can’t wait to hear more from you!

  64. Single Girl and Shanghai February 21, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Every time I see a “dad” in a bug… I’ll think of you.

  65. oldmanofthewoods February 21, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    I enjoyed reading about your old V.W.

    I passed my driving test in one of the old ‘bugs,’ more years than I care to remember, and the sound, of the roar of the engine, coming from behind me, is still in my mind for there seemed to be a sound like a whiste while I was changing grears.

    The gear changing was one of the most silk like I have ever used and , although I am not sure about this, I beleive it was the first car I had come across where the revers was found by pressing down. Sadly, I was never able to own a ‘beetle.’

    When I was a young man, I worked for a sports car company called TVR; the man who designed the car took his initials out of his name Trevor, to come up with the name of the car.

    I used to ‘bond’ the under sides of the car to the glass fibre body and although I was good at my job, I have to tell you I knew nothing of the mechanics of the car and I am still at a loss when it comes to fixing cars. (Give me a motorcycle any day but that is another story.)

    As I recall, the 1.1 air cooled engine, of the ‘bug,’ was a little bit on the slow side but the 1.3 would pull forever and was good on the motorways too.

    At some point, when I get used to this blog site, I will write about my past although I love to write about the walks I go on and explain what I see and here while I am out on ‘field trips.’

    By for now,


  66. makingup3000 February 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Oh gawd the memories of a bug growing up. Sitting in that little back space behind the seat, no seat belts, and my sisters putting hippie bright neon flower stickers on the wheels. I still remember all the smells and interior of that thing. Great post.

  67. Tony Brant February 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Oh my, the little pocket in the back, just brings back more memories. My family once took at vacation trip to Florida, pre-Disney. I have twin brothers and we were all 3 able to fit back there and loved it. Then, when we got tired, just put the seat back down and pulled out the ole quilt and we were set.
    Another story with the “bug” was after I got my DL.
    Me and some girlfriends went on a quest to find a “party” which was supposedly taking place at a boat landing in the boonies. The road was long and winding and after a short summer shower, the steam was rising. I took a sharp curve too fast and ran off the road, down an embankment, about 6 feet, and plowed up about 50 yds of fence, wire, post and all under the car. We walked the short distance to the boat landing and retrieved several guys and was able to push the car back onto the road. We sure were lucky.

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