Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Get on the Microbu

Stuck in traffic the other day, I found myself behind a chartreuse VW microbus, its back windows festooned with vintage Flower Power decals. "This," I recall smiling, "must be Heaven sent."

For what better traffic-induced tension defuser could there be than getting a front row seat to the back end of a VW microbus?

Argue such disco era abominations as the AMC Pacer - looks, or rather, "looked," seeing as how Pacer sightings are about as common as Jimmy Hoffa sightings, like a cross between another disco era abomination, the Ford Mastadon, er, Matador, and George Jetson's company car - all you want. As far as this beleaguered motorist/savage beast is concerned, nothing soothes more than the microbus.

Even when stripped to its primer and sitting on blocks in your (preferably not immediate) neighbor's yard, Volkswagen's finest has the power to soothe. It is, bar none, running or not, the most viscerally pleasing vehicle around.

Think of it: You're going wherever it is you're going and, whether morning commute, trip to the market, or cross-country junket, you're either going to be following, traveling alongside of, or overtaking a bunch of other cars going wherever it is they're going. (This is, after all, America. We burn rubber the way, well, microbus drivers once burned bras and draft cards.)

"Where," you grumble, failing to see the irony in same, "are all these cars coming from?"

The more cars you see, the more irritated you become. Little old ladies in perfectly preserved Dodge Darts cease being cute when they're going 50 mph in the fast lane and you're late for work. All minivans and SUVs must be overtaken, of course, so you can determine if, indeed, they do contain large families and/or sports lovers, and, if they don't, silently curse them. Especially if you had to pass more than three other cars to make such determinations! And the sports lover one, believe me, isn't at all easy: Is the driver's face craggy, tan, recognizable from a Chapstick commercial? I tell you, it better be at least one of those things if I'm going to risk a speeding ticket or, worse, a fender bender finding out. (And please stop that "well, aren't you being a little judgmental?" business right this minute. For what are cars if not rolling book covers, their occupants the pages?)

People who want to scare us drive rap music-blasting Cadillacs. And, at night, with no other cars around for miles, they very often succeed in doing so. Beige, four-door sedans are driven by people who still haven't quite gotten over being the last one picked for every sixth grade team; white ones by people still smarting about the time they walked out of a public restroom with toilet paper trailing behind them. Naturally, I respect these drivers' silent pleas to "be left alone."

Then there are the bumper stickers, those mobile samplers that tell us who voted for whom; whose kids are honor students; who wants to beat up those kids; whose other car is a Porsche; ad infinitum. I once found myself driving between a "Darwin" bumper sticker-sporting '71 Volvo and a late model Volvo wearing a "What would Jesus do?" sticker on its rear window. The driver of the former car, I guessed, was a Berkeley grad, and from what I could tell about the back of his head, just plain not my type. The driver of the other Volvo, however, was only marginally less annoying; I mean, I wasn't in the mood for a pop quiz, and yet I found myself answering her question with, "well, I'll tell you what Jesus wouldn't do, and that's put a bumper sticker in his rear window."

And that brings me to the VW microbus. No matter how miserable the road conditions or how irritated I might be about having to go out in the middle of the night for cough syrup or poster board for some project one of the kids suddenly remembered was due in the morning, a microbus sighting works wonders. "Now there's a person I'd like to play 'Trivial Pursuit' with," I'll think. "And I'll bet they're not the least bit embarrassed to describe something as 'groovy,' either."

Some things, you know, just can't be described any other way.

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