When I was about 16 and had just learned to drive my dad found an old beat up Volkswagen Beetle that he rehabbed. I think he asked Roy Young to paint it and they picked an amazing red orange color. It was gorgeous! It was a convertible. I’m not a car aficionado but for that car I flipped out.
I remember when he taught me how to drive it. Of course, it was a stick shift “four on the floor”. I had learned on automatic so it was a challenge to operate the clutch and gas pedal in concert with each other. Let one out while the other is carefully pressed down in just the right amount at the right time. You had to get the feel of how exactly to let the clutch out so there was no awful lurching and subsequent engine quit. You also had to get the feel for shifting the gears. If you didn’t do it just right you got feedback right away! The most horrible grinding sound you ever heard like the motor was going to fall out! This was a great motivator to get it right quickly! Dad, usually impatient, was uncharacteristically patient with me in getting my skills down. He told me that I could drive it in 1st gear but slowly if I felt insecure and he also told me if I listened to the motor and let the RPMs drop that I didn’t even need to use the clutch. Pretty soon I mastered it and off we went!
The car was perfect for “Scooping the Loop” every Friday and Saturday nights in Marshalltown, Iowa. Top down. Girls waving and screaming. My friend Chris swiped canned Kadota figs from her candy striper hospital job and we lobbed them at unsuspecting victims. The Loop was from the front of the Times-Republican newspaper building to the bottom of Third Avenue just before the Iowa River. You drove east on Main past the courthouse and then turned left on 3rd avenue to go all the way to the end near the A&W Root Beer stand. Then you did the whole thing in reverse.
Sometimes on a hot and humid summer night we stopped at the Root Beer stand and ordered an ice-cold root beer that came in a frosty mug that was placed on an aluminum tray that hooked over the driver’s side door when the window was rolled down. Root beer doesn’t taste like that anymore. I think they had hot dogs and French fries but it’s the root beer I remember.
This was how the movie “American Graffiti” got it so right. There were the couples who went “steady” and there were the kids on the loose and looking for fun. There were the geeks and greasers and jocks. There were little sisters and brothers who we were supposed to be taking care of while Mom and Dad went out and left us in charge. There were the older boys from the farms and dinky towns. They were the coolest and we’d pull the car over and jump out and pile in their car. Sometimes we’d let those boys take us way out east of town to Twinkle Hill. Twinkle Hill was a bluff above the Iowa River and you could see the lights of town from there. We thought it was romantic. We’d park and make-out. Nothing else happened. We were too shy. Later I heard some people went “all the way” but that never happened to me. I was incredibly curious but not brave enough to let my guard down.
A Strange Occurrence
Once we had a slumber party at Maribeth’s house. I don’t know why they called it a slumber party because no one slept and everybody tried to stay awake. Until it was time to go back to her house we drove around town with the radio blasting. We started freaking out because every time we turned off the car and turned it on again the radio was playing “Chuggalug” by Roger Miller. This must have happened at least 5 or 6 times. When we got back to Maribeth’s home we ran up to her room and turned on the radio. Sure enough! Chuggalug was playing. We started screaming our heads off. It must be a conspiracy! Twilight Zone! Aliens!
Eventually I left home to go to college and the red Vee Dub stayed at my mom’s house. It was getting pretty worn out. The canvas roof leaked and every time it rained the floor would get an inch or two of water. That made the floor rust and soon there was a hole and you see the road going by as you looked down. I was completely absorbed in my college days and I forgot all about the red Vee Dub. I don’t even know what happened to it. It probably went to some wrecking yard where everything goes. Even us. Then all we have are memories but that’s OK because the memories are pretty good and it gives my mind peace to sit and remember.