My First Car Reappears

Back in 1969, while I was living in a dorm at Emerson College (it would be unfair to Emerson to claim I was attending school), I bought a car. It cost $400, a big investment for me.

Today, I was pulling into the parking lot at Dunkin’ Donuts when I spied this 1960 oxidized green VW Beetle. That’s exactly what I owned!

OK – it wasn’t originally oxidized green, but that’s what it evolved to.

The 1960 Volkswagen was a tiny death trap with no safety features. There are no seat belts. The dashboard is metal. The gas tank is under the hood in the front, where the crumple zone is today. With thin tires, any wind pushed it back and forth across the road.

Its six volt positive electrical system (today’s cars are 12 volt negative) made getting parts a chore. It also had headlights with the power of birthday candles and a three speed manual transmission.

With no radiator (it was air cooled) the heating and defrosting systems were pretty close to worthless. Air conditioning… you rolled down the window – by hand.

I loved this car. You just have no idea. It was liberating.

I once got my VW to 62 mph, but that was on a long, flat, deserted stretch of Military Trail in West Palm Beach. Going up hills, it often had trouble sustaining 50 mph.

The owner of the car pictured below runs a garage restoring old VWs. I have seen him driving around in classic Beetles before, but never in my car.

The back story is, this particular car was owned by a woman who kept it in storage for thirty years.

It will be its old self soon. This guy knows what he’s doing.




My First Car

The five of us went out this afternoon for a quick shopping trip. First though was a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for some coffee. It was there I spied the green Volkswagen.

As it turns out, there’s a guy in my town who has a business refurbishing these tiny cars.

The car I saw (and the car in the picture here on the web) is a ’67. Mine was a ’60. There is a lot of difference internally&#185, but from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s the same car. In fact, mine was the same color green, albeit faded and pock marked with rust.

Looking at that old Beetle brought back a lot of memories. With its narrow tires the VW moved around the road as if it were in a dance contest. There was no way to keep it in one lane as long as there was any breeze at all!

There were no seat belts, air bags nor any other kind of modern safety equipment. The dashboard was metallic and not padded. To make matters worse, the gas tank was under the hood, sitting pretty much on top of your feet.

Speaking of under the hood, that’s where the trunk was… and also where you filled the gas tank. I opened the trunk of the car at Dunkin’ Donuts and instantly was reminded the body had the thickness and resilience of an Altoids box!

With its little air cooled engine, it could accelerate 0-60 mph in a week or so. Actually, mine could barely get to 60 mph (I think I once got it to 63 mph). On a steep grade, even when starting at highway speed, you’d have to downshift to maintain. That meant a top uphill speed under 50 mph!

While cruising at top speed, I remember trying to throw my weight forward, as if it would help accelerate the car.

Since there was no radiator (it was an air cooled engine after all) the heater/defroster was challenged. It was always cold in the winter and anything that fell from the sky stuck on the windshield. The little wiper blades were totally ineffectual.

Did I mention I loved this car.

I bought it from what I thought was a private owner. As I later discovered, I bought it from someone who had purchased it after a wreck (let’s use the southern vernacular) and redid the body.

More than once the master cylinder, which powered the braking system, failed. I drove around for weeks at a time using only the emergency brake. What a stupid thing to do. I’m not proud. In fact, looking back, I am appalled. What was I thinking?

I bought the car with the intention of bringing it back to Boston where I was going to school. I paid my money, but didn’t know how to operate a ‘standard’. The Volkswagen had a ‘four on the floor’ manual transmission which had to be coordinated with proper use of the clutch. Two feet for driving and only the left hand dedicated to steering, with the right throwing the shifter.

The car’s seller sat in the front seat and gave me a lesson. We drove around my neighborhood of six story apartment buildings in Flushing for about five minutes. I hit no one. That was it. Lesson complete. Within the next half hour I was on my way north!

As I remember it, I stalled the car while leaving the toll booth on the Whitestone Bridge.

Having a VW was great for Boston. It could fit into nearly any space, legal or not. In that pre-computer age I collected parking tickets issued by the Boston Police Department and strung them together like a string of pearls.

Even today, 35 years later, I worry they may still be looking for me – somehow establishing a waiver to the statute of limitations since I owed enough to bail the Commonwealth out of any financial jam.

That little car that I bought for $400 meant so much to me. It was an integral part of my growing up. When I moved to Florida, it was the VW that moved me there – everything I owned and still room to pick up a hitchhiker on the way to Washington, DC.

Seeing this green car today meant a lot to me. I know I stayed and gabbed and slowed everyone else in the family down. I called Steffie over to look, but it was meaningless to her. You had to be there, back in the 60s when the VW Beetle was a symbol of the counterculture.

Today, again, for a few moments I was.

&#185 – All cars now, and the car in the photo above, have 12 volt electrical systems with negative ground. My 1960 Beetle had a 6 volt system with a positive ground. All it meant was it was impossible to find anything that worked in the VW that wasn’t specifically designed for it.

Monday in Las Vegas. No clouds. No humidity.

Helaine was up early for Vegas, late for her. She took a shower and got dressed first. I am much less driven and much more leisurely.

She headed down to play “I Dream of Jeannie” slots while I dressed. It is a nickle slot machine in much the same way that you can fill your gas tank for $1.59.

Here’s what I found out about my Cingular Preferred Nation plan (and what I had already known). Niether the caller ID nor the voicemail indicator work in Las Vegas. What I already knew was, when Cingular is using AT&T’s towers, as they do for my TDMA type service here in Las Vegas, the phone incorrectly reads Cingular Extened which should mean $.79/min, but doesn’t).

The fact that they continue to advertise this plan but can’t in reality supply what they promise, and what their brochures tell you to look for, is wrong. This is not a recent occurence. I’ve had this plan the better part of a year, and it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

We had some weird problems with our room safe. We locked it, checked it, and came back to find it open! I think something we had in there was getting in the way of the bolt. Who know. It seems OK now.

There are probably more photos taken on the walkway between The Mirage lobby and casino than any other 100 foot strip of land in the world. It’s because of views like this.

Helaine went to get a Player’s Club card for me and mistakenly left her credit card. By the time it was discovered, Mirage had sent it to “Security” for safe keeping. When Helaine went to retireve it, she got a ‘tour’ of the security area, including watching what looked like the duplicating of “wanted” posters.

We had breakfast at The Caribe Cafe. Very nice, as always. Helaine had gotten a week long line pass and we went right in. It looked like the regular line was 20 minutes or so. Pancakes and coffe for me, eggs for her. This is a Vegas coffee shop, which like a Jersey diner is a well defined and normally dependably good thing.

After breakfast, while Helaine retrieved her credit card, I went to double check the room safe. We met outside, next to the tigers. Then as Helaine went to The Forum Shops (yes Steffie, you already have something coming home) I sat and played poker.

Last night is was a $3/6 table. Today I tried $6/12. Mostly I was satisfied with my play but lost two big and difficult hands, ending up losing around $90. At a table of ten, I would suppose 5 were locals, playing to kill time or make a living.

Playing for a few hours, or more, and the difference between winning and losing is often just one hand. Poker players remember their lost hands… their bad beats… much more than their big wins.

Later tonight I plan on entering The Mirage Hold’em Poker Tournament. Last night the big winner walked away with $6,000+