My dad’s first car was a pale-yellow 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. I have memories of riding in the Bug in my car seat as a very young child. My dad drove it to Mountain View when he worked at Moffett Field and we would listen for the distinctive rumble of the engine to signal, Daddy’s home! It always felt exciting to ride in it, being that close to the road you seem to go faster.
In the mid 80’s Dad started working for a Japanese company and helped to found their US Office, named Opto Films. He got a vanity plate for the Bug, “OPTOBUG.” Eventually he started to drive the company car to work every day, but we would tootle around in the Bug on weekends running errands for household repairs.
I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to driving (among other things!) but I finally got my license when I was 19. I learned to drive on the family van, also a Volkswagen, but the Bug became “my” car and I drove it for 4 years, the first four years of my adulthood.
I commuted to Santa Cruz every day for 2 summers, down to a few times a week during the school year, while I was an intern for LA & JF at their web design firm in Pearl Alley. I almost can’t believe I drove that Bug over Highway 17 for 2 years! Actually I got my first (and only, so far!) speeding ticket in the Bug, just past the summit on 17. It must have been the fact that it was on the downhill, the Bug wasn’t exactly a speed demon.
During this time I was on the volunteer staff for the junior high youth group at church, and I would park a few blocks away to avoid the Sunday morning crowds in the parking lot. After church on hot summer noons the black vinyl seat would burn my legs right through my sundress. Ouch.
I drove the Bug to visit my friend LN, first to meet her for coffee in Willow Glen and then to Santa Cruz while she was going to college. Her first car was the family Bug as well, a light blue convertible. It was a sad day when she got rear-ended – not hard enough to injure her but enough to damage the car beyond repair.
Although we lived within walking distance of the Light Rail station where I caught the train to San Jose State University, I would drive the Bug to the park-and-ride lot during the semesters when I had night classes. My friend PL and I would use the buddy system and take the train home to south San Jose where we lived just a few stations apart. The spring semester of 1999 was a busy one – I was taking portfolio-preparation classes to apply for the Graphic Design Program at SJSU. Much animated discussion occurred, as we hung around in the art building and weighed our chances of gaining one of the 25 seats in the program that year. My acceptance letter came in early summer, and I drove to school to pick up my portfolio and check out the list of who all made it in. I faced my friend MS, his expressive eyebrows stricken with rejection. I had been so sure he would make it. Feeling a bit empty, I returned to the car and backed out of my narrow space in the 7th st. garage. Bump! – to my horror, I’d backed into a pickup truck. My bumper, less than a foot from the ground, had tucked itself behind the truck’s large tire and I was stuck. I couldn’t go forward or back. What to do? I ran down to a pay phone on the street corner and called my dad. I ran back up and switched gears, back and forth between 1st and reverse, until I edged my way out of the predicament. I looked for any marks or dings on the truck, but I honestly couldn’t see any. That’s on the top of my list of most bizarre days. I had a few other mishaps in the Bug – For awhile the gas gauge was broken and I ran out of gas. Once a cap or bolt popped off the engine a few blocks before getting on the freeway – the car refused to accelerate. Another call to Dad to come bail me out.
The Bug served me faithfully in my various adventures with Boys. I wouldn’t exactly call it dating. A crush helped me put the car cover back on the Bug after a day at the soccer game. My computer-geek buddy from work and I went on a field trip to Fry’s Electronics – the Ancient Egyptian-themed one. I spent a long time talking to a guy who’d noticed me at a friend’s party, after dinner at a sort of “double date” with mutual friends. That was awkward, but after we walked out to our cars we talked for quite awhile, me sitting on my Bug fender, him, leaning against another car. But things pretty much fizzled out after that. Months later, after the double date couple had moved to a different house, I sat outside after a party at their place, leaning against the Bug, talking with my new friend BN. Things most definitely did not fizzle out with him, and now we’re married.
My baby brother has grown into the Bug, and it was an eerie experience to ride with him in it when I visited last summer. The smell in that car instantly conjured up vivid memories of my entire life but mostly my early twenties. Dad had been planning to get it painted, fixed up a bit, if he could only find the time.
Then, one night last weekend, some joy-riding jacked-up-truck-driving IDIOT crashed headlong into OptoBug as it was parked in front of my parents’ house. The left taillight was smashed in, and the right rear tire burst as it was pushed up over the curb. The killer drove away, and will never experience consequences from this action since no one got his license plate number. All we can hope is for karma to kick in at some point. My dad took a hub cap to remember by, and our good old car was hauled away for parts. Perhaps some enthusiast will be helped along in his quest to restore a vintage Beetle by the parts (and spirit) of our 1970 friend. They don’t make ’em like they used to!