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Story by Lois Grace

I drive old Volkswagens. If, in the process of driving my old Volkswagens, I get in your way, please excuse me.

This is California, Land Where the Auto Reigns Supreme, so you'd think that folks out here would have a bit more tolerance (if not downright admiration for automobiles that are older than most of our drivers) of old vehicles. But, it seems, they don't. In these days of Road Rage and the sense of entitlement to that road that everyone seems to feel (gee, this is sounding more like an editorial all the time), it's awfully scary to drive my old guys out there. Kinda makes me feel like setting their tires in cement and making giant statues out of them or something. I don't do this because I'm not a big fan of Garage Art, and I honestly enjoy driving my 'kids', when everyone will leave me alone.

In the interest of safe (vintage) motoring everywhere, may I suggest a few guidelines to help us all coexist on the highways??? (not that I need to tell YOU, since, if you are reading this, you are a Car Person and already drive safely) Now, I give you VolksWoman's Rules of Safe Driving, or, How to Not Annoy the Vintage Volkswagen Driver:

Rule #1: Old brakes are just that: OLD. At best, they aren't anti-lock, and at their worst (although mine are never in this category) they may not even be completely functional. I'm sure you know the scenario: you're in the right lane (out of everyone else's way), happily driving your classic. You approach a corner, and, at the last moment the guy in the left lane flips on his signal (maybe) and at the same time dives in front of you to make that turn. You hit the brakes, and....................not much happens except you get the instant urge for a bathroom. This is just one scenario involving old brakes. It could be anything requiring a stop of any kind. The other guy thinks all cars on the road can stop like he can - otherwise they wouldn't be out there, right?? WRONG! But I don't need to tell YOU that.

Rule #2: Most old cars have 6 volt electrical systems. This means that if you have six bulbs in various places on your car, like I do, then by the time the current goes from Bulb One to Bulb Six it's just about worn out and there really isn't much current left to run the last bulb, much less produce light. HAHAHAHA, I'm joking. But it sure seems that way. The current in my cars seems to start at the left headlight, goes to the right headlight, back to the right taillight, over to the license light bulb, and finishes up at the left taillight. Hence, my left taillight can be a bit dimmer than the rest at times, and the reason is (according to me) because the current is simply worn out by the time it gets there. Newer cars are 12 volts and have head- and taillights that can blind a moose at 10 miles. (We won't even mention the idiots with 4X4's and massive light strips on top of the roof you could land a 747 by) If one of these rolling billboards is behind you and you happen to put on a turn signal or hit the brakes, rest assured that they will NOT see it happen. The only thing these drivers understand is a giant (and I mean GIANT, as in garbage-can-lid-sized) taillight before they will brake their own car. Anything smaller and less red will merely serve to annoy them when they have to peel the rear of your car off the front of their minivan. See, these drivers nearly always drive minivans. Someone should remind them that their minivan is a direct descendant of the VW Bus, the very vehicle they seem to despise so much when going up a hill. Which brings me to.....................

Rule #3: Since my old cars are all Volkswagens, I am used to the somewhat compromised acceleration of my favorite ride. Others may not be (which annoys me also, because unless they've been living in a cave for the last 40 years they should have gotten used to so many VW's on the road with them) and you need to be aware of this. For this reason, freeway driving is another thrill best left to those most hardy among us. The mere stress of merging onto the freeway can kill you. And, once you get on the freeway you'd better not want OFF. The thing that amazes me though is that my cars LOOK old. I mean, what do they THINK is under that decklid??? I have no turbos, no fuel injection, no dual carbs, no fancy this and that. As a result of all this, I have no acceleration to speak of either. I have horsepower at its genuine best: I push on the right hand pedal and my car goes forward. Eventually. You'd think that other drivers would see an odd-looking, lumpy old (restored) pickup coming down the pike and give it a break. NOOOoooo! They expect my old Single Cab to just fly up to 70 mph in Real Time. In reality, Vernon has his own time frame: I call it the Single Cab Shuffle. He'll get there when he's good and ready and not a moment sooner. It must work pretty well, he's got nearly 400,000 miles on the clock and he didn't rack those miles up by sitting in the garage. Of course, most of those miles were probably not accomplished by merging onto freeways either. But I don't need to tell YOU about the hazards of delayed acceleration. You already know this.

Rule #4: Gaping and gawking is to be expected. Now, with such old vehicles, you should expect some small amount of admiration when you drive them. After all, if you didn't enjoy being noticed, you'd be driving a Hyundai, right?? But some people are so intent on telling you how much they like your car that they nearly become ONE with it. Again, the freeway is great for this, because as you're trying to steer your precious baby in a straight line, someone beside you in a Road Hog is waving at you, honking, thumps-upping, and doing everything BUT driving in a straight line. It takes all your concentration to keep your mind (and your car) in your own lane! Don't take it personally. After all, it's a compliment! These people probably genuinely love Volkswagens and just want you to know how great they think yours is. Take it as a compliment, and get off at the next exit. Hide behind a gas station until the rabid VW lovers disappear.

Rule #5: Wonder Steering. Not so common in elderly Beetles, but anyone with a Type II will know what I mean. Take your precious old Volkswagen out for a Sunday drive and you will quickly understand Wonder Steering. In case you haven't experienced the joys of this firsthand, it's called that because you WONDER where you'll end up. If you are in the next lane, about to pass me and I just seem to OOZE over a bit towards you, don't shoot me any dirty looks as you go around. I'm not drunk. I'm not asleep, eating or talking or texting on a cell phone. I am merely trying desperately to keep my VW going in a straight line. And, before you holler at me to fix my obviously faulty steering, let me tell you one thing: there is nothing wrong with it! Most Buses and Trucks came from the factory with this particular feature built in: I guess they just didn't want anyone getting too comfy driving one. Bugs aren't bad about this unless something really IS wrong, but the Type II has never been known for its tight and responsive handling. This isn't a shortcoming, it's just a fact. But I don't need to tell YOU that.

Rule #6: Parking lots can provide an endless source of anxiety in vintage-car owners. While parking next to an obviously restored beauty, watch your corners! And never EVER just open your door. You should roll down the window, gauge the distance from your door to theirs carefully, then open your door a notch and climb through your window. But seriously, nothing can match the sheer terror of having your door tickled by a domestic (or cheap foreign) model. Door dings and scratches are the very height of disrespect. If you see an older car with a paint job that cost more than your first house, it is probably a show car. Don't act like you don't know it's a valuable vehicle. Park somewhere else. Next to that Yugo would be good.

And, while Rule #7 doesn't really apply to driving situations, I put it in here anyway because both my oldies have been subjects of many a parking lot-inspection and while these conversations can be enjoyable, they can also cause hard feelings:

Rule #7: Offhand compliments can be great fun. They can also be a pain in the neck, if the observant has no idea he's being insulting at the same time. I once had a guy come up to Vernon, in a show, and mention that GEE, I used to hate these things. See how confusing it can be? I didn't know whether to thank him or suggest a good dentist after I bashed his teeth into his head. He went on to say he used to hate them because they were so slow, and weren't really GOOD for anything. (One might assume from this last statement that I would have politely ignored him after this but I didn't - I couldn't believe anyone would be so stupid and wanted to see what he'd say next) He did go on to say how handsome Vern was, and how he admired the time that had gone into the project. I guess his point was that he wanted me to know how he'd seen the error of his ways - he left by saying something about how great it was that sooner or later, EVERYTHING is valuable. HMMMM. I didn't let him get away before I educated him on just exactly what Vernon had been VERY good at: pulling stumps, hauling wood, sod, dirt, or (one time) 2200 pounds of newspaper. He did listen to me, but the point I am trying to make is that it doesn't matter if they agree with you before they leave. You have to toughen up about this if you are going to drive your precious darling out into public view. Grow a thicker hide and ignore these insensitive jerks. Sticks and stones can make dents and dings, but names will never hurt either you or your baby.

There, just what the world needs, a few more rules. But if we all could observe each and every one on my list, that world would be a much happier place. So, go forth with your gem and enjoy every mile! Just don't park next to ME.


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