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Story by Lois Grace

Put a group of men and women together and you will have that group eventually talking about driving styles and stories.  Horror and comedy stories.  It doesn't matter how normal these people are, it just happens.  If its a party, sometimes the people that arrive together will even depart together after one of these conversations, but not always.  The men always love to criticize the women and the women always want to nag the men.  My point here is, of course, that one of the other of the sexes will begin to criticize the other, usually just in fun at first and for the amusement of the crowd, then going for that shot to the heart as the talk continues.  It finally ends with neither party speaking to the other for the remainder of the evening.  Do you know this feeling?  I have experienced it myself, before I learned the fine art of not chewing endlessly on my foot, once it was safely inserted into my mouth.  I mean, there is only so much you can get away with, and past that point you are asking for a nice funeral and a decent burial.

My husband seems like he is constantly berating me for my driving.  By the way, in case you fear for my future safety, I have had the presence of mind to obtain his permission for all that you are about to hear.  It is all try, I swear it, and really happened to me.  He usually drives almost everywhere we go. This is usually because he is too afraid top ride with me. Never mind that I have driven without incident for almost 17 years.  Also, my dad was of the Listen-To-Me-Or-You-Will-Die school of driving.  He, not my mother took my siblings and I out and taught us the fine art of driving.  And a good thing too, as his methods have saved me many a time from a perilous situation.  He impressed upon me that driving is indeed a privilege, and not one to be taken lightly.  Our driving lessons would turn this perfectly normal, kind man into your worst nightmare.  Then, once home, Dr. Jekyll magically disappeared and Mr. Dad returned.  But my husband cannot seem to see all this fine training that made me what I am today - a most skilled driver.  He sees me only as The Person Who Takes Chances.

If he is unlucky enough to be a passenger with me, he is either constantly white-knuckling it on the edges of my seats, or grabbing hysterically for the chicken handle. He shouts Slow down!! and various other obscenities at me while I am driving.  His feet stomp the floorboards, searching for imaginary brakes to stop the car.  Doesn't he KNOW its not supposed to have brakes on that side?  It's a left-hand drive!  Funny, but he keeps forgetting this. Sometimes one of his hands will let go of the handle long enough to shield his disbelieving eyes from the carnage he is sure is about to happen.  Not being terribly brave myself, I keep peering at him to see what it is that I am missing, but I never see anything. Whatever scares him is always gone by the time I look. Why would he do this?

He says I take chances and drive too fast.  I say I'm alert and skilled.  He's had three tickets and a couple of fender-benders.  I've had one accident.  He almost killed his '68 Beetle, Humphrey, three days after he bought it.  I say that's ground for tarring and feathering. He backs into poles.  I bump the curb now and then.  Sure, I drive like Danny Sullivan, but he drives like Mr. Magoo!  He makes me crazy, plodding along and getting in everyone's way.  He signals 4 miles before his turn.  By the time he actually MAKES the turn, the drivers behind him think he's fooling.  His poor Beetle went on after that first accident to live with him for another 14 years, enduring all sorts of abuse before we sold it to someone who restored it.  At one point this car looked so bad that when my husband was stopped for speeding (again), the cop actually asked him if he had a job.  Yes, this is true, I swear.  Perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on him though. This WAS a long time ago. Do old habits really die hard?  I hope not.

How much of this can be attributed to chance?  It is a tribute to my skill that I have escaped for 17 years with only one speeding ticket and an accident that wasn't my fault?  Am I making excuses?  Maybe.

In one expose I told of getting nabbed for speeding. This really upset me.  My husband giggled a little that night when I told him about it. Yes, giggled.  It was not a pretty sound.  Well, he said, they FINALLY got you, and he giggled again.  A grown man, giggling!  Imagine!  I think he was actually pleased!  I mean, why didn't he just call the police and tell them he lived with a speeder and could they please come out and give her a ticket? Really.  I do drive fast, I admit it. Not unsafely, just fast. There is a vast difference. You may be a slow driver, but it doesn't make you a safe driver.  Safe drivers only happen when they are fully aware of everything going on around them.  It amazes me constantly to observe how many folks simply get into their cars, start the engine, and then point the car in the direction they want to go.  They GO, and once there, they turn around and do it all again to get back.  I'm not talking men or women here; I'm talking bad drivers. My husband and I get into trouble here when he tries to lump me into this category by calling me a bad driver.  See the difference?  Opinions may differ, but I have never forgotten what it felt like that night in 1973 when Vernon and I were T-boned by that Oldsmobile.  Lost your concentration for just an instant, and you may kill yourself or your best friend.

I wish I could say I am the best driver I know but I admit I am selective.  My driving depends on WHAT I'm driving.  If I'm in Vernon, it's as if an overfilled fish tank is riding on the seat beside me. I grit my teeth over every bump, and maintain an entire zip code between me and the other cars.  I brake carefully, and come to a stop S-L-O-W-L-Y.  Corners are done with smoothness and while barely rolling.  For those of you not familiar with the heady pleasure of driving these old Type IIs, they are not know for their cornering ability. Picture in your mind's eye trying to pilot your backyard tool shed safely around a corner at high speed, and you have the idea.  Vernon tries to be accommodating, he really does, but a guy has to work with what Volkswagen gave him. And the freeway?  We don't even like to think about this one.  Top speed here is about 50MPH, and his gear ratio is such that he sounds a lot like your mother's Mix Master, running amuck.  Yes, the whine that ensues from the rear end scares away wildlife and leaves passengers deaf for the remainder of the day.  Nothing wrong here, mind you, it's just the way he was born.  He is, alas, not what one could call a Road Machine.

But put me behind the wheel of our Saab, and I became a Monster.  Yes, mild-mannered optician by day, and The Road Warrior while driving this car.  It didn't have such remarkable horsepower or performance; it was just a bit faster than what I was used to and a whole bunch sportier.  I should hide my head in shame whenever I behave this way, but I always get carried away, and besides, that would make it terribly difficult to see where I was going.  Anyway, I think (although he denies it) that my husband got down on hands and knees daily to give thanks that this car was not a Turbo.  (I had looked into ADDING it though)  I was forever trying to make it behave as if it were. Only four cylinders, like my beloved VWs, but whatta difference!  Front wheel drive, power-assisted 4-wheel disc brakes, and a build like Arnold Schwartzenegger.  Yes, I almost named this car Sherman because of his tank-like construction.  All this was hidden under a suave, handsome, dignified exterior - which I loved to an alarming degree (I have since found that people either love Saabs or hate them, and I LOVED this one).  On the highway in this car, I was happily cruising along, wondering why everyone else was slogging along at a snail's pace.  I passed cars right and left, and glanced down at my speedo to find..................WHOOPS!  Much to my horror and delight, I was seeing 85MPH!  The trip from San Jose to Los Angeles (where all those great VW meets are) was merely the blink of an eye, as this car would cruise all day at 80 without a whimper.  Smooth sailing while riding in quiet, cushioned, stylish comfort.  Besides all of this, the Saab had The Look.  The Look is a yuppie's dream - Snooty European Road Machine.  People got out of your way when they saw you coming.  Most of the time.  Could be too because they were afraid you'd simply go over the top of them if they didn't, and dang! That car was heavy.

Bogart is another story.  He is my '69 Bug and I bought him in 1974.  He was my very first, very own car.  My dad still owned Vernon then, so he was not yet mine. But Bogie was.  I try to keep my driving down to manageable limits when I am driving him, which is most of the time.  He was the car I relied on to get me where I needed to go, every day, till I bought my GTi   His each and every need is carefully attended to, and the guys in the shop know him by name.  He has rewarded me with years of faithful, reliable service and I wouldn't trade him in for anything.  I said I try to keep my driving in him reasonable.  I don't always succeed, as evidenced by that speeding ticket.  But it is sometimes hard not to appreciate how nimble he is around turns, how he stops on a dime, how easy he is to park. His slight lack of horsepower is easily forgiven (and I gave him more with a new engine not too long ago). After all, Volkswagen made him this way for a reason, and Volkswagen reasons are usually the best ones of all.  Like Mother Nature, do not fool with them.  Besides, if I had more horsepower, I'd just get more tickets.  With any luck it'll be another 17 years before the next one.  Regarding horsepower, one cannot miss what one has never had, right?  Can they?  RIGHT?

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