A Mystic on I-95


February 12, 1991|By LINDA L. S. SCHULTE

I know it's hard to believe, but I had a mystical experience the other day driving on I-95. I had a flashback to the Sixties.

I passed a Volkswagen bus.

Those who've ever owned a VW bus always have a soft spot in their hearts for them. The reasons are perfectly clear: The sheet-of-plywood aerodynamic shape; the sewing-machine roar of the engine; the sounds of the wind rushing through the tightly sealed body; and the heater, ah, the heater . . .

When the heater worked, it hardly did, and when it didn't, it was generally no surprise. For many of my friends a blanket was an essential part of the bus' equipment.

But generally speaking, you couldn't kill the damned thing.

Even when it was time for a major overhaul (there really generally was no such thing -- unless the body was starting to decay), it still limped along and almost never left its owner stranded.

The wide-bodied style of the bus lent itself to use as a kind of mobile billboard. Many of my college friends painted them outrageous colors: bumpers purple, bodies yellow. (Psychedelic colors would have been possible if only Rustoleum had come in them.)

The VW buses were more than just versatile. They were the auto industry's first Stealth model. People tried to disguise them as campers by putting frilly curtains in all the windows and moving the seats into various coffee-table configurations. Some entrepreneurs sold things out of them (no reference to contraband here). Not so mysteriously, whenever someone sold their house and scheduled a move, they looked to a friend with a VW bus. They were the vehicle of choice for protest marches and parades.

They were then and still are now (at least to me) symbolic of an age -- perhaps a generation. They were a generation's cairn to a rejection of materialism.

I mean, can you really imagine one of today's yuppies driving a VW bus? Can you picture the members of the Class of 1991 lining up to buy them to commute to their $30,000-a-year jobs in economics?

I hardly think so.

And I, for one, will always believe that the song of the road is not the low roar of a multi-horsepower, high-torqued engine, but a kind of tinny, lightweight whine that resonates in the ears of a collective generation.

Linda Schulte writes from Laurel.

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