My father's Toyota has no soul. It has air-conditioning, heat, cruise control, air-bags, a CD player and gets decent gas mileage, but there is no personality, no color, no ethereal substance.
It made the 2,000-mile trek to Eugene, Ore. from Davenport, Iowa without incident under the baking heat of a late June sun. No cause for celebration, though, this robot does what it's told without complaint – the embodiment of Japanese efficiency. And what fun is that?
Would the "Adventures of Huck Finn" really have been that interesting if Mark Twain sent the boy down the Mississippi on an ocean liner? The raft is the key to the whole adventure. I left my rafts back home and I am paying for it now.
I hear the telltale chirp through my apartment window and I stop what I'm doing and rush over to try to catch a glimpse. I pass VWs on the highway and consider pacing them for a while to get a better look. I see them parked on the street and I ring the potential owner's doorbell – hoping to strike up conversation and maybe go for a ride. I can't pull myself away.
"It's like driving a roller coaster," an ex-girlfriend exclaimed with a grin on her first ride in Fritz, my Mignonette Green 1959 Beetle. I have not been able to find a better way to describe the vintage Volkswagen experience.
I've been through just about every aspect of old VW ownership – the rescue, the rehabilitation, the joy of driving, the agony of a blown valve, the rebuild, the discovery of another problem, the expensive restoration ad nauseam. And I only come out of it each time with a powerful lust for more old Volkswagens.
What would I do if I blew a valve in my father's Toyota? Well, I would be completely lost. Though it burns me to my male core to say this, I couldn't begin to know how to fix it.
Where the air-cooled Volkswagen is simple, the Toyota is sadistic. Under the hood of this neutered beast, a dizzying line of computers tap-dance out air/fuel ratios while veins of coolant and other extraneous liquids appease an engine block covered in so many terrifying piggybacked electrical sensors, vacuum lines, and general nonsense that I nearly blow a gasket just thinking about it.
Repair of the old Volkswagen is much less daunting. To fix a FUBAR carburetor, simply string together a combination of swear words unique enough to impress the vehicle and you are back on the road. To repair a blown fan belt, simply borrow a pair of pantyhose, tie them together at the ends, and put them in the fan belt's place. The air-cooled Volkswagen makes you feel like MacGyver.
My dad's Toyota waits a couple hours for AAA, or an astrophysicist. Ultimately it is scrapped, just like that washing machine that gave up last week.
There's something to these old autos though, that I just can't put my finger on. No one I've really talked to with the addiction can place it either. We just keep on buying these hopelessly worn out German economy cars and dropping serious time and money into them – in some cases more so than on children or other family members. These cars really get under the skin.
I'm stuck in my father's appliance with wheels for a few more weeks – until I get back home for a month-long break, at which point my 1977 VW Bus and I will rekindle our on-again-off-again relationship.
If all goes according to plan, the 1977 will make its way into the hands of a new loving owner and I can pick up an even older VW to take care of for these two years of graduate school in Oregon. Hopefully I can regain a bit of my sanity. This Volkswagen withdrawal has been incredibly rough.
Adam Hurlburt is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Oregon. He would like to thank those who've graciously put up with his VW habit.