My very first car was a candy-apple red Volkswagen Super- beetle with a black rag top. I got it for my 16th birthday. I came home one evening and walked in the back door of our split-level home in our suburban neighborhood into our brown paneled walled living room to find a gift box. Inside was one of those hideous little troll-dolls with bright yellow, spiky hair holding a set of car keys. My step -dad immediately took me outside into the cold, dark evening of my November birthday to teach me how to drive the stick-shift.
He was having one of his finer moments, since he was a son-of-a-bitch alcoholic who redeemed himself with his money. His dad owned an oil company, and money kept coming his way, which he would quickly blow on boats, cruises, and starting businesses. My brother adored him, since he gave us free reign of the boat after school to take to the nearby Falls lake to water-ski with our friends. He just had no clue how to deal with me and my teenage rebellion, and we got along best when we were sharing the half gallon of vodka that usually adorned the kitchen counter. He didn’t know that I was drinking along with him, and every drink I stole out of his vodka bottle was immediately replaced with water. It was a terrible trick that was eventually discovered when he realized that his vodka no longer produced its promised sweet relief after a long day of the 8 to 5 life.
It was an unfortunate time to learn a stick-shift, since I had been out drinking all day. He probably didn’t notice the smell on me since he had been doing the same exact thing. Day-drinking was my escape, since going to school was such a downer for me. The teachers treated you like you were an idiot simply because you showed up for class sporadically, and with no homework, and probably reeking of pot. And then there were those little pieces of “paper” me and Renee Elliot would pass around in Mrs. Siano’s english class. It never occurred to us that adults knew what LSD was, too. We always thought we were so much smarter. Back then , there was no-one waiting for you when you got home, so we had no homework police or adult supervision EVER. A guy named Scott was our favorite escape from the sweaty , non-air conditioned, incredibly cliquish, hormone-soaked halls of Broughton High school. His place worked best since it was walking distance from the campus. He rented a dingy little room on Hillsborough street. This must have been a little while after they cleaned it up a bit. In elementary school, the ultimate insult to hit your enemy with was, “ Your mama works on Hillsborough Street”. It was the time when porno movies and titty bars lit up the small street near the NC State campus. It didn’t stop us from going to this magical place of college life, bars, and grungy musicians. Scott looked a little like Kevin Bacon, the cute new actor from Footloose, but with bad acne, and must have been older than us, since he always had liquor on hand, and actually had HIS OWN PLACE. It was a little room with a mini-fridge and a bathroom down the hall. He had a bit of a mean streak, and always seemed really grumpy and treated us like we were pains in the asses. Looking back, the poor guy did get a little taken advantage of with us girls crashing and drinking all of his booze. He may have expected a little SOMETHING in return, but young girls can get away with anything. I recently came across his obituary on Facebook. He was only 52,and still looked very angry. I guess some of us never escaped that life.
The Volkswagen was my treasure, even though it broke down a lot. I even found some of the old beetle mats in an junk yard my grandpa owned out in the country. They were the rubber ones with the cute little lady bug with the big smile. I drove my VW out there once on a relentlessly hot, humid North Carolina summer day. I cleaned them up to add the finishing touches to my precious little beetle. The car had many little quirky traits, like the black top that to be folded down manually, and was a two person job. To switch lanes or to look behind me, I had to stand up while driving so I could see over the top when it was down. In the winter, my gloved hands would freeze to the steering wheel from the air blowing in from the front of the car. When it wouldn’t start, I had to push it and pop the clutch until it cranked. This made it a fantastic sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night car. The brakes had to be pumped several times before the car would fully stop. Susanne must have forgotten this detail when she rammed into the back another car in front of us. We were leaving Wrightsville Beach after a full day of tequila drinking. We still had our oiled, sandy skin, with our wet beach towels as a barrier between us and the vinyl seats. She was driving because I had eaten the worm. Everyone knew that the worm on the bottom of the bottle of tequila had the most alcohol ,and could even make you see things, which was a fun goal. Anyway,our parents told us to get somewhere safe while they made the 3 hour trip to pick us up in the middle of the night. We were very fortunate that the guys we hit were young and cute and had an apartment nearby, and off we went, to “safety”, and to engage in whatever legal and illegal goodies they had at their place. The apartment was like any college boy’s apartment at the time, with framed, mirrored advertisements of Miller Light beer, Budweiser, or if they were really exotic, Guinness. The carpet was dirty brown, and there were empty beer cans and ash trays all over the room. A Mexican blanket hung haphazardly from the wall above the sofa, probably picked up from a Spring break trip somewhere where girls ran around in bikinis screaming “woohoooo!!!!”, funneling beer, vomiting in bushes, and waking up in strange rooms. There were three guys, and one was older, and kept lording his authority over us. We ignored him and drank his alcohol anyway. I don’t remember when my parents arrived, but any punishment I may have incurred, besides the lecture from the front seat on the way home, was diverted by the fact that my dad was taking my brother and I to England the following morning. My hangover was cured with the discovery of WINE IN A BOX. Our quaint little host home in Aberdeen, Scotland had one in the fridge. That, I thought, was the best invention EVER, because no one could tell how much you drank out of the big cardboard box.
The last I heard, my precious VW had been towed to uncle Whirly’s place on a farm outside of Raleigh. He owned 3 chimpanzees, who escaped one day and managed to destroy the beautiful black top. At least that was the story they told. The powers that be decided that there was no more money to throw at my precious automobile, and I never saw it again. Not even to say goodbye. That was the end of an era. My little red Super-Beetle convertible black-top with the lady bug mats.