This Old Bus

micro-busA fierce wind blew in from the Dakotas on the day before Thanksgiving. When it left, it took the last leaf of summer.

Along my walk, the wind scoured clean a grove of oaks, revealing a split windshield peering mournfully over the bed of a decaying hay-wagon.

There is was, the vehicle of my dreams, a 1964 VW micro-bus.

I’ve been looking for a project like this. Not that I don’t have projects. I have all kinds of kinds of things to do – but those things found me, not me them. What I’ve been wanting is a project of my very own, not one assigned by wife or weather. Something that might take years.

I slipped through the buck-thorn to check it out. No sign of rust and the upholstery was in great shape. When I eased into the driver’s seat to shift the gears, I felt play only in the linkage, not the transmission. Goodness knows after owning enough of these old cars, you acquire a touch you never lose.

I spent half my youth working on VW’s. The other half I spent sleeping. I courted girls, hung-out with my friends and attended college, all from beneath the hood or the undercarriage of a Volkswagen. The reason I was blessed with so many cars is because I couldn’t afford a reliable one. Whenever a VW died in a driveway, the owner would call me to haul it away. Whenever a car died on me, I plucked out it’s good parts and transplanted them into the next vehicle. You have to wonder what the cars thought as they saw me coming. I was the grim-reaper of VW’s, the last station before the bone yard.

But I did my best for them. Believe me, you know nothing about commitment until you have spent a Minnesota winter laying in the snow under a car. I almost married a girl who said it is what attracted her.  Later she left me for a guy with a new Ford truck because his pickup started.  She needed transportation more than she needed a guy who understood commitment.

It is things like that which make me realize I never enjoyed myself back then. I was always either frost-bit, knuckle scrapped, bandaged or broke from working on those cars. Yet half a century later, here I am again, looking for a car that needs work. This time around though, I have a heated shed, a matching set of tools, enough money to afford parts and all the time in the world. I will love every second of it.

It makes me nervous though.

Time takes it’s toll on old cars, just like it takes it’s toll on old men. Deep in any old car, subtle things go wrong. Things you just can’t see. Cables stretch. Rings soften. Wires corrode. Bolts freeze. Mounting brackets twist. Frames warp imperceptibly. Nothing fits like it should.

Before I do this thing, I need to know exactly what it is I am doing. Why am I making new what is old?

Is it one of those rare chances to go back in life and make good on a not so good experience,  to fix what you wish you could have fixed then, or is it that by fixing the imperceptible flaws of an old thing, you give it and yourself another chance?


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