I could say it seems like yesterday, but it really doesn’t. It actually feels like, well 50 years! So many things have changed since 1969 including me, of course. Just look at all those throwback Thursday pictures on my Facebook page and see for yourself the maturing evolution of my face and body. The inevitable is just that, inevitable. I suppose every class has their milestone reunions and I did make it to my 20th in 1989, but this time, I will not be able to attend the festivities. I do, however, really look forward to seeing pictures of the 68-year-old kids I went to school with so long ago on Long Island.
The late 1960s and ’70s was a fun time for so many reasons. I had a lot more get up and go then, which sadly has started to get up and leave, but some of my favorite memories revolve around my first driving experiences. I learned to drive at 16 with a learner’s permit in driver’s education that the high school offered and followed up with many hours at the wheel of my dad’s 1960 Buick LeSabre. It was huge, powder blue and always immaculate. I practiced driving, parking and successfully scaring my mom half to death at every turn. Before I got my own first car, I also learned to drive a stick shift on my friend’s mother’s Volkswagen Beetle. It too was pale blue and every opportunity I could get to drive that little “pregnant roller skate,” I took it. In 1971, I bought my first car. It was a 1963 Black Rambler Sedan with a dent or scratch on every inch of it other than the roof. Saving every penny I could to buy the $300 car was quite an accomplishment for me, and it was my pride and joy. That is until the engine fell out of the bottom of it during a turn onto the main street where I lived in the middle of a snowstorm on my way to a job interview. If that doesn’t sound like a punchline to a bad joke, I don’t know what does. I got out of the car, locked the door and walked the 2 miles to the interview. I didn’t get the job because I showed up late and apparently the human resource person had a very challenged sense of humor. About three weeks later, two police officers came to my parent’s house and rang the bell. They were looking for me and asked if I had stolen a car! Of course, I answered no and was told that someone had taken one of my license plates off the car that died and stole another car using that plate. That was the first and only time I came close to being cuffed and shipped off to the Big House. Mom’s face was priceless.
The first brand-new car I had was a 1972 Super Beetle that was lemon yellow. The price was $2,700 a little more than my beloved Rambler, but it was a great car. For $3, I could fill my tank and drive for a week or two. On the news this week there was an announcement from VW that the bug is being squashed. No more Beetles after the release of two special editions in July of next year. Similar announcements were made in the past but I fear that, after 70 years of Slug Bugs, this time may truly be the permanent demise of the third generation of an iconic car.
The original compact Beetle was designed in Germany in 1938, during the Nazi era. Eleven years later it came to the U.S., where eventually it became a symbol of “hippie” transportation. The classic Beetle sold for about 30 years before U.S. sales stopped in 1979. The last of the original bugs was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in 2003. The car made a comeback as the more modern Beetle in 1998 and was revamped again in 2012 giving it a flatter roof, more trunk space and included a navigation system. Sales rose for a while with the novelty of the rebooted bugs but then fell dramatically last year.
The special editions available in the final 2019 model year will come in coupe and convertible body styles, with unique beige and blue colors and several upgrades in addition to the normal VW offerings. Volkswagen has no immediate plans to revive the Beetle again after that but “wouldn’t rule it out.” One can only hope.
Four of my grandchildren are driving now. They all have cars and seem to be excellent drivers. The cars all have power steering, air conditioning and automatic gearshifts. There is a self-parking feature in some cars and, of course, cruise control is just about standard now. They don’t have to roll their windows up or down with a handle or unlock the door with a key. The a.m. radio is now a stereo system with an option for adding Sirius for a fee. There are so many buttons and options on the computer on the dash that the book that comes with the car takes months to read. I miss my Rambler, the Buick and my Super Beetle!
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at email@example.com.