When my best friend was describing a near-perfect date that her boyfriend took her on last summer, I couldn't help but cringe. He got tickets to a show at Red Rocks -- and drove her in a rented, mint-condition vintage Volkswagen bus.
There is nothing romantic about a ride in a Volkswagen; I grew up in a working-class family whose main transportation was a bus. A 1970 bus with elastic-lacking canvas seat belts that got caught in the door more often than they were wearable.
It was a bus with holes in the floor that showed off the tar below the wheels of a van that topped out at 55 miles per hour. A bus with a sliding side door that froze open in the winter if someone in the Catholic school carpool was dumb enough to jerk it open -- instead of climbing over the front seat like a seasoned Volkswagen rider. (That same door was unable to be opened from inside if locked from the outside, leading to a stinking hot summer night of camping during which I puked across a row of sleeping siblings, unable to exit the vehicle in time to direct the projectile vomit.)
As you learn when you ride in or drive a Volkswagen for an extended period of time, they aren't cars, they are magnets -- magnets for weirdos who will gawk at you, and VW-philes who can, and will, approach you in parking lots and at stoplights just to talk about their own VW.
I know, because I'm a previous Volkswagen owner -- and one of those gawking weirdos.
The "Red Bus," as our van was called as it passed through the hands of several family members, was my first car, which didn't make an already uncool me any cooler in high school. When it was given to me as a birthday "present," I wanted to die. (Instead, I renamed it the "Pussy Wagon," and affixed reflective letters to the back stating the change.)
I had spent my summers in this death box, my legs semi-permanently imprinted with the bench seat's crosshatch design as the sun turned the black vinyl into melted-hell material. Winters were equally shit, as the temperature inside the van was the same as it was outside of the van. Why my parents thought I would want this car was beyond me, but I just shut my ungrateful mouth and drove it.
The Red Bus became a useful way to cart all of my friends around to the skate park and shows (see: the "I Love Ska" declaration on the bus in the photo above) all at the same time, in the same car. Take the middle seat out, and it was like having a truck. I came to like my red bus -- but I didn't love it.
The Red Bus was just one of more than a dozen vintage Volkswagens my extended family has owned over the past forty years. At one point, someone in my family sold the Red Bus, then another family member later saw it for sale on Craigslist and bought it back. This is how Volkswagen sickness goes: It makes you insane for a car.
My adoration for Volkswagens didn't come until my nineteenth birthday, when my parents bought me a bright-yellow 1973 Super Beetle, a girl I affectionately named Fancy Nancy. This car was awesome: She was speedy and made me actually look cute, and after my Commerce City friends hooked her up, she had a sick sound system.
I drove Nancy everywhere -- at one point, I was recognized by strangers at a party who had seen me driving her around Denver, singing to the Specials or some ska-derivative band at the top of my lungs. I hauled my amp and guitar to Boulder to practice in Nancy. She was so adorable, a gentleman asked to buy her from me in the grocery store parking lot.
I ended up loving that damn car so much, I had the adult equivalent of senior photos taken with Nancy before I sold her to a very nice girl who paid for my love with her graduation money. It was a sad day when I gave Nancy a new home nine years after we first met, and a long way from my resentment of the kind of car that embodied the discomfort of my childhood.
Now that I'm a Subaru owner, I understand that a Volkswagen bug is not the most ideal car for someone who drives more than 300 miles a week and totes around an entire drum kit belonging to her wonderful, superhuman boyfriend. But every time I take my car over to NuVintage -- my cousin's auto shop specializing in Subarus and, you guessed it, air-cooled Volkswagens -- I can't help but stare longingly at the bugs in the lot. They are all beautiful -- even the rusted-out, banged-up, paint-peeled ones.
When you're a member of the cult of Volkswagen, every beetle is bewitching.
The Seventh Annual Syndicate VW Car Show is this Sunday, July 14. The event is free and runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Evergreen Lake House in Evergreen. Parking for spectators is off-site at Albertson's, 30931 Stagecoach Boulevard in Evergreen; free shuttle service from Larry Miller VW will be provided. For more information, visit the Syndicate Car Club's website.
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