The strongest love I’ve ever felt for an inanimate object was without a doubt my 1968 Volkswagen. The car itself was durable, efficient and fun to drive. But it was the experiences we shared that fuelled my love and affection. We’d made several straight through drives from Missouri to New Jersey in ’68, a 36 hour marathon drive to Woodstock and back again in ’69 and across the border to a new life in Canada in 1970.
Immigration to Canada involved a friend who had lived downstairs from me in Kirkwood, Mo. and was in the process of being drafted. I was a VietNam veteran who did not want anyone to participate in the atrocity of war, particularly an illegal and senseless one. It’s likely that neither of us would have left the U.S. on our own, but together we mustered the courage to leave. He was facing jail time unless he could wangle one of the fabled exemptions. There were several in circulation. One was holding a bar of soap in your armpit for a couple of hours before your physical which was supposed to raise you blood pressure to dangerous levels. Another was the admission that you were gay. There was also supposed to be a religious exemption, but I had explored that myself and was told by the WWII veteran minister that I should be proud to serve my country. I was angry and sick of the plethora of “Love it or Leave it” bumper stickers and flags on display. I do credit the assholes who displayed them for planting the seed that eventually blossomed as Canadian immigration.
During the pre-ceeding year we had investigated a number of potential destinations. Neither Australia or New Zealand were accepting immigrants. Sweden was welcoming draft dodgers, but we imagined both bitter cold and a language barrier, which seemed formidable for our mono-lingual minds. Papua New Guinea was considered for a time. Canada was the obvious choice, but for some reason we felt compelled to exhaust all more exotic possibilities before making a decision. I expect that parting with my beloved car was in the mix somewhere. I wasn’t sure if you drove on the right side of the road in Canada, but figured that was easier than learning another language.
Both of us were WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) children raised in various suburban settings and sheltered from nearly everything non-WASP. I’d only made a couple of trips to downtown St. Louis and both were anxiety ridden, paranoid adventures coloured by the recollection that a classmate had been shot to death in “the city” while searching for someone to sell him some weed. During my entire education process, with the exception of the final year of my indoctrination at an obscure state college, there was never a child of colour in any of my classes/schools. Vancouver, conversely, was a kaleidoscope of smells, sounds and sights from exotic places I’d only read about. Hippies with long flowing hair and tie dyed shirts mixed with turbaned Sikhs and what I assumed were Africans in colourful dashikis. All skin tones were represented and the music of other languages was constantly playing in the background.
We’d rented a dumpy suite in a gritty section of the city and settled in to life in our newly adopted country. The owners lived upstairs and may have been Portugese. We’d named them the Didaldos. I’d bought a parking pass from Imperial Parking for the lot on the corner of our block and had to jockey for a spot every time I wanted to park. One morning I bounced down the sidewalk with a Rolling Stones tune playing in my head, turned into the lot and stared slack jawed at my beloved Volkswagen. The rear tire was completely flat. The song in my head stopped and I stared in silence picturing the location of the spare tire and jack conveniently located in the forward trunk. I’d never changed a tire before but felt my confidence building as I approached the sagging rear end. Yep, it was totally flat alright. “No big deal” my mind whispered soothingly. “It’s only a flat tire.”
It had to have been several minutes before my mind began to slowly focus on the reality of the situation. I’m not certain what this protective mental process is called… maybe a form of Cognitive Dissonance. Slowly and gently, my mind allowed my sight to include the caved in rear fender, and the bent rim of the now flaccid tire. Until this moment, my car had been an accident virgin, with only a few chips from her paint and a small crack in the windshield, both the result of arduous interstate highway travel.
In addition to the copious amounts of mind altering drugs I ingested, the late 1960’s were the most intense years of my life. In 67-68 I was sent to VietNam and returned home a changed man. In 1969 I drove 36 hours with a friend straight through to the Woodstock Music Festival and back again. In 1970 I immigrated to Canada. The friend that went to Woodstock with me had been prescribed various concoctions of psychotropic drugs by a psychiatrist in his early teens to correct his “body chemistry” and supposed anti-social behaviour. He’d been warned that combining them with any street drugs would result in death, but this had been disproven a year earlier while attending a Halloween concert by Dr. John, the Night Tripper on acid (although he did have an imagined near death experience that night). He continued re-filling his prescriptions and we had eaten the uppers like candy during the arduous interstate odyssey to Woodstock. The downers were used for a chemically induced “sleep” when our bodies and minds neared the tipping point. His advice never to be treated by a psychiatrist was taken to heart and I’ve lived with the lingering effects of PTSD since 1968. These effects have been present in both my waking time and my dreams.
This car regularly appeared in my dreams for decades afterwards, long after it had been traded in for something to accommodate the growing family that my future held. The dreams all had disturbingly similar themes rather than the happy adventures of my memories. They normally involved wandering around an unfamiliar area trying to find where I’d parked it, often ending up where I started after many dreams hours. I would often wake up before ever finding it, feeling tired and frustrated from the fruitless search. Sometimes I found it up on blocks completely stripped with the wheels, doors, hood, engine, and trunk gone. These were interspersed with the ever popular “naked in public”, “lost and confused in an unknown school” and “back in VietNam” dreams. She hasn’t appeared for sometime now, or at least not as a feature of the dream. Perhaps I’d fail to notice her passing in the other direction or parked along an obscure side street.