2000 Volkswagen Beetle

The Encore continued to serve me well until the clutch started slipping. It was okay around town, but on long trips it would loosen up, and steep hills became problematic. It was entirely fixable, but it would have cost almost as much as I originally paid for the car. I seriously contemplated it, out of loyalty if nothing else, but in the end I decided it was time for something new.

What I really wanted was another Renault product. I even went and looked at an 18i Sport Wagon, but it wasn't good to go as-is. Soon time became a factor. Thanksgiving was approaching, and I wanted to visit my brother and his family in Albany. I began to ponder that for the first time in my life maybe I would buy a showroom-new car.

There was really only one car I considered at all. My highest criterion for a car was that it needed to have character. The ONLY car on the market at the time that had any character at all, aside from the stylish but pricey imports, was the New Beetle. It was also small, nimble, and economical, which were all big plusses. And with plenty of VW heritage in my automotive past, it fit right in.

I went online to check them out. I wanted black, period. Also, after a cursory examination of the options packages I knew that I wanted just a bare-bones model. They came with anti-lock brakes, AC, and keyless remote entry system standard. I didn't feel I needed to toss out a chunk of change for power windows and cruise control (although both would have been firsts for me).

I went down to the local lot to have a peek. They had EXACTLY what I was looking for right at the local dealership. And it was surprisingly affordable. I had to accept a trunk-mounted 6-CD changer as a factory option for $600, but I figured I could make do. Long story short, I decided to go for it. I put down a rather sizeable down payment, which gave me low monthly payments for three years.

I picked up the car the night before Thanksgiving. I'd never done this before. I had to make an appointment and be there at a specific time. I was there maybe a tad early. Unfortunately some ditzy girls who had the appointment before me were wicked late and my salesman was still tied up with them. Some other old dude helped me out with the paperwork in the mean time. There was a lot more of it than I expected. He also gave me an overview of the entire owner's manual.

This was really trying my patience. All I wanted to do was get in this car and zoom off. Finally my salesman was free and he took me over to the car. I thought he was going to just hand me the keys and I'd be off, but he went over every knob and button in exhaustive detail. I wanted to drive this car so bad I could taste it. Finally the guy finished his schpiel and I got in. He still had some last-minute comments and tips, but I shrugged them off. I think he was still talking when I finally pulled away.

At this moment I was entering into a very dangerous time. I can't count how many people had told me stories about having an accident as soon as they'd gotten a brand new car. These incidents often took place immediately after having left the dealership. I pulled up to the road. It was two lanes in each direction of busy evening traffic. I was patient and waited for a safe opening. Finally I was off. I cautiously made my way home. I was safe -- for now...

After shoveling down some food I took the car out for a drive on some of the twisty local roads. It had plenty of zip, and surprisingly tight roadability. By now it was way past dark. The dash lights were an iridescent blue with red accents, and red on all the knobs and buttons. How wonderful to finally have a car where every single dash light worked, and every illuminated control actually worked.

I made it through the first couple of weeks without an accident of any kind. I had the closest call just as I figured the danger time was winding down. I was in the parking lot at my office in the farthest row (I wasn't being careful, I just get to work a little late). Before I backed out I looked all around. There was a truck heading down the street, and I figured it would pull in our lot. I sat and waited, and sure enough it pulled in. It went past me, and I backed out. Then, for some unfathomable reason, the driver slammed it into reverse and started flying right at me at high speed. It was as if he was sent by God himself to wreck my new car. Somehow he saw me and stopped inches before he rammed right into me. I still have no idea what that was all about, but after that day I had no issues of any kind.

I drove the car for many years. Overall it was fabulous, but it absolutely sucked in the snow. A lot of this was due to the tires. They were big, fat performance tires that had all the traction of snow boards when it got even slightly slippery out. A good set of snows would have cured most of the problem, but the car was also very low to the ground. And with the big air dam up front, it couldn't have forced it's way through any depth of snow with any kind of tire on it.

Ironically, now that I had a completely reliable road-tip car, I was no longer much in the habit of making road-trips. Still, on those occasions where I did need to drive some distance, it was nice to be able to hop right in with no worries whatsoever. This was an entirely new experience for me. While in all my years of driving old and cantankerous vehicles I had almost never experienced a catastrophic roadside breakdown, it was still an ever-present possibility. Every time I got into one of my cars, whether it was for a quick trip to the corner store or an epic quest into lands unknown, I could never have complete confidence that I would make it to my destination. With the Beetle there was no thought.

Three years later I paid off the loan. I decided to keep all the insurance on it even though I didn't have a bank forcing me to anymore. It was a good decision, because less than a year later it met with a tragic end. It was the Friday of Labor Day Weekend. I had left the Beetle in the driveway because I was packing it up for a weekend trip. It was totally full of camping gear, much of which I had just purchased. After checking the weather, however, I had decided to delay my departure until the next day because they were predicting thunder storms. I actually went inside and took a nap.

I awoke to the sound of rumbling thunder in the background. It was actually rather nice to listen to while I was tucked all cozy in my warm, dry bed. But as the sounds got closer and louder, I figured I should probably unplug my Tivo and iMac. The storm really hit as I was finally getting up. And it hit hard. It dawned on me now, that as I was listening to the distant thunder, it was more like one constant rumble, indicating that there were so many thunder bursts that they had become indistinguishable.

I pulled the plug on my Tivo. Just as I was reaching for the off switch on the computer the power went out. I pulled the plug and went downstairs. I immediately noticed that the screen door on my front porch had blown open. It was like a hurricane out there. As I stepped out to grab it and pull it back in, I saw hail falling. Jesus Christ, what a storm! My precious '61 Citroën was outside. I didn't want it to get any hail damage, so I threw on my Carhardt jacket and pack boots and ran outside.

As soon as I had stepped out the back door I could see it. The massive (and I mean massive) Willow tree that was in the center of my yard had blown over. What a site it was. My Fuego, my 4CV, and my Beetle were all in a line, and the tree came down exactly on all three of them. One look at the Beetle and I could tell it was a total loss. But at this moment my thoughts were with the Citroën. By the grace of God it had been spared the curse of the Willow. I hopped in and fired it up. I could barely see where I was going as I rode over logs in the yard on the way to the barn. Never in my life had I slammed that car so quickly into the tight fit where I park it. Under normal circumstances I inch it in with great precision and care.

I threw the barn door closed and ran back into the house. After just those few seconds I had been exposed, I was drenched through to the bone. But before I even had enough time to dry off, the storm was over. We all emerged cautiously from our houses to assess the damage. There were trees down everywhere. I took a closer look at the Beetle. The tree had fallen square on it. It had sustained more damage than even if it had rolled over, because the trauma was sharply focused right on where the trunk impacted.

When my friends found out about it, they all expected me to be devastated. In truth it wasn't that big of a deal to me. The car had served me very well in the time that I'd owned it, but it wasn't anything special. If my Citroën had been trashed then I would have been inconsolable. The Fuego was a bit of a shame, but it was already lawn art anyway. The 4CV actually came out of it with superficial damage, albeit a tad severe. I had developed a relationship with the Beetle, but it was just an ordinary car.

Although I had complete coverage on the Beetle, I entirely expected the insurance company to bone me the best they could. Finally the appraiser came to see it, although I couldn't be present at the time. I called my claims rep in a pre-emptive attempt to establish the condition of the car before they ran any numbers. "Actually I have the report right here," she said. "It's rated perfect or better all down the line." That was a pleasant surprise to me. "I can punch it up in the computer right now and tell you what your settlement will be," she said. She put me on hold, and a few minutes later came back with the figure. It exceeded my wildest expectations. It was even higher than the blue book figure I'd researched on my own.

I cleaned all my belongings out of the battered old Bug, including all the brand new camping gear that had been swimming in rain water and broken glass for a couple weeks now. I hadn't wanted to disturb a thing until the appraiser had gotten there, and after he'd come and gone I was too lazy to clean up that wretched mess. After it had been purged of everything I owned, I sat in the driver's seat and turned it over on a whim. It fired right up. I actually drove it up and down the road once. Despite the roof caved in on the passenger side and a massively cracked windshield, it drove fine! It wasn't even out of alignment.

There this story ends. Within a week someone came and picked up the body while I was at work, and I've never seen her since. When I see a black Beetle drive by I admit I do pine a bit, but I've moved off to new adventures.

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