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February 26, 2021

Window on the World Column | Restoring to Her Former Glory

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

The love affair began back in the ’80s, as many love affairs do. There had been no specific run up to this particular affair, except, as he confessed, dolefully, “I had a Corvette and we were a family of four.” I thought it was going to be something monumental, like he had seen “Easy Rider” or “Lost in America” and knew he had to immediately go and find himself. She was well over 10 at this point, so definitely not a new model, but gradually they blended their quirks together and became one.

After the household split, the ex-wife decided to take her along as an afterthought, in addition to the newly remodeled classic car and all the furniture, leaving behind the teenagers, the biting dog, the ornery cockatoo, five cats and a lot of bills. The ex then proceeded to sell her back to him for $200, since she couldn’t handle her either.

I met him in the mid-’90s, at the time when a larger vehicle was all-important with scouting/sporting boys and the need for multiple seats for multiple bottoms, including now a young baby in a car seat. Returning home after work each day, he would do what was called a “sneak attack” to the reputedly worst house on the cul-de-sac, also known as the after school “hangout,” that plagued the neighborhood every weekday afternoon without a parent in sight. The sneak attack was essentially the killing of the engine, allowing her to cruise silently toward the house and the melee that was consistently found there.

Sometimes, teenagers could be seen falling out of windows as the vehicle stealthily rolled into the driveway. Often, she would immediately roll back out of the driveway, when the brakes didn’t hold. Bricks were key for the back tires, also a mat to sop up the incessant oil drips, a well-known environmental hazard for the van owner.

It was the rite of passage for each newly driving child in the family that they be allowed to drive her. This never lasted long, since she wasn’t the easiest vehicle to maneuver, let alone stop or park. The “cool van factor” was not a thing at that time for our teens.

I recall my younger sister Rosie driving her and noting how the brakes didn’t work very well. I think that was the same time that she inadvertently ran over her brother-in-law’s foot when the brakes failed; but I digress. My father recalls that the gearshift had to be held in place by a strap, or it would pop out of fourth gear when you were gunning along at 40 mph. So many years, so many stories.

A young man who worked alongside the husband offered to buy her for $500. The deal was done and then he soon bought her back, shaking his head. He didn’t even want his money back. She had defeated him. We took her to Lake Tahoe and she hated the hills, requiring regular stops to cool off the air-cooled engine and drink some more of the oil she had freely distributed on the fair hills of the Sierras.

Over the years, she has sat patiently for periods of time when she needed a new engine, brakes, whatever it was, and the easy money was not readily available. A tree fell on her one time and she suffered a nasty dent that wounded her pride and also the working mechanism of the sliding door. Our grumpy cat Swags, who can’t live with anyone or anything, decided that he would live with her and will happily pop out of an open window in the morning to greet the day. Now she’s been towed away to the hospital, he’s still out there looking for her in the apple orchard.

Many people have offered to buy her in recent years; but we decided that she would no longer be for sale, since people always ended up bringing her back and that was obviously very disturbing for her and us. Our older boys later found the “cool factor” in her — not to mention the dollar signs now that vans are a popular item again, but no. She’ll be staying here. We resolved to make her into our fun touring vehicle again, our play machine, even our overnight camping slumber wagon. We had big plans.

A drawing of Vandura, as it leaves for a tour of the States in 2026. (Contributed Photo)

We were going to fix her up and travel the States in her while we still could. The date on the cartoon drawing says 2026, which is not long in the ups and downs life of a VW van. It is a plan that made family members chuckle, since she has featured in so many of our family jokes, funny memories and cartoon drawings illustrated by my husband and his dad.

Vandura was born in 1970, so that makes her quite the old lady. She is a tan VW bus with plenty of rust spots and some quirky ways that only my husband seems to be able to handle. When she tries to challenge him, he just chuckles and gets his hands dirty. He knows her so well she is like his homely old wife that he loves no matter what her difficult nature and annoying habits. A bit like me.

She was recently towed to Concord, where quite a lot of intrusive things would be happening to her, like a new engine and an entire new brake system. She needs to be able to handle the highways and byways of our chosen route in 2026 without too many issues. We say that a bit tongue in cheek.

Husband was very worried about putting her care into the hands of another. In the past he had always done her repair work himself, including installing new engines and the like. It was hard for him to let go of the control aspect of her care and he was suspicious that her repair guys might not be “VDUB fanatics” and therefore worthy of working on her. He needn’t have worried. The dudes there looked just like him with long grey hair and big bellies and had the same nutty obsession about Classic VW vans.

“She’ll be fine,” he said, almost teary, glancing in his rearview mirror, as we drove away from the Concord repair shop. “I’ll check in on her later. Is that weird?” Anyone who has truly loved a van and all the adventures they have enjoyed in van-life will not consider that weird at all.

As a van owner’s wife, I simply can’t wait for 2026, or thereabouts, when I can document all of our new adventures in Vandura and all the laughs we will no doubt have along the way.

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