you for coming."
the dawn of the new decade I found myself headed
back to the East Coast. My new owner turned
out to be a three-star General assigned to Army
Intelligence. I served as a daily-driver
work car traveling between our Maryland home and
the Pentagon. I sometimes felt out of place
as I certainly wasn't a General's typical car.
But my owner admired my mechanical simplicity and
took great care of me. I think I was his
statement of individualism. In October of
1962 the CIA learned the Soviet Union was building
missile installations in Cuba. Intimately
involved, my General regularly briefed the
Administration. Late one evening, as the
crisis deepened, I unexpectedly found myself being
driven onto the grounds of the White House.
Slumped down in my front passenger seat, face
hidden by trench coat lapels and a broad-brim hat,
was America's top Soviet counterspy. With
lights dimmed and with great stealth, we silently
slipped into the White House service entrance.
Secret Service agents immediately surrounded us.
Then with no warning President Kennedy emerged
from the shadows. "Thank you for
coming," he said.
The President leaned against my left rear fender
as he and my unnamed passenger discussed at length
Premier Khrushchev's probable response to a naval
blockade of Cuba. The President listened
intently and asked many penetrating questions.
After about a half-hour the President removed his
weight from my fender, stood straight, smiled and
said, "Cute car, General." He
paused for what seemed an interminable time as the
smile faded and his expression turned intensely
serious. In a soft but firm tone he added,
"I've made my decision." As
quickly as he had emerged the President vanished
back into the shadows -- and my General, our
passenger and myself were off into the anonymity
of the night. Needless to say neither my
General nor I slept much that night. The
following day President Kennedy announced
implementation of the Cuban Blockade. The
world held its breath, but I had seen my President
carefully and confidently make his decision.
In my heart I was certain all would be well.
Stardom . . . Almost
In 1967 my General received orders overseas and I
was sold to an aspiring young actress named
Shelly. We were soon headed west where
Shelly quickly became lost among the thousands of
other anonymous movie star wannabe's drawn like a
magnet to Hollywood. "Say, would you
like to sell that Volkswagen?" The
voice belonged to a well know movie producer who
had spotted Shelly and myself parked at a drive-in
restaurant. "I'm serious, Miss,"
he continued. "I'm producing a comedy
script, the real star of which is a VW bug that
gets involved in all kinds of adventures.
Your car will be a star!" Shelly's response
was quick. "I'll rent you my car for as
long as you need it, but I wouldn't think of
selling it." And so it appeared that I
and not Shelly was destined for immortality on the
Rehearsing with all the actors and actresses was
so exciting, although I wished Shelly could also
be in the movie. "This movie is a
sure-fire hit!" triumphed the producer.
"You are going to be the most famous bug in
the world." I relished the stardom that
lay just ahead. The first day of filming was
a dream come true. I was hobnobbing with the
movie's stars -- Buddy Hackett was my favorite.
And then in an instant, my world collapsed.
"Sorry, but after looking at the first rushes
the studio executives have decided we should use a
hard top sedan rather than a convertible,"
the producer told Shelly. "But we still
want to use your car for rehearsals."
And so parked off-camera I would watch as "Herbie"
took center stage and the cameras rolled. I
felt as though I had been robbed, although the
pain was eased by Shelly's compassion.
"Don’t take it too hard," she said.
"That Herbie is just another pretty face.
He's not half the car you are."
Time passed and then one day Shelly too met the
man of her dreams. Just as with Vicki all
those years before, her suitor did not welcome me
as a part of their relationship. I had met a
President, almost been a movie star -- and now I
was sitting anonymously in a used car lot
wondering what the next chapter of my life might
For over twenty years I had enjoyed a very
pampered existence. Now however what seemed
like the inevitable decline that comes with age
was beginning to set in. I suffered through
a series of "short relationships" with
some very forgettable and non-caring owners.
For a while I was a run-around car for a mechanic
in Mobile. Every type of greasy tool
imaginable was tossed in me. What remained of my
stained and tattered rear seat soon acquired an
added coat of oil, grease and grime. I
didn't think anything could be worse than those
grimy tools, but I was to be proven wrong. A
couple years later I found myself being used as a
weekend fishing car by a very scroungy gentleman
in Corpus Christi. Rather than place the fish he
caught in a bucket or some other type of
container, he simply threw the fish on my back
seat. It was more than any car should have
to endure. I often thought of how I had come
within a hairsbreadth of stardom and wantonly
wondered what life as Herbie might have been like.
So near then, so far now.
It was while serving as a runabout car at a ski
lodge in Idaho that I experienced the single worst
moment of my life. One day without warning a
pickup truck carelessly backed into my left rear
fender, demolishing it beyond repair. The
lodge owner was upset and soon found a replacement
fender at a junkyard. "Here you go," he
said. "I care what you look like and I
don't want you to have to wear that ugly smashed
fender. I know this new one is only primed
and doesn't match, but one of these days I'll
paint it yellow for you. In the meantime
you'll look a lot better than you do now."
I gasped in despair. "Oh please
no," my heart pleaded. As they tore off
the crumpled remnant of my original fender I cried
out in anguish, "If only you knew that the
President of the United States rested against that
fender and stared nuclear war in the face.
If only I could tell you!" Ironically,
replacing my fender was the first really caring
gesture I had been shown in years, although the
lodge owner never did repaint it yellow. And
yet it was an act of kindness that broke my heart.
Denizens of the
From mountains to barren desert, my travels and
the ever-downward spiral of my life continued.
I now was a carryall for a cotton farmer in
southern Arizona. Years of pure drudgery passed
uneventfully. I had only my memories for
consolation. Then one forgetful day in the
Sonoran Desert south of Tucson my tired, worn and
badly neglected engine could go on no longer.
I was abandoned where I stopped, along side a
remote trail with only a lone saguaro cactus for
company. Searing daytime temperatures
reached 120 degrees only to be followed by
bone-chilling frigid nights. For weeks at a
time I would not see one soul. My companions
were the denizens of the desert -- coyotes,
rattlesnakes, Gila monsters and a host of
nocturnal creatures who shared my hellish, yet
magnificent desolation. The desert silence
induced a comatose-like trance. I was
oblivious to all around.
"This is it." I was awakened from
my slumber by the sound of a young man's voice.
"Looks like it's been here forever.
We'll just pump some air in the tires and tow it
away." I drifted in and out of
consciousness, but I realized I was not dreaming
when I felt my long flat tires being inflated and
a rope being attached to my front bumper.
Slowly I moved for the first time in a decade.
I was overcome with emotion as I bid my only
friend, that lone saguaro cactus, a sad goodbye
and watched as my faithful compatriot vanished
into the desert horizon.
"It definitely needs a new engine, Eric.
What are you going to do with it when you get it
running?" Eric was a quiet young man
with a gentle touch. As he turned his wrench
he replied, "Oh, I think I'll give it to my
sister Jennifer. Our grandmother used to
have a car like this and Jennifer thinks it would
be a neat car to cruise around in. She's a
surfer and driving a beat up, dilapidated old
Cruiser is what she and her surfer friends seem to
want." My heart raced at the thought of
again going to the beach, just as I had with Vicki
so many years before. And if I was hearing
correctly, the more rust and dings I sported the
more "in" I was going to be. Life
certainly is filled with bizarre twists.
And so for the third time in my life I was again
headed for California and my new home with
Jennifer. Although Eric had restored my
mechanical condition to good working order, my
outer body appearance was definitely not good.
I understood why Jennifer parked me a block away
from the upscale jewelry shop she worked in.
Always elegantly dressed for work, on Friday
afternoons Jennifer underwent a complete
metamorphosis as we headed off for our weekend at
the beach. Often we went to Malibu just as I
had with Vicki so many years before. I
couldn't believe I had been given yet another
chance at life. "Neat car, Jen!"
I was the envy of all her friends.
"Wish I had a brother who would find me a
Cruiser like that. Your Cruiser's really got
character. Look at all the dents and
corrosion. Those have gotta be the scars of
one fascinating life." Yes, I'll
definitely second that!
"I hope you don't get seasick, my friend,
because we are moving to Maui!" Jennifer
patted my hood as she spoke those magical words.
Maui is every Cruiser's dream and I was ecstatic.
But seasick? I'm sure she didn't even
realize that I had traveled the cold and perilous
Atlantic long before she was born. "My
grandmother lives on Maui and she's gotten me a
job in Lahaina," Jennifer continued.
"From now on it's the surf and lots of 'Maui
Magic' for us." Within days I was
driven to the ship that would carry me ever
farther westward to a new life -- a life half a
world and nearly half a century away from
Wolfsburg. That first journey had been
marked by nervous anticipation. This voyage
would be one of pure carefree bliss.
Two weeks later I watched as Haleakala, Maui's
10,000-foot volcanic mountain, appeared on the
horizon. Docking at Kahului Harbor I was
filled with nostalgia as I thought back to the
long-ago day I had arrived in New York Harbor.
Then I spotted Jennifer waiting on the wharf.
Standing beside her was a much older woman I was
sure was her grandmother. However my joyous
rendezvous with Jennifer was about to be upstaged
by the biggest surprise of my life.
"It's you, isn't it?"
You take my car, dear. I want to drive
the bug. I used to have one just like this when I
was young." As the old woman slid
behind my wheel she gently whispered, "It's
you, isn't it?" I couldn't speak -- my
heart was all aglow. "They call me
Grandma Vic now," she continued.
"I should have never sold you. I've
regretted it all my life." As we slowly
drove away from the harbor I was still in shock.
Grandma Vic, my Vicki, then proceeded to make it
clear that we would never again be parted.
"You and Jennifer will have a great time at
the beach," she said. "Maui has
the greatest surfing in the world. But
someday when Jennifer in a moment of youthful
foolishness decides to sell you, I'll be there.
I promise I will never leave you again."
The tears that flowed during our drive home surely
surpassed even those we had shed at our parting
nearly four decades earlier.
Life on Maui is simply Heaven on Earth. Kapalua to
Kaanapali to Lahaina to Wailea to Makena, there
isn't a beach Jennifer and I haven't visited a
hundred times. But the windward side of the
island is our favorite, especially Hookipa Beach.
Just outside the old plantation town of Paia,
Hookipa has some of the finest waves to be found
on the planet. Jennifer has made lots of
friends and I enjoy hanging out with the other
Cruisers. But best of all is when Grandma
Vic rides along with us. As Jennifer surfs
Grandma Vic and I just sit quietly together and
enjoy the most peaceful and serene ecstasy
"Neat car!" "Way cool!"
The comments are never-ending. Occasionally
a child will blurt out, "Look, it's Herbie!"
Ah yes . . . Herbie. It's funny how I spent
so much of my life being jealous of him. I
know for a fact that Herbie is now on display in
an automotive museum somewhere in the Smokey
Mountains -- no doubt in a sterile and
climate-controlled environment. Soft sand,
golden sun, salty sea breeze, crashing waves
rolling in from the vast Blue Pacific -- and most
importantly Jennifer and Grandma Vic. I
wasn't a star, but my life has been blessed by a
lucky star watching over it. Herbie, eat
your heart out!
The End --
Cruiser Art 1999-2015
(Note: This Auto Biography is included with each
VW Cabriolet print)