My car key is a rectangle of black plastic that fits in my palm like a rabbit’s foot, like any car clicker does these days. Only mine has no protruding key. The clicker is compact; I can wrap my whole hand around it, like a talisman. On my clicker, there is a shiny button I push with my thumb, and when I press it, a silver key pops out like a switchblade.
When we first bought our Passat wagon, I was giddy to have a Volkswagen again. My first car was a robin’s egg blue Super Beetle with a white canvas top. I was the first of my girlfriends to turn 16, the first to get a driver’s license, the first to be granted access to a car and the silver key that inserted into the ignition and (sometimes) made the car go. The key had the letters VW encircled on its round silver head: the logo that I maintain as silly an attachment to as hipsters do to that clean-edged apple with a crescent bite out of it.
My girlfriends and I push-started that car all over Savannah. We smoked cigarettes, laughed with the top down, drove to Tybee Island to go to the beach, not caring if we tracked sand in the Beetle because it just fell through the holes in the floor anyway: the holes that allowed water to splash up on my uniform shoes and my plaid Catholic school girl skirt when I raced through deep puddles on rainy days, in a hurry to get back to class after coffee at the downtown Daybreak Cafe.
So when we got that VW station wagon, my husband and me, and installed car seats in back for our two beautiful babies, I was pretty excited. The dashboard was edgy, lit in reds and cobalt blue in the dark night we drove it home. The engine was solid, the car black with silver details – sexy despite its family wagon-ness – and there, on the steering wheel, padded and filled with airbag (unlike the Beetle), was that circle that embraced those beloved letters: VW. The Passat, like its switchblade clicker, marked a milestone transition, a leveling up of sophistication over the the holey floor and plain silver key of the Beetle.
The key I have now, though it looks so like our station wagon key that we often confuse them, is not for the Passat. It is for the sporty six-speed Jetta we bought when my husband was offered his tenure-track position. For nine years he had lived without a car while we scraped by on student loans and his graduate school TA income. My husband walked to school in the sweltering heat and violent thunderstorms of Florida. He bought studded snow tires to bike to work in the punishing winters of Minnesota. We rented and bought houses based on proximity to his workplace so we could live on one car payment, one insurance payment, one gas tank, one repair bill. Though we owned a Passat, we still lived a Beetle life.
When all my husband’s hard work paid off, we bought him a shiny new-to-us car. And now I carry its key. Come to find out, it’s not just men who take to sports cars when they hit middle age. I love the supple feel of the steering wheel on my fingertips, the round head of the gear shift smooth in the palm of my hand. I love pressing the gas hard and releasing the clutch quick and feeling the car surge, zipping past all these college boys vroom vrooming their engines at traffic lights. I laugh with the sunroof open as our Jetta blasts past them.
I am responsible when the kids are with me, I promise I am. That’s why my husband wanted me to take the nice car and give him the beat up wagon. The sporty Jetta is the more reliable car now, the one that he feels safer about the kids and me being in.
This key I hold in my hand – this black plastic rectangle that fits perfectly in my palm, whose silver shaft snaps out like a switchblade – it carries all of my Volkswagen memories: that first robin’s egg Beetle with the white canvas top and holes in the floor, the Passat station wagon we drove from Florida to Minnesota to Virginia, moving our babies, and finally, the Jetta, the most grown up Volkswagen we’ve owned. And the coolest.
My god, could I place more products here on my blog? WordPress last week, Volkswagen this week. I swear nobody’s paying me for this. Anyway, this piece came out of a prompt in our writing group: keys.
*Fahrvergnügen is German for “driving pleasure.”
7 thoughts on “Fahrvergnügen”
Great blog!!! Really enjoyed reading it!
Thanks Cindy. I don’t guess I was driving yet when I babysat for you, so no push-starting from your driveway.
Andrea, delightful linkage of present and past through your VW key. Well done.
You brought back memories of my own VWs, holes in the floorboards, no heat when most needed, barely enough power to make it over long grades.
But one took me cross country and back, my version of ‘On The Road.’
I keep reading that Millennials are not so connected the car culture as our parents and we were. They identify more with bikes and urban pathways than cars and open roads. If true, that will be a seismic shift in the American identity. Not necessarily for the worse, mind you. But in ten or twenty years your kids might not have the same memories triggered by holding their car keys as you (and I) have for ours.
Hope your other readers share their stories.
What an interesting thought – that newer generations will not be as connected with car culture. Like you said, not a bad thing, especially if their ties are to cleaner, more active modes of transportation. As far as the VWs go, though, and espeically the older models, I can’t imagine how many American memories are tied to those cars. I had forgotten about the heater issues! Mine only heated on my left ankle, and I remember trying to adjust all the vents, triangle windows, and heat to dry to defog the wind shield on rainy days. What a nightmare! But funny.
I have the same black rectangle! It fits my black Beetle, Lola! My first car was also a baby blue Beetle– a1969! One at 16 and one at 56! Love the “clicker”!
I love that you came back to the Beetle 40 years later. And I bet this one even works 😉
That, funnily enough, reminded me of my first much loved car, a Mazda 121.
It could not do more than 90k uphill, not even with pedal to the metal, which created problems in 110 zones! Especially being 19 and being too stubborn to get out of the fast lane 😳
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