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.”