When I go to the Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park, what interests me most isn't the race. It's the Volkswagen display.
I peer through the windows of classic VW Beetles, trying to find one like The Blue Flash. The Blue Flash was what my family affectionately called my mother's 1970 powder-blue Beetle, and it was where I spent much of my childhood.
In the early years, I remember riding in the "back back," the small compartment just behind the back seat. The usefulness of this compartment escapes me; it was big enough to hold a backpack, perhaps -- provided the backpack was empty -- or a small child.
Since it was the days before anyone really worried about children's safety (I also roller-skated and rode my bike with no helmet and played with a jagged-edged metal doll house) my mother gladly let me fold myself into this crevice.
Curled into a bizarre contortion that would've made a yoga practitioner envious, I happily rode with my head bobbing against the back window with every bump in the road, blissfully oblivious to the fact that only a thin layer of baby-blue metal was protecting me from ever-imminent destruction.
Later, I graduated to the back seat, with its inflexible seat belts that surely could have been used to strap a piano on the back of a pickup truck. They were so difficult to fasten that they eventually slithered themselves into the black vinyl seat from lack of use. Again, no one worried about safety back then.
Being free from the confines of a seat belt, I could bounce around or lean my head in between the front seats and look at the driving components. I was fascinated with the diagram of the shifting positions on the gear shift and the emblem on the steering wheel of a fox standing on a castle with water underneath. It made no sense to me, but it was mysterious and neat.
Riding in the back seat, I remember the "covva-covva" sound the motor made, which was not unlike the sound of the cars used in the old Turnpike ride at Kennywood.
When I look in the windows of VW Beetles at the Vintage Grand Prix when they're displayed now, I can see just how small the interior is. I get a warm, nostalgic feeling as I wonder how I ever survived my childhood.
I also wonder how I survived my teenage years, when I was first learning to drive in the Beetle. My father once took me on a quiet road that somehow, after a few turns, became the Highland Park Bridge.
My father didn't realize that I couldn't drive a stick shift until we were swiftly passed by a series of blaring horns while I squeezed the steering wheel, exclaiming, "I'm going to have a heart attack!"
I'm sure my father felt the same way. Once across the bridge, we bucked down Freeport Road like we were in some absurd rodeo, until I was able to follow through on my father's panicked pleas of "Pull over! Pull over!" I recently asked my father if he remembered that drive, and he was only able to emit a pained, wincing groan of revisited horror.
The Blue Flash survived that incident. Not long after that, however, the little Beetle started showing its age.
It had always been a no-frills car, bought with no extras, though my mother had a radio installed at some point. In the summers, if you wanted air, you manually cranked down the windows. In the winter, my mother had the heat turned on, but in the later years that gave out, and we had to scrape ice from both the outside and the inside of the windows.
The Bug kept going with the help of Ernie, a mechanic who worked miracles from his home in Greenfield. He performed many repairs on the VW over the years, allowing my mom to eke out more time to putter around the city.
Finally, after nearly 17 years, Ernie told my mother that the bottom of the car was so rusty that she might very well find herself sitting on the Parkway -- not in traffic, but actually sitting on the asphalt. It was at that point that my mother had to surrender our beloved Beetle.
Now, of course, I am spoiled with air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, anti-lock brakes and seat belts that both move with me and retract. But I will never forget riding in the noisy, impractical, unsafe -- yet immensely charming -- Blue Flash.intelligencer
Laura Lind of Squirrel Hill, a preschool music teacher, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Cruising Memory Lane" submissions about special car memories, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.