I’m afraid the story of Lovebug is not as interesting as the story of Ladybug — but even I have to admit that it will be hard to top the story of Ladybug.
When Harry told me that I shouldn’t drive Ladybug cross-country because of the failing piston rings, he suggested that if I was set on another Beetle, I should look for a later model, preferably diesel. So, I searched on “VW,” “manual” (because I’m a big brat now and won’t drive anything else), and “diesel.” There were five Beetles in the results, but I can’t tell you anything about them, because as soon as I saw the red and blue stripes and that big #53, well. It was too ridiculous to pass up. And it was a 2005, with only 45K miles on it.
Perfect. Except . . . It was priced higher than I could afford without some very creative financing. And it was located at a Carmax in Orlando, Florida, which meant I would either have to pay to ship it to the East Haven Carmax or fly down to Florida to drive it home. Both options presented expensive risks, but only one was a thoroughly impractical road trip, which is precisely why I wanted to do it.
The next time Ladybug and I went to see Harry, I told him about the car in Orlando. “Manual and diesel? Buy it,” he said. “Beg, borrow, or steal, if you have to, but buy it. It’ll last forever.” I’m pretty sure he would have had different advice if I had mentioned the paint job.
I asked my parents for help in the creative financing, but they had heard too many Ladybug stories to invest in a Beetle with me. The suggestion that I look for a nice Honda Civic was repeated with more urgency.
But I couldn’t let go of the idea of driving Herbie the Lovebug cross-country. I went for the more practical expensive risk and paid to have the car shipped, which gave me time to figure out that creative financing. Ten weeks and a lot of dull paperwork after I found the Lovebug online, I drove him home. It is worth noting, however, that neither salesperson at Carmax knew how to drive stick. This made me unreasonably happy.
And Ladybug? Carmax bought her, for close enough to the Blue Book value to serve as a down payment and to make the whole transaction possible. I am sure they sold her at auction instead of doing all the work necessary to put her on their lot. I really hope whoever has her now is as good to her as I was. For the first few weeks, I felt guilty for giving up on Ladybug. The new car was too shiny. It was too easy to drive. It was too ridiculous and I had made a horrible mistake and I should have kept my Ladybug and I shouldn’t move to California and . . . I got over it.
The real problem was that the new car came with a story, but the story amounted to a collection of movie clips. The story wasn’t mine.
Carmax had maddeningly little information about the previous owner of my new car. I don’t know if the owner bought it all Herbie’d up from the dealership or did it personally with a kit, afterward. The car is a 2005, which is the year the latest Herbie movie was released, which I’m thinking is not a coincidence. I keep trying to picture the person who would buy or create such a car to Beetle all around Orlando: A blue-haired little old lady, only knuckles and bun visible over the steering wheel? A bespectacled, beflanneled hipster with an overdeveloped sense of the absurd? A parent who gave in to the whims of an obsessed kid? A Disney employee who got stuck with a company car? Lindsay Lohan?
Or maybe it was just someone like me, someone who can’t resist a bit of fun, someone who is really, permanently, twelve years old. Someone who doesn’t care what the heck the paint job is on a car that goes nearly 600 miles on one tank of gas.
I’m on the other side of my cross-country drive (4,086 miles, give or take, most of which I drove myself), and I’m good and attached to the little guy now. Everywhere I drive, we make people happy. Ladybug was just “punch buggy black” to everyone I passed, but in this car, people smile and wave to us. They point and shout in delight. They take pictures. I’m sure this attention is going to get old when I’m just trying to go run a few errands, but so far, the novelty has not worn off. I mean, when we’re stuck in traffic, scowls of frustration on the drivers around us turn into grins of surprise and recognition: who wouldn’t enjoy that?
But there have been negative reactions, too. I’ve been called an “attention whore,” which accurate or not, is way harsh. There’s a segment of the population, almost universally male and over a certain age, who wants to know why I’d ruin a perfectly good car with all that “nonsense.” Harry, who checked it over and prepped it for the cross-country, refused to take it out for a test drive.
Attached as I am, I’m still struggling with what to call him. For the longest time, he stubbornly remained an “it.” Yes, he already has many names, but if I’m going to write about my adventures with him, I should probably look into the obvious copyright issues with Herbie and Lovebug. And he’s not really Herbie, because, lucky for me, he does not drive off on his own or squirt oil at people he dislikes, or fling bananas on cruise ships. I did get him up to 124 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, but he’s not the racecar the real Herbie was. And technically, he’s a New Beetle, and the real Herbie was a Classic Beetle. So.
I started calling him Fifty-Three, but that wasn’t quite personal enough (#53 is the best way to tweet about him, though). A colleague at the Puzzle Factory, one of the many editors who has a more-than-encyclopedic knowledge of old movies, reminded me of the name Paco gave Herbie in Herbie Goes Bananas: Ocho. Why Ocho? Because five and three is eight, Paco is Mexican, and these are terrible terrible movies.
(For the record, the editor who reminded me of Ocho is not the same editor who exclaimed, “Did you buy it from Dean Jones?!” when he saw the car for the first time. You can see why I already miss the circus that is the Puzzle Factory.)
Even though the initial story is not as interesting as Ladybug’s, and the story of his origin remains a mystery, Ocho is already showing signs of wanting to outshine Ladybug. Getting him registered in California was a Kafkaesque adventure. And he’s in the shop right now because of a very unlucky pheasant in South Dakota.
In the next few weeks, I’ll tell the stories and post the pictures of my trip across this great, big, beautiful country. There are more pictures of Ocho than there are of me, which I find hilarious and vaguely appropriate. I learned more about myself, which is, ultimately, what I wanted from the journey. The trip was less Eat Pray Love, more Drive Hike Sleep, but every mile was interesting and fun. And every part of the story is mine.