Saturday, November 18, 2006

Positive Things & VW buses

A recent thread asked for positive examples of the benefits of VW bus ownership. That is the sort of question that reveals far more than it asks. On the surface it appears to be a simple request for information, to which I’ve responded in the first part of what follows. But peering deeper into our navels we’re liable to come upon a lint-ball we’re unwilling to touch.

Those of you who have seen my 1965 bus know it is not a thing of beauty. The paint scabrous and pie-bald. One reason for its rough appearance is because the bus is in constant use, there is no time for cosmetic things.

Tasked with a 900 mile trip several times a year plus an occasional longer jaunt -- more than 1,500 miles to attend the Big Sur outing, or hauling a ton of Portland cement to the top of Mt. Palomar, the bus is expected and required to do all. And it does.

The simplicity of the engine’s design makes it amenable to modification, allowing incorporation of modern technological benefits not available when the vehicle was manufactured, such as electronic ignition, a full-flow oil filtration system, a better cooling system and more reliable electrical components; it now uses an alternator rather than a generator and runs better for it.

The bus handles better than it did when new, thanks to better tires and a stronger suspension system. Most importantly, the bus gets better gas mileage, requires less maintenance and is more reliable. Because of its age the cost of insurance is low, as is the annual license fee and it does not require the biannual smog inspection expected of younger vehicles, although its emissions are an order of magnitude less than those allowed by law.

My bus has not had an easy life and I am at least its fourth owner. It has suffered from collision and all of its major mechanical components have worn out through its years of service. But as things wore out, they were repaired, overhauled or replaced so that today only the front axle assembly and chassis are original as-manufactured parts, and the front axle will be replaced before I set out to drive to Inuvik, a few oceans away.

All of these things argue for the positive aspects of bus ownership yet to the mainstream of American thought, my bus and I are examples of failure. The bus contains not a single molded plastic cup holder. It has neither carpeting, air-conditioning nor stereo. Indeed, it has no radio at all and incorporates none of the supposedly necessary features common to modern vehicles designed for the lazy, thoughtless and immature.

My bus has neither buzzers nor chimes nor even a light that springs on when I open the door. All of that falls to me. If light is needed, I must turn it on. I am responsible for my own safety, and for the safe operation and maintenance of the vehicle. In a society were no one is ever at fault, the buck stops here.

And therein lies the message and the only valid answer. Why do I own and drive an old bus? Because I can.

The reliability -- the honesty and functionality -- of anything is nothing more than a reflection of the person in charge. My bus. My responsibility. If it craps out, it’s my fault. No excuses. This applies equally to every aspect of our lives because we have the capacity to shape our lives and determine our own destiny.

You are the person in charge. You may accept or deny your responsibilities.

The evidence indicates most have chosen denial.

The purpose of this list is not to preach the obvious but to illuminate the obscure. Unfortunately, in the modern age the obvious is often obscured and not by chance alone. If the logic of that is unclear it’s good evidence your life is not your own.

-Bob Hoover

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