Riff: VW Beetle / busted up, 1986 (+ pizza beast, Earthship, REM and a sketchy boss)

Battered VW Beetle with broken spindle in American Fork, UT, ca 1986

Just before I turned 16 while living in Orem Utah, I purchased an (soon to be infamous) 1974 VW “turtle top” bus ($1475) and, that winter – after failing my driving test driving the bus and driving away from the licensing bureau but passing in the next time (that big bus wasn’t easy to parallel park until you got the hang of it) – drove up to Vancouver in the middle of the winter which included the snowy regions of the Cascades…  On the way back, with no money for a motel and 2 brothers on board, the van caught fire (engine compartment) in snowy Prosser, Washington at 2AM (had extinguisher, slept cold, finally found a mechanic who didn’t do anything and limped home about 700 miles on 2 cylinders, 35Mph… #anotherstory #focus).

Anyhow, this is all to tell you that this led to taking a job with a sketchy man who lived in our townhouse complex who had opened up pizza restaurants, Roberto Prieto (or so he said). He was a dodgy fellow with an underage wife, quickly burnt out his business partner at  “pizza heaven(?)” and bailed and opened a rival “pizza beast” in Provo. So i went to work for him cleaning out this former Chinese restaurant and turning it into an assembly line of high-volume pizza for BYU students,  in exchange for him paying me ($3.35/hr) but also helping rebuild my Volkswagen bus as he was allegedly a great VW mechanic and had an awesome set of tools (somehow all brand-new) in his garage.

He did basically nothing for my van except a lot of talk and no action and assigning me hours in a solvent tank washing parts, and some months later (after the accusations about s3xy times and dodgy substances picked up momentum plus he had purchased fancy Camaros for he and his wife which he couldn’t pay for it seems) he bailed in the middle of the night with all sorts of wreckage left behind.

Bob and I went to his house, hopping into the backyard to see if there was any remnants of the van parts as the engine was “gone”. Nothing useful, however there was an hungry/angry mother dog and her starving pups in the backyard who came running after us requiring a mighty leap to clear the fence.

{Anyway, somewhere there is possibly still bad man and all the stories about young girls in coca!ne who has long forgotten about me and the pizza beast I suspect but if I come across an artefact from that time, I’ll hook you up – must be a snapshot somewhere.}

In the *interim* of not fixing my bus,  he lent me this battered Volkswagen bug which was exceptionally dangerous as there was no seatbelts, no passenger seat, and in the backseat where the battery was housed, sitting down caused the battery to short so only could have one person sitting behind the driver which made the vehicle very unbalanced.

I would drive this home, with dodgy headlights etc. after working at the pizza restaurant in Provo to American Fork (a vaguely neighbouring town), and two times had near death experiences, no exaggeration.

One time, I drove over a dip under a railway bridge which, turns out, was pure ice – the bald tires spun immediately completely out of control…, I remember seeing the light of oncoming traffic honking as the car spun aimlessly and aggressively in a narrow space wedged in between concrete poles and various stanchions for railroad crossing gates… but *fortunately* landed in a snowbank . Was stuck there, trying to push my way out, no one stopped to help, just honk, but finally I got it going and drove on bewildered (no way to call for help as no phone around), but couldn’t get all the way home as our current home (a story in itself) was top of the steep hill. After a few false starts with ridiculous backwards slides, finally gave up, left the bug, trudged through the snow to the house.

The next time, while driving along the same road, the lil car gave a mighty thud then a hard scrapping squeal and lunged to the right. Felt like much more than a flat tire and turned out the wheel, tire and all had completely come off the spindle, and yes the wheel spindle itself, a thick solid post of steel, had somehow completely, not snapped, but somehow worn right through and come off with wheel tire etc with it.

I fought for control and somehow crash landed on the side of the road… Likely hitchhiked home or walked or something, but this is where that bug lay. Never drove it again. I can take a hint universe.

While I’m riffing, later an eccentric man in Pleasant Grove called Martin took on the task of repairing the mighty Earthship bus, which at this point has been sort of out of commission for a while and was really cramping my style, but let me a 1976 fuel injected VW Bus, not a camper, but it was a runner… I maybe took advantage of his kindness a little bit by driving it to Moab several times and then on a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska to see our REM with a few pals. I did my best to take care of it and wow, it was a nice ride – not all the accessories but just went and didn’t leak oil (shocker).

Finally, the mighty Earthship was up and running and ended up on so many adventures back-and-forth across USA, many Grateful Dead tours, the hostage incident in Taos,  up and back to BC and down Mexico several times, living in it while working at a bike shop in Burnaby, BC and going to university of Utah in SLC, and now lives as a sauna in big Cottonwood Canyon (more to this story on the docket to share).

There were several other significant car incidents besides the bus catching on fire, and the bug causing a few near misses including the terrible Blazer crash on Christmas Eve in Jerome, Idaho but I don’t speak of that terrible incident any further. Pictures exist (and a newspaper article) and they make me shake and nightmare. 

So yeah the photo at the top is the bug with broken spindle. Somewhere there’s a guy named Roberto who owes me and a guy named Martin who i am grateful for and a stretch of highway between Utah and BC laden with calamity for me. All in the past.