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Saga Of The Bug Ramblings
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Some people find it easy to write a column. They can chatter on paper as readily as they do in conversation. Their words come in a rushing, often eloquent, torrent. They can talk for hours about this and that or nothing at all. I've never had that problem. Idle conversation does not come easily to me and columns I find difficult to write. There are no facts to relate. It's all opinion. And self-revealing besides. Every word must be pried out of me. It's as painful as pulling teeth.

It's my turn, however, and the boss has commanded. So here we go. I'm not going to pretend to knowledge that I don't have and try to influence readers on serious subjects like the elections, the economy or even local land planning needs. I'm just going to run off at the mouth like everybody else. And what other subject could there be than my favorite automobile?

You know my yellow Bug, my beloved 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Of course you do. It's been running around these parts for 18 years and growing more recognizable all the time. If you don't hear it coming by the distinct sound of the air-cooled engine - some say it sounds like an old Stearman biplane trying to get off the ground - you can spot it by the interesting paint job or, rather, lack of it.

The paint was peeling and the rust showing through both on the hood at the front and on the engine cover at the rear. The truth is I had a fire in the engine compartment several years ago, doused the flames before they damaged the engine, but lost most of the paint on the engine cover to the heat. For the hood I didn't really have an excuse. That was the result of rain, wind and neglect over many years.

I'd grown quite fond of the variegated design; the autumnal colors of red and brown mixed with remnants of yellow reminded me of the hues of falling leaves. I'd even begun to rationalize its decaying condition and explain it this way to my friends.

Anyway, its appearance was useful. The distinctive paint visible many yards away served as a badge and got me quickly recognized at a news scene. Police and firefighters would wave me through in most cases.

It also gained me help at the roadside when the old Bug broke down with engine trouble, which was frequent. Several area residents said they'd stopped to offer assistance because they recognized the vehicle as local.

True, it stopped me sneaking around like a normal reporter and creeping up on a suspect, sorry, news source. I've only been able to do that in the last two weeks since my older son Dustin had surgery and was forbidden to drive for a month. So I borrowed his Toyota - it's late 1990s, non-descript, and an icky, greenish-grey color with a few dings. Now I feel like apologizing when people say, "where's your Bug? We didn't see you coming."

Is that a good or bad thing for a reporter?

The point of this story - yes, I know it's getting labored and my boss will protest it's not written in pyramid news style- is that my younger son Evan has painted my Bug. Brushing aside my vague protests and taking things into his own hands, he bought a cheap can of yellow spray paint and daubed both the hood and the rear engine cover. He has the use of the Bug for the moment until I must return Dustin's vehicle, so I haven't looked too closely at it. But at first glance it looks fine.

I was holding out for a professional $300-plus paint job. But I've been holding for several years. The spare money was never there. Some new mechanical problem always took priority.

Now the Bug has a paint job, will it be grateful and run better? Will it be recognized and its driver still accepted in polite society? Have I sacrificed familiarity and friendship for mere cosmetics?

One thing remains unchanged. I can still recognize the engine note several blocks away. Lying in bed late at night, I can still hear the Bug coming up the street and know my son and my car are safely home. I'm asleep before the doors slam in the driveway.

John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or 847-3021.