' 57 BUG
'57 Bug! Of all the episodes that put me close to death this is the hardest to write about. I know why, too. I was drinking. There I've said it, maybe I can now continue.
In 1957 Buddy Berlin and his wife Linda, with no other employees, opened a Volkswagen agency operating out of their garage. The bug was hardly known in the US. I had had a used 1951 Morris Minor convertible and had liked it, perhaps having Bobby Unser as my mechanic helped me like it. At any rate, when I heard of the air-cooled Volkswagen coming to town, a car only slightly more powerful than the Morris; well I just had to have one. I was one of the first to buy a new one from Berlin. It was light green in color, not chapulin green, but a rather pleasant light green, with straight stick. The Berlin's place of business was at the corner of Central and Edith. The price was right, around a thousand dollars for a new car. The sweet mamasan was not even consulted; I just came in one day and said I bought me a Volkswagen so now you can have the Oldsmobile all to yourself. That was the way I was then.
We learned to like the bug. We even went all the way to Juarez in it once. We must have been packed in like sardines. There was Dolores with us as well as close friends Freddy and Cecilia Romero. I remember that the Yucca cactus were in bloom and Dolores wanted to stop and pick one. I promised that on the way back we would stop and cut one to bring home, which we did and placed it in the trunk of the VW, which is located in the front of the car. When we got to Albuquerque we discovered that we had a trunk full of bugs from the cactus bloom. Isabel would, of course, not allow it in the house, so I leaned it against a cottonwood tree in our front yard. We lived at 1131 Morris NE then. Those bugs invaded the tree and killed it.
Isabel was never too fond of driving the bug, because of the straight stick. In late August of 1958 for some reason that I cannot remember we decided to go to Peñasco in two cars as Isabel and Dolores were planning to stay there for a few days and I was to return to work at Sandia. I left Peñasco alone as it was getting dark on a Sunday evening. By the time I got to Santa Fe I was thirsty and I stopped and had a beer, then another one, and another one. Finally, it was getting late and I decided to get back on the road. The I-25 was then under initial construction. Precisely where New Mexico Highway 44 intersects I-25, branching to Placitas, the south bound lanes of I-25 were barricaded and led to a detour. I had a heavy foot in those days and was moving it. In attempting to make the detour I rolled the bug, three times. I did not get a scratch, bumps yes. A big truck driver stopped to, in his words, - find out how many had been killed. To his amazement I crawled out of the wreck. The bug was wrong-side up. He helped me turn it over, but I could not start it, and I left it there. The truck driver gave me a ride to Albuquerque. The price I had to pay was listen to his scolding on how, "You kids will never learn, will you?"
Imagine me being called a kid. I, of course, said nothing. The next day my neighbor Albert Sensel took me out to the intersection of NM 44 and I-25 to retrieve the bug. I took it to Berlin, they fixed the engine, and I got one of them good old south valley boys to straighten out the body and paint it. It never did run right again. I do not even remember what I did with it.
There I got it all out. The moral of that story is obviously, Don't Drink and Drive.
Bugs, Bugs And More Bugs
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Free Lance Writer & Ex-Adjunct Professor, UNM
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