In late 1966 my life took an exciting turn. My
Major was transferred back to the United States and I
came along. However soon after my arrival I was
sold. A pleasant young man named Gordy bought me and
immediately crammed his life's belongings inside.
The next day we were headed west to San Francisco.
An aspiring artist, Gordy had heard all about a new
counter-culture of dropouts known by the more general
term "Hippies". We immediately rented an
apartment in the Haight-Ashbury District. It was
now 1967 and we were fully immersed in the Summer of
Love. I was the envy of all the other cars because
I was already the recognized automotive icon of the
Flower Power movement. Everyone longed for a VW bus like
myself. And yes, Gordy did paint flowers all over
my sides as well as one lone flower on my dash.
Living in Haight-Ashbury was a communal way of life.
People often lived as extended families and most thought
of themselves as one with the emerging counter-culture.
Among those with whom we shared our communal way of life
were members of a musical group who lived in the same
building as Gordy and myself at 710 Ashbury Street.
The Grateful Dead scorned commercialism and focused on
their music, much of it derived from their own
psychedelic experiences. There was a spirit of
family that prevailed throughout Haight-Ashbury, where I
was shared transportation and in almost constant use by
members of our extended family. Many a night with
Jerry Garcia at my wheel, I drove the Dead to the Avalon
Ballroom or to the Fillmore Auditorium where the music
they and others played soon became known as the San
Life was "far out" until one fateful day in
1968. Gordy had been drafted for service in
Vietnam, but as a matter of conscience had decided to
flee to Canada. "I have to sell you", he
tearfully explained, "but I promise we will be
together again when this crazy war is over."
I was heart-broken but I knew he spoke the truth.
Someday, somewhere, somehow we would be together again
-- I was sure of it.
My new owner lived in Washington, DC, and for reasons
that will become apparent, all I can really divulge is
that he worked for the government. The first thing
my new owner did was repaint me to remove the flowers
from my sides. He definitely did not identify with
"Flower Children", although he did leave the
special flower Gordy had painted on my dash. I
became his daily-driver back and forth to work.
Life was remarkably uneventful -- actually kind of
boring. I was well treated although my owner was
somewhat aloof and we really had no personal
relationship the way Gordy and I had. Life in
Washington, DC was quite stiff compared to what I had
known in California. The years passed, and then
late one evening in 1972, just past midnight, my owner
unexpectedly emerged from his home and we drove off.
He had a solemn look on his face and I felt the tension
mounting. I could sense another nighttime
adventure lay ahead. Any fear I might have felt
was overshadowed by a sense of keen excitement.
After driving a short distance we entered an underground
parking garage. We circled down and parked, the
sole vehicle in the otherwise deserted structure.
A few minutes later I heard the ominous sound of another
car approaching. It parked next to us and a young
man got out. His first words were, "I like
your wheels. I've always wanted a VW bus."
But the compliment and the ensuing small talk were
short-lived. During the next hour what I heard was
"ear-burning" to say the least. Our
clandestine meeting ended with an agreement to hold
further nocturnal trysts -- which we did over a period
of months. The meetings were generally about 2:00
a.m. -- and always in a different deserted parking
garage. I quickly became aware that I was a silent
witness to history. If you haven't guessed by now,
the young man we met was a Washington Post reporter
named Bob Woodward and my owner, whose anonymity I have
always respected, soon became known to the world as
Watergate's Deep Throat. Now, as I recount my
life's story, perhaps the time has come to divulge Deep
Throat's identity to the world. Who was Deep
Throat? "Beep Beeep". There! I
just shared my secret with you.
Oranges, Chickens and
Life after my Major,
D.T. and especially my beloved
Gordy became nothing more than a series of
"short-term affairs" with a variety of very
forgettable owners. My condition deteriorated as
each succeeding owner seemed less interested in me as a
transporter of people, and more interested in my
capacity to haul all manner of cargo. I
experienced not only wear and tear on my body, but an
even greater toll on my spirit. The next dozen or
so years I crisscrossed the country many times. I
hauled oranges in Orlando, chickens in Chattanooga and
dirt in Dubuque. Dents, rust, scrapes -- all were
painful. But even worse was neglect. My once
fine motor no longer purred, but rather gasped for each
breath as it labored on year after endless year.
It was during this very bleak period of my life that I
experienced yet another nighttime adventure worthy of
note. I was in the Pacific Northwest serving as a
carryall for a rather odd hermit who lived in a crudely
built tar papered cabin situated high on the side of a
mountain peak. One May night in 1980 at about 3:00
a.m. the stillness of the night was shattered by the
sound of my reclusive owner approaching. He had
with him his two disrespectful dogs, who constantly
chewed on what was left of my upholstery at every
opportunity. "Let's go," the old man said in a
nervous tone. "Now!" Both dogs
were visibly edgy. "My dogs know
something," he muttered. "I don't know
what they know, but they know." Although I
didn't understand why, he drove me hard the rest of the
night and at daybreak the next morning we arrived in
Portland. As we listened to my radio we learned
that Mount St. Helens had blown its top, forever erasing
any trace of that ramshackle cabin. And while I
still hate what those dogs did to my upholstery, somehow
I think I have found it in my heart to forgive them.
Throughout the eighties I labored on. Every year I
acquired new dings and scars and ever-spreading rust.
I often thought of Gordy and the prestige I had enjoyed
among the Flower Children. But those fantastic
days and nights in San Francisco seemed a lifetime away
-- and the reality was, they were.
The Next Five
The decade of the nineties felt like a bottomless
whirlpool. I was being drawn further and further
down with no hope of escape. Passed from owner to
owner, each seemed worse than the last. In 1992 I was
sold to man in Iowa who used me as a weekend fishing
car. He would drive me to a little cardboard shack
he had jury-rigged on the banks of an isolated section
of the Mississippi River. It was a shack not
unlike the shack the Mount St. Helens hermit had lived
in. Aside from the unpleasantness of being a
depository for his slimy fish, I rationalized that life
could be worse. Soon it was.
The summer of 1993 brought with it the
Mississippi River Flood. In a panic to save his
other property, my owner left me abandoned along the
river. I was not swept away, but the river did
carve a new course and the land on which I sat was
transformed into a tiny island no more than fifty feet
square. I was marooned.
Years passed and my only glimpse of civilization was the
endless parade of barges that navigate up and down the
Mighty Miss -- and that was only eye contact. I
was alone with my thoughts, remembering another island
-- West Berlin; recalling my ringside seat to the
downfall of a Presidency; and of course re-living life
in Haight-Ashbury with Gordy. I was resigned to
spending eternity, or least the next five centuries,
alone and forgotten forever on a minuscule island with
"We can haul this out of here on my uncle's
boat," I heard a voice say. Aroused from a deep
sleep, I realized that two young men were on the island
and talking about me. "This is exactly what I
have been looking for to make into a beach
Cruiser." Beach Cruiser?! We were in
Iowa and I didn't get the beach reference -- but I
certainly didn't care. I was about to be rescued
from total oblivion and I wasn't about to question what
kind of Cruiser I was being called. He could have called
me a farm Cruiser, a desert Cruiser or even a swamp
Cruiser -- but I have to admit the adjective beach
certainly did have a nice ring to it!
It turned out Michael had spotted me while working on
one of the many grain barges that regularly passed my
little island. A thrifty young man with mechanical
ability, Michael soon had my engine humming again.
"I've been saving my money so I can move to Hawaii
and check out the surfing scene," he explained.
"You're going with me and you're going to be my
home as well as my wheels. I'm on a tight budget
so I hope you'll understand that I can't do anything
about all your dings and rust." Understand?
You bet! Mechanically he had me running better
than ever, and I had a life again. Cosmetics were
of absolutely no concern to me.
In a few short weeks we were in Hawaii. We
immediately headed for Oahu's North Shore where Michael
found work at a surfboard shop. He removed my back
seats and replaced them with a hand-built bed. He
also hung curtains in my windows and outfitted me with
cooking utensils. But most importantly, he added a
surfboard rack to my roof. Longboards, short boards,
windsurfing boards, bodyboards -- I was adorned with
nearly every style and brand of board made. Nights and
nearly every moment of free time during the day were
spent at the beach. Mokuleia to Kaaawa; Waimanalo to
Sandy Beach; Waianae to Makaha; the entire leeward coast
-- we soon knew every beach and its wave patterns by
Life on Oahu was magnificent. I was now living on
my third island, which was definitely
"charmed". Then one day Michael received
a job offer in Australia that was simply too good to
refuse. Taking me along was impractical, which I
understood. Knowing I would be easy to sell,
Michael placed a For Sale sign in my window and parked
me along the main highway across from Sunset Beach. Many
a young surfer stared at me longingly. After all,
I was the ultimate "in" transportation.
And with my own bed and "kitchen" I doubled as
a beach pad on wheels. However it was when by pure
chance a mature fifty-something man stopped to look at
me that my life took a most incredulous turn.
"Hey there, pal!"
"Hey there, pal! How have you been?"
The voice was hauntingly familiar. "I'd
recognize that flower on your dash anywhere,
seeing as how I painted it thirty years ago."
It was Gordy! He continued, "Consider
yourself sold. I'd gladly pay ten times what this
sign says -- all I have dreamed of for all these
years is finding you again." Me too!
I was completely overcome with emotion. From
a rational point of view I had long ago given up
ever seeing Gordy again. But in my heart the
candle of hope had continued to burn, often
flickering but never going out. "It's a good
thing I painted that flower on your dash or I
never would have recognized you," Gordy
I soon learned Gordy was now a highly successful
artist living in a million dollar home on Maui.
"I only have a three-car garage so you and
the Corvette and the Lexus can share it. The
SUV will have to start staying outside."
Gordy emphasized to me that he felt my scarred and
rusty appearance exuded the character of my life
-- that it was art -- and that he wasn't going to
change a thing about me. And that was just
fine with me. Although he is a very wealthy
man, Gordy treasures strolling Maui's many beaches
in cut-offs. No one would ever guess his
wealth and status, especially when he is behind
the wheel of my battered and bruised body.
Now life is filled with joy. I especially
relish camping on the beach with Gordy. Young
surfers drool and lust for me, but my life will be
with Gordy for all eternity. I have had a
number of nighttime adventures, and I have also
lived on several "islands". But no
adventure and no island can compare with the
peaceful nights I now spend with Gordy in
Paradise. Happiness is a soft tropical
breeze, a warm friendly campfire and the sounds of
the Grateful Dead resonating from my cassette
player. We often reminisce late into the
night. But my greatest happiness comes when
Gordy climbs into my bed and I hold him while he
sleeps contentedly. I fight off sleep, not
wanting to lose the moment. But soon I too
doze in sublime contentment.
The End --
Cruiser Art 1999-2014
(Note: This Auto Biography is included with each
VW Microbus print)