It was fall, 1984 and I was alone again in the Ghia, this time driving east through a desert, either the one in southeastern California or western Arizona. I don’t remember. The years and events and chemicals have chewed away that particular detail. There was a downpour in the desert and the Ghia began to have problems breathing. It wasn’t getting enough air, or a seal had broken creating a vacuum leak. It happened before.
The car wheezed along and I found my way to a town with a service station. The mechanic looked at my car and said, “You want to see Old Bill; he’s the only guy round here who fixes VWs. Just go straight out that road a few miles. Turn right first road after you see the big rock.”
I got there and the clutch cable snapped along the way- no big deal, I could fix that. The clouds were starting to break up and it was getting hot again and the blue sky turned the storm clouds a shining silvery gray. I rang the bell and banged on the door a few minutes, then I went back to the car and pulled down the roof and sat and read the workshop manual knowing it would make the car fix itself. After a while, I heard a door creak open and looked to see the man transluscent behind the screen.
“I can’t go anywhere. There’s a vacuum problem and the clutch cable just snapped.”
The door slammed shut and a minute later the garage door opened from the inside and he said, “wheel it on in here.”
I did. He looked like I might expect, old, sunburnt, scraggly hair, no t-shirt under overalls. No baseball cap. He looked under the hood.
“You want me to start it?”
“Without a clutch cable…nah. I heard it from the road. Take a couple hours. Need two manifold boots and a clutch cable. Got to go to Newton’s for those. You can sit over by that table and wait. It’s shady.”
“Thanks. How much you think this is gonna cost.”
“Twenty, thirty bucks.” I looked down and mentally counted down my remaining money. I could do it if I slept on the ground a few nights.
“We’ll see. You might maybe be able to work it off.”
Old Bill – who didn’t look all that old – climbed into a pristine but roofless microbus and started it. VW motors don’t roar, but they do sing when they’re feeling up to it and this one was in perfect voice, the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of vavles perfectly gapped opening and closing in perfect Volkswagen time. He sat there, engine idling, his head tilted slightly and an arm suspended in front of him like a conductor’s. Then he drove off leaving a cloud of desert dust.