In a discussion forum about classic Volkswagen Beetles a couple of years ago, someone asked if I would daily drive such a car, and I said yes. I mentioned how long I’ve had it, all the trips I’ve taken, how well the car has held up over the years, and how in some respects, it’s a safe car for me because everyone notices the car. Often, predators go after those who are so unnoticeable that they are easily culled from the herd and that doesn’t hold true for me.

There’s always someone who has to get testy, although it took two years for any testiness to surface. As this particular fellow just said, “You have no worries for your own safety? Admittedly, a classic VW Beetle tends to stand out from regular traffic, but in the age of young testosterone-overloaded guys driving 400 hp diesel trucks with 40″ tires, I am surprised that being safe in an accident doesn’t seem to register with you.”

My response, “Maybe driving defensively and staying out of accidents is more important that being safe in an accident,” only ramped up his disgust with my lack of safety.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, a book I read yesterday happened to be about a teenager who was driving his rebuilt classic VW and was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Eek.

I understand that accidents happen even to safe drivers, but I’ve noticed that all the safety features in a car, while saving lives, also seem to encourage rash behavior behind the wheel. In an old car, there is no doubt one is driving — the noise, uncomfortable seat, and non-power steering tell you that. In today’s relatively silent cars with plush seats, people act as if they are sitting in their living room rather than behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. They rely too much on those vaunted safety features to save their life, but seem to have no concern for other lives they might be endangering.

I understand that the old VW bugs are dangerous, which is why there are so few on the road today — so many of them were wrecked in various accidents. Even I have been in accidents, mostly fender benders, never one where I was seriously injured. The truth is, though, that cars other than old VWs are those mostly involved in accidents nowadays.

Since it’s possible for anyone to get in an accident at any time, I never take driving for granted and am particularly careful to drive only when conditions are good. I don’t drive at night when visibility is limited. I don’t drive during rain or snow storms. (As you can see, I’d never make it as a mail deliverer because snow and rain and heat and gloom of night all stay me from completing any appointed rounds.) I don’t drive during rush hour. And I don’t drive in city traffic. I’d take these same precautions even if I were driving a tank with every imaginable safety feature because I understand that any car can be a weapon. (Most statistics just show fatal accident statistics, but non-fatal accidents are problematic, too. Approximately 1.35 million people die in vehicle accidents each year, but 20-50 million additional people sustain non-fatal injuries, often resulting in long-term disabilities.)

I could be wrong, but I tend to think that if everyone who got behind the wheel realized they were in control of a dangerous weapon that demands their full attention, there would be fewer accidents.

Although at the time of the discussion, I said that I did drive my car every day, things have changed, and now I seldom drive. This year, of course, there have been issues, such as carburetors and distributors and other parts that don’t talk to one another as well as brake problems. (What takes all the time is getting the parts. This far from civilization, there are no specialty car part stores, so everything has to be ordered online.) Even before the car parts issue, I curtailed my driving. I can get almost everything I need within walking distance. Those other things can be ordered online or purchased on the rare occasions when I go to a bigger town with more stores.

What concerns me more than driving or not driving is why anyone I’ve never met would have any opinion whatsoever about the unsafety of my car.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

If People Lived Like Me

I went to the store today, not because I really needed anything, but because I had to drive my car. I did get a few essentials at the store, as well as a few non-essential (but healthy, or rather healthier) snacks, such as dried apricots and coconut chips.

The most difficult part about going shopping nowadays is to figure out what hat goes with a white surgical mask. I finally decided that a simple straw fedora with a black edging around the brim wouldn’t look too silly. I’m sure it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t wear a mask — none of the store employees would say anything, particularly since the check-out clerks are the only ones who wear them. And since a mask is for their protection, not mine — and since I know for a fact I don’t have The Bob (it’s impossible to catch something when you’re not around people) — it’s sort of silly, but then, wearing it for ten minutes a week isn’t going to kill me.

A friend stopped by last night with a gift of beets and he wore a mask, but by the time I opened the door barefaced, it was too late for me to run to get a mask. (Which, now that I think of it, came from him in the first place.)

Other than donning a mask for my infrequent forays out of my hermitage, my life really hasn’t changed much during the past couple of months, and I doubt it will change when everything is open again. I never did buy much more than essentials, anyway. Hardly ever went to a restaurant. Never went to a bar. Seldom went to any sort of gathering. Probably the only thing I’d do different is have someone over for tea.

I used to think the world would be a vastly different place if people lived like me, and now that they are (except for driving newer cars), it doesn’t seem any different. But then, it’s hard to know if things are different since I am among people so seldom.

I have liked driving to the local stores, though, rather than walking or going to a bigger store in a bigger town. (I take a short drive out into the country first because I don’t think it’s good to drive less than a mile, particularly since I only go out every five or six days.) Every time I drive around here, I get to have a conversation about my car, which is nice. And it’s good, I think, for people to associate me with the bug in case of roadside emergencies or some such.

So that was my day. How was yours?

PS: If you have a good recipe for fresh beets, let me know. Thank you!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.


My Beach Front Property

I left Alice, Texas feeling great. I’d had a good night’s sleep and the whole day stretched ahead of me to get my oil changed and the valves adjusted.

I headed directly to the VW dealer that offered an express oil change lane, they ushered me into line, and then my momentum crashed to a halt. Although those VW aficionados loved my car (even the office workers sneaked a peak at the great-looking classic) not a single mechanic knew how to adjust the valves. Some didn’t even know what they were (one fellow wanted to send me to a tire dealer for valve stems). The only folks who knew what needed to be done were suits, and though I cajoled, they didn’t want to get their hands dirty, not even for old time’s sake. They did, however, make numerous phone calls and tracked down a mechanic who only worked on air-cooled VWs. He had bad knees, so while we waited for his younger employee to come into work (and while we waited for the engine to cool) I visited with his wife, who worked as his office manager.

Apparently the lure of my lovely car was too much, because he adjusted the valves himself and gave the car a good going over. He thought everything looked great, was working smoothly (except that the valves had become too tight, which is why the engine got hot enough to vapor lock). He even took the time to clean my windshield and fill my tires.

And then I was on my way to Padre Island. What can I say? Ocean (well, gulf). Beachfront property. Walks on the beach. Private bird tour. New friend. (Spent most of the day talking to a woman from Colorado who pretty much lived on tbe road. Instant sisterhood.)

I paid for two nights, and then this morning paid for two more. The humidity is the highest I’ve ever experienced. Any higher, it would be called rain. And the wind is constant. (Last night I kept waking up when my tent hit me in the face because it was laid almost flat in the wind) but the tent held up. There was so much moisture on my bug this morning that I took the opportunity to clean the car. (Had no need for a hose. A soon as I wiped off the first layer of dirt/water, another layer of water appeared.

I didn’t want anyone to worry about me (and I didn’t want the car to rust after too much non-use), so I drove to town today where I found a cell signal.

I’ll be leaving Padre island on Saturday morning and will head for Austin. I will be meeting a dear friend for the first time, and I plan to get a motel room for the night so I look presentable.

But now? Ho hum. Back to Paradise.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)