Friday, May 20, 2016

The True Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle


THANK YOU to everyone who entered the Share Your Story: Writing Contest for May. We received many outstanding essays, short stories and memoirs and regret that there can be only one winner. However, our next contest begins June 1: so remember to Share Your Story for a chance to win!

The True Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle
by Christy Gualtieri

It took me five tries to get my driver’s license.  It was mostly due to parallel parking - well, that and K-turns, those three-point turns you have to make to make a U-turn out of wherever you are.  It was pretty embarrassing, having to go through the test five times, but my brother took the cake for worst license test-taker in our family when he mixed up the gas and brake pedals and nearly hit a DMV worker who was walking into the building.

All of those tries aside, I have yet (thankfully) to be in any type of major car accident.  In the only one I’ve been in, I wasn’t driving, and it was just a minor fender bender.  I ended up with some really nasty whiplash and had to go to the Emergency Room.  The ER doctor was freaked out for a minute because I had these spots on my eyes, which is apparently a sign of a concussion, but it turns out my contact lenses were dirty.  I was sent home with a prescription for Motrin and an order to clean my contacts more carefully.


My very first car was a used red Beetle, from the Jack Daniels Volkswagen dealership (yep, that was the name) in Northern New Jersey.  It had 60,000 miles on it, a cassette tape deck, and a pair of red fuzzy dice to hang from the rearview mirror.  (I never hung the dice from the rearview mirror.)  The hubcaps would fall off all the time, and I wished so hard for so long that it had come with a CD player instead, but I loved it very, very much all the same.

Affixed to the back of the car was a sticker-magnet that read “I Love Jesus” in big bubble letters.  I had forgotten it was there, and I’d always be surprised when people would stop me and say “Me too!,” seemingly apropos of nothing.  My license plate holder proudly boasted the name of the dealership I got it from, and I forgot about that too.  Until a woman knocked on my window.

I was sitting in the parking lot of my university, looking through some notes after a class.  A furious rapping on my window drew my attention to a middle-aged woman I had never seen before.  She was saying something I couldn’t quite make out, and once my heart stopped pounding from being startled out of my mind, I rolled down the window to figure out what it was she’d been trying to say.

“Do you love Jesus?” she demanded.

I looked up at her, confusingly trying to place where I might have met her before.  I had nothing.


“Well,” she continued, her voice crisp,  “You need to make a decision.  Either Jesus or alcohol.  You cannot serve two masters.”

I was now thoroughly confused.  “What?”

“Jack Daniels,” she insisted.  “It says so right on your license plate holder.”

Jack…?  “Ohhhhh!” I told her.  “Jack Daniels was the name of the dealership.  It’s not, like, a hobby.  Certainly not a master.”

Her face unfolded in relief.  “Oh! Well! That’s good to hear! Just wanted to make sure! We Christians need to hold each other accountable, and…”  Her voice trailed off as she ran out of things to say and I just stared at her, trying to smile, and after a moment, I rolled the window back up.


When I was a graduate student, I once house-sat for one of my professors, who lived in Brooklyn.  I’d visit her brownstone every couple of days while she was on vacation to water her plants and bring in her mail, and sit in the quiet little room off the foyer and daydream about possibly owning a brownstone in Brooklyn one day.  There was so much to love about her neighborhood: living in New York City, the culture, the food, the people.  What there wasn’t to love about it was the parking.  In all of New York City there are about two parking lots for things, and they’re definitely not for brownstones.  Having to park on her street nearly gave me an anxiety-fueled stroke every time I went there.  For most of the visits I had managed to find decent enough parking, but on one of the last days, I was out of luck.  The only parking spot available required finesse, and seeing as how I wasn’t very comfortable with parallel parking to begin with (five tries!) , I would need help.  I reasoned that I would give it a try - I was driving a Beetle, after all, not a Ford F150 - but after three attempts, it wasn’t working out.  I was terrified of hitting the other cars, but God only knew where I’d have to park if I missed out on this spot.

As I sat in my car, fretting about what to do, a man walking down the street stopped and asked if I needed help.

“Yes, I do! Thanks!” I said, fully expecting him to stand at the back of my car and verbally guide me into the spot.  What I was not expecting was for him to open my car door and slide into the driver’s seat, shoving me into the passenger’s side.

This is carjacking.  Is this carjacking? What do I do? Am I going to be murdered right now? Is it a carjacking or kidnapping? Is carjacking like kidnapping a car?  My thoughts were frantic.  This was before the advent of everyone carrying a cell phone, so I would have no way to call for help. I tried to clear my head and think logically in this terribly frightening moment, but could only think of an old episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show I’d watched once, where a woman was kidnapped and thrown in her trunk.  She’d avoided certain death by kicking out one of the taillights and flagging down help with her foot.  But that was no help to me! What was I supposed to do from the passenger’s side?

I watched, dumbfounded, as the man buckled his (my!) seatbelt and promptly maneuvered my car into the impossibly tiny spot, hitting both the cars in front and behind us, chipping the paint on my bumper.

I could’ve done that! I angrily thought, and watched silently as the man cheerfully undid his seatbelt and slid out of the car.

“...Thanks,” I said weakly, watching him go, completely and utterly happy that the only thing he wanted to do was to park my car for me.

I’d like to say that was the last time that a stranger got into my car without asking, but the world can be a baffling place, and that is probably a story best told on another day. 


My Beetle died a watery death when I stalled out in the middle of the street due to flooding during a particularly nasty storm.  It died slowly, and stinking of gross New Jersey river-water, but it died shiny and clean from the rain.  I have a Jetta now, and it too is gross and stinky, but that is because I drive my two kids in it every day and there’s only so much cleaning a person can do after one of those kids spilled milk (milk!) under the backseat floor mat.

But it works, and like my first car, I love it very much. 

It has a CD player in it, too.

Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and children. She blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117.


The winning writer receives a $50 gift card and reusable
tote bag sponsored by Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates
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