Punch Buggies
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If you’re like me, you grew up in the 60s and 70s and saw millions of Volkswagen Beetles (or Bugs) crawling on countless roads and highways. As a small child, I watched my neighbor, a crew-cutted engineer, chug past my house in a black one every day.

Ads for the car, both in print and on TV, were strange and unusual. But they got your attention. They sold well, and the small, light, dome-shaped cars were everywhere.

As a teenager, most of my friends had one. “They’re easy to fix –- and they sip gas,” claimed my friend Barry. This was just after the first energy crisis. Meanwhile, other kids we knew had Mustangs, Road Runners, and other muscular cars that chugged fuel like a thirsty frat brother. Barry was very wise.

I bought my own VW at age nineteen. I was living in Florida, I’d just sold my wallet-bleeding car, and I needed wheels fast. I saw the dark blue Bug with a low price tag at a used car lot. So I paid cash for it and brought it home.

Right away the news was bad, but not terrible. My roommate, a Mercedes-Benz mechanic, looked the engine over and checked the compression. “How’s it look?” I asked.

“Fair. Engine’s pretty worn out. I give it six months or so. But hey, it’s worth what you paid for it.”

The engine lived for seven more months and left me stranded on a hill. The body, however, was in great shape –- not a bit of rust -– and I sold it to the highest bidder. $125.00, if I remember right. I really loved that car.

They stopped making the Beetle/Bug in the mid-70s. They went from numbering in the millions to mere thousands by the 80s and 90s. They just seemed to fade away. If you saw one, it was old, battered, and rusty -- and probably bumper-stickered as well.

Then a few years ago, they came back. Who would have thought? Brand new, shiny ones, slightly different from the old, but kind of the same. They looked great. I wanted to drive one.

Probably not the best car for a family of four, though. I drive a big, strapping minivan now. And whenever my kids ride in the back, no matter how quiet they are, I can always count on one thing. A triumphant cry, telling the world that they’ve spotted one:

“Yellow punch buggy -– no punch backs!” Then they might (or might not) give their sibling a tiny punch on the arm.

How this all started, I have no idea. Maybe it was their mother. But no trip is complete without scanning for and announcing those shiny new bugs.

One day I decided to join in the fun. “Punch buggy! No punch backs!” I yelled as we zoomed down the interstate. And I gave my daughter a little bop on the knee.

After a short silence, she spoke up. “Dad,” she said. “You have to say the color of the car first.”

“Oh. It was silver.”

“Too late, Dad.”

Well, I’m a quick study, and in no time at all I mastered the art of the Punch Buggy. Car rides became fun. The kids spot way more buggies than I do, but I don’t mind. They’re entitled.

Maybe some day I’ll own a blue one -– just like the Florida special, but nicer. When I’m old and want a simple car that sips gas. And hey, it’ll give the kids something to do.

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