Monday, May 08, 2006

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Yesterday, I went to a Volkswagen show a few miles from the house. I packed up my 1958 Single Cab (which is still nameless, any help?) with a bunch of old VW parts to sell (photo lower right) and puttered out to Featherly Park a few miles out of town. To get there, freeway driving is a must, and this was the first time I had piloted the truck on the open highway. It was really hard to tell how fast (or slow, depending on your point of view) I was going, but I think I was nearing 60mph…at least, that’s what the speedometer said. In a 50-year-old car with original steering, 60mph feels like you’re going 100, careening over ball bearings and slippery marmalade. There were a few moments my heart raced, as I wasn’t sure if I was driving it or it was driving me; you know you’re lost when turning the wheel has no immediate affect on your direction. Meanwhile, I’m getting passed by people that lack common courtesy on a good day, not to mention the basic appreciation for an old car. I’m in the slow lane, the very slow lane if there was one, and I was being tailgated relentlessly by an old lady in a middle-80s tank, all the while 75mph traffic, a prerequisite velocity for that stretch of the road, is zooming past me like ricocheting bullets.

I can only smell the contempt in their exhaust. The freeway is for modern cars, you hippy!

The whole thing makes for quite a white-knuckled ride, as the play in the steering wheel had me looking like I was on TV; you know, how they swing the wheel back and forth to simulate actual driving? When I hit the dots to the left of my lane, I just aimed for the dots on the other side, all the way down the road, praying I don’t lose any vital parts from the vibration or see smoke start pouring out the back. It’s the trepidation of driving an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar situation that keeps both hands on the wheels, eyes glued to the mirrors and focus clearly on what’s going on around me. In a Volkswagen Bus, there’s not much between you and whatever you run into but the steering wheel, un-safety glass and an eighth-inch-think piece of sheet metal…maybe a couple of headlights if you’re lucky. Of course, in 1958, seatbelts were non-existent. At any rate, both the truck and I made it unscathed.

I haven’t been to a Volkswagen show in a couple of years, at least not since I was laid off from Primedia as the editor of VWTrends, a sometimes successful antique Volkswagen magazine (don’t get me started on that). As it turned out, my fond memories were whitewashed by nostalgia, and the reality is that they’re fairly boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like Volkswagens, but as is the case with my children… I like my children, not kids in general.

I got there, parked the truck, set up a chair, got a magazine and sat down to rest (from the grueling eight-mile drive). I looked around and I didn’t know a soul in sight. Why did I want to get out of bed early, risk my life on the freeway in an antique car to sit in a park, under a tree, by myself, when I could easily read a magazine in a lawn chair at home, on my own lawn? It finally dawned on me: I enjoyed these shows because I was the editor of a magazine and I was always treated as a “somebody”; I’d spend the day standing under a banner that screamed the magazine’s name…there you found me, and I was well known in the context of the booth. This is the funny part, everyone knew me only because I could potentially do something for them. If you were an advertiser, butter me up because I could promote your parts in the magazine. If you were just a regular guy, be nice to me and I might include your car in the event coverage. Believe it or not, I even signed my share of autographs over the years (with VW people, it is all about what it is worth: A magazine is worth more if it is signed by the slouch who wrote it).

Fast forward: Kill the magazine, take me out of the booth, wait nearly two years, show up out of the blue and nobody has any clue who I am. But that’s okay, as it was nice not to be bothered by all the little things that people bothered me about: When is the magazine coming out? [Tomorrow] Why didn’t I get mine in the mail yet? [Your mailman stole it] You’re missing the umlaut on that German word. [I don’t speak German] Why don’t you take more pictures of project cars? [Because they’re ugly] Why don’t you take less pictures of project cars? [To illustrate the process] Take my picture. [No] Do you like my car? [I shouldn’t stand too close, I haven’t had my tetanus booster.] Etc. Etc. But the cutting part is that some people walked by me without saying a word, and I know they knew me… the promoter of the show, for one. No, I don’t feel snubbed, just written off the list of contacts by a fair-weather friend.

Later in the morning, I did meet a few people that I had known for years, and I enjoyed talking with them. “Dyno Don” Chamberlain, for one. He is always very genuine. Randy Carlson, who took me with him to the filming of the Herbie movie (and which gave me the much cherished Herbie deck lid I’ve got hanging in the garage); brothers Raphael and Octavio Gutierrez, who both spent considerable effort shoehorning my Single Cab into the running condition that it is today; and the members of Inland Empire VW Club were nice enough to let me cruise into the show with them (I read on a VW forum that they were meeting at a Coco’s on the outskirts of town to drive in together, I thought I’d join; my cousin and her husband are members, so I was hoping to see them).

Other than that, I was a pilgrim in an unholy land, and to make a long story short (it’s probably too late for that, right?), it was a lonely experience by comparison to past events. I did get a lot of reading done, however, and the experience turned out to be a revelation of sorts, actually quite liberating. Finally, I wasn’t there to make anyone famous; I wasn’t there to tell a story about the show; I wasn’t there to promote anything for anyone; and I certainly wasn’t there to talk about the magazine. Those add up to a surprisingly large amount of pressure. I have to say the right thing to the right people so they’ll continue to advertise, or so that they’ll let us shoot their car instead of the competition. It was stressful to remember everything, to act professional and to be “on” the whole day, not to mention that I have to be “right.” If someone had asked me a technical question, I had to have the answer and it’d better be right. Yesterday, someone asked me about a wheel I was selling and I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno… gonna buy anyway?” They did.

This is something I’ve always known, but was never able to put it into a practical application: Some people are your friends and appreciate you if only you can do something for them. You retain the stepping stone status as long as you hold control of something they want. As soon as you lose that control, you lose them too. It is surprisingly immediate too, but as it is now, that turned out to be a good thing. I need fair-weather friends like my VW needs a hole in its cylinder. Smiles and slaps on the back from those kind of “friends” have obviously turned into shrugs of indifference, and my emails and phone calls went unanswered because I just didn’t matter to them anymore. Remember who your real friends are not because you want them to do something for you, but because you want to do something for them.

As far as the show? I wouldn’t call it a knee-slapping good time, but I did make a bunch of money by merely cleaning out my garage. Much like the eBay phenomenon, I’m surprised by what people will buy and how much they’ll pay for it.

See folks, it’s not all yuks and grins here on my site. Sometimes, there’s a lesson to be learned. Not very often, but sometimes. Next time: more yuks.

1 comment:

BK said...

Nice work, I will be quickly adding you to my blogroll.


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