Saturday, January 21, 2006


Let me tell you about Ferdinand.
Ferdie is my 1970 VW Westfalia Camper Van.

We have had this beast for 12 years or so. We had an old Mini before that, but the Mini was a rustbucket, and my eldest could kick the back of my seat and I could feel the shock of the impact from his several month old leg all the way through my body.

We needed to move up. The Westfalia was something that I had noticed earlier. Plus, we were in camping country. It seemed the proper vehicular direction to go.

I was attending a small BC University at the time. There was this guy named Larry Dean who was also attending. He had one of those Westfalias that I was so concerned with. His was for sale. Larry Dean had the foulest mouth I have EVER witnessed in my entire life. I have never been able to swear as much or close to as long as Larry could. It was a lesson in patience. Larry would sprinkle profanity over everything to the point that all in his life was corroded. It was a disturbing feat. I have met others who have come close to the amount of verbal vulgarities that Mr. Dean threw around...but I have yet to meet someone like Larry who could physically change the landscape that you were in by ascribing filth to EVERY LAST THING.

The only reason Larry Dean figures into this thing is because I spent a day with him, while I had my guys at International Auto tear into his van to find out if it was worth the purchasing price. During that time, Larry Dean and I went to the arcade. We also went to the local grocery store for some deli sandwiches. I put my name into a jar at the counter and learned a few weeks later that I had won a black forest ham. That was it. International Auto quoted me something like two grand to get Dean's VW road worthy and I had to tell the boy no. There was a flurry of profanity and then he was gone. I saw him a few weeks later. Someone had tipped his van onto its side in the parking lot at the university. There is a story there, but I didn't have the stomach to find out who Larry had pissed off.

Eventually, we got our hands on a '70 Westfalia. The camper. She was a bit rusted. The whole process of moving the Mini out and moving the van in is one of those weird little family stories that should never really grace a blog. Let's just say that it all hinged on a tax return that never surfaced and that there was mercy from the hands of the seller. The grand price was twelve-hundred, Canadian. NOICE.

We took her camping on Gabriola island IMMEDIATELY. We eventually found a postcard from France in her. We also found an axe in there too. There was also a rubber lion. Apparently, someone named Leo had owned her at one time. The oddest of all was that we purchased the thing on Vancouver island, and my wife was asked by a guy here in Salinas California a few years back if the van was from Canada. It turned out that he had owned it several years back, up in Canada. The west coast man...don't mess with it. The whole thing is connected.

We named her Ferdinand after the bull in the Disney cartoon that unless you are DOWN, you probably haven't seen. Ferdinand is a beast who likes to smell the flowers. One day he gets stung by a bee, and the local bullfight promoters see this display of fury and get Ferdie into the bullfighting ring. Ferdinand languidly goes out and smells the daisies rather than tearing the matador a new orifice. Yep, that is Ferdie. Actually, Ferdie is more like the millennium Falcon. She ain't got much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. You know...the lights are dimming, and Han Solo pounds his fist into the wall and she lights up again? And I cant think of how many times I have been hanging Ferdie through traffic and thought of the asteroid field in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Hell yes. I can fit Ferdie into anything that is her size. I know how tall she is. I know how broad she is. I can back her into any space. I might produce a little impact, and if that is the case, it is because the thing that I hit didn't show up in my mirrors.

I would be lying if I was to say that I have not driven Ferdie hard EVER SINCE. We took her camping. We took her to Seattle many times. We took her to Vancouver. We took her up to Comox. We took her to Port Alberni. We took her to Powell River. We also took her to Tofino, and to the Canadian Long Beach. Then we moved to Victoria and Ferdie dominated the streets there.

I used to have a pinkie ring that I got from Tom Adam back when I was living in CA. I wore that thing everywhere. It was silver and HARDCORE. So hardcore that I don't really remember what patterns were on it. One New Year's Eve I was out with my friend Ian and some other people, tooling around in Ferdie and I gestured with my hand in such a way that the ring flew off. It flew into one of the heating vents in the front, underneath the windshield. It was FREEZING outside, but I made those guys wait in there while I pulled and prodded and tried to liberate that ring. That was what...over ten years ago. It is still in there. Every now and then, I hear it rattle.

Then came the move back to California. I was coming back to this place to become a teacher. There was a serious adventure at the border and I soon found myself with 48 hours till my job started, and I was bombing across the border, sans family at eight or nine at night. I made the mistake of buying the first pack of Marlboros I could find. Marlboros are a treat to people in Canada, they aren't imported. If you are a smoker and you deke into the states, you had better bring back a pack of Marlboro red for the homies. But colorblind me slipped up and purchased two packs of some new Marlboro Menthols. I smoked a pack down. I came out of Oregon with a splitting headache. Then came the Ferdie problems. I was burning through Mount Shasta mid-morning and things seemed fine. Then I saw the oil light come on. I pulled over. I didn't need to look far to see the trail of hot oil behind me. I had blown a gasket. I remember sitting there shaking my head wondering how I was going to get out of this one. We had maxed our credit cards, and I wasn't doing so well with cold hard cash because the exchange rate on American dollars had crippled my little pile of travel cash. There was something about intercepting a cheque when I got to my parent's place, but the bottom line was that I was too broke to do anything about my situation. I had about twenty dollars on my visa. That was it.

The thing about VWs is that you should always have a spare bottle of motor oil on you. They leak. There isn't a thing you can do about it. The fellers leak. It is part of their genetic code. So I topped up with a few bottles, and moved as fast as I could to the nearest settlement, looking for an automotive store. I stopped every time the oil light came on and re-topped it up. That may have been one of the worst Saturdays of my life. I promised God that if I ever got out of this situation, I would never smoke pot again. Not that I was smoking pot seriously at the time, but I needed to have something to barter with that I hadn't really let go of.

I found a little automotive store and went in. I explained my situation to the good old boys there and they hooked me up with some gasket sealant for $8.99. I spent the other ten on backup oil and Poured the bottle of sealant in and started to drive. Every five miles I added a quart of oil. Then every ten. Soon it was twenty. Then fifty. Then one hundred. By the time I got to Vallejo at about midnight, I was good. My pressure was up. I got to my parent's place and met up with Casson at 3 or so. The next day was a haze. And I started teaching class on the Monday after that. I drove that van for six months on that blown gasket.

Then I had to have Ferdie smogged. I learned that the 1970 vehicles were going to get a pass soon, but I still needed to get around. I took her in for a smog check and watched the guy laugh in my face. He told me that I needed to install a catalyic converter or a cigarette filter or something. He told me I would lose what little power I had. But he was also the one who told me that the laws were changing. So I parked Ferdie for six months and played connect the dots as far as getting to work and tooling around town. Then she cleared the age limit and I was able to get her registered as a US vehicle. I celebrated with the purchase of a new engine.

In order for you to completely understand Ferdie, you have to understand Art of A's Volkswagen in Seaside. I mentioned Ian earlier in this post. Ian was a VW Westfalia guy too. He was also in a band called the Suns at one time. They were heading to Mexico one Christmas eve out of Canada, and they broke down in Seaside. It was a terribly spiritual experience for Ian. It was so spiritual that I can't even begin to do it justice. Whatever the case, they ran into Art, closing his shop down on Christmas eve. They told him that they had beer money and would he hook them up? Art did. I think it was for like thirty bucks or something. CHRISTMAS EVE I SAID. I don't know if it was a complete engine overhaul or what...but Art pulled the saint move. So when I was explaining to Ian about the area I was moving to, he told me that Art was my mechanic. Art has been my mechanic, and art is the FOKKIN MAN.

I am on AAA. I can't count how many times I have had Ferdie towed to Art. Art does it right. He has done two engines and two clutch jobs for me. Art is the kind of mechanic that will drive the car back to your house if you can't make it. Art id the kind of guy that says to call at three and when you call at three, he isn't telling you how much it is going to cost, he is already done with the work. Art is the kind of guy that looks at the problem, does the work and waves you on, telling you that he will get you next time with the bill. Art will take payments. Art is part Volkswagen, I am sure of it. He has the spirit of the old-school Volkswagen in his system. He has given me my share of dirty looks as he has realized how hard I have run Ferdie. But the bottom line is that he is the best man for the job. He knows it inside and out. He gives a good price and there is no monkey business. I am sure I have put two of his kids through college.

So the other day, I am bombing down Highway 1. I was in a good space. A real good space. Things were falling in place for me in my mind and in my personal life. And then, KA-POW. It sounded like a shotgun blast. And suddenly, no power. So I downshifted to third. KA-POW again. No power. I got into the far right lane. There were a series of shotgun blasts, and I glided to a halt right there by the 12th street exit. Long story short? I have no idea what is up. AAA got me my tow job to Art. My mother hooked me up with a ride home. I am driving the vanpool this weekend, so I am straight for a vehicle until Monday. After that? I dunno. But in all of this, I got the coolest email EVER. Here you go:

>From: Calvin Demmon
>To: Peter Demmon
>Subject: cars
>Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006 10:01:41 -0800 (PST)
>Cars break down. All the time. If they didn't, you wouldn't see a mechanic at every corner. Don't let it get to you. I say this out of years of experience standing outside of broken-down cars.
> Love,
> D.

And that is what a father is good for at this stage of my life. Someday I will have to recount all of the times that I witnessed him standing on the side of the road. Someday I will have to recount how I used to help pushstart the '63 Volvo with Casson through the streets of Downey. Another story. Another finicky vehicle. My father came through. And you know what? Someday, my kids are going to have their experiences with the cars that they wind out babying.

I was supposed to call Art on Friday at noon, but I got yanked into a series of work related tussles that left me FAR AWAY from that sort of phone usage. I didn't even break for lunch on friday. But for some reason, I just have a hunch that I will be back on the road, with Ferdie before the week is out. That is how it all works.

Thanks for the encouragement, Dad.