I was just thinking back to the few days before the end of my mega drive ….
Here’s my trusty 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia, The YesWeCan CamperVan, mid-May 2012 in Carpinteria, just south of Santa Barbara, central coast California. The night before taking this photograph, I’d stayed with VW friend, Judith, whom I’d met two years before (March 2010) on my first VW road trip.
On that first trip I’d started to realize that my VW was my new friend who would introduce me to many more new friends. I also realized that my precious VW gave me the opportunity to start conversations with strangers, and the question quickly became what was it that I wanted to start a conversation about? Was there something important that I would be able to talk about, that would ALSO be of interest or benefit to others, I asked myself.
At the end of 2010, one year after the start of that first road trip, I was sure I’d found a mission to take me through many more miles. Finally another year on, I set off on my second cross-USA drive, pleased I’d chosen MG (Myasthenia Gravis) as my hot topic. It would be the focus of my communications on auto-immune diseases and neuro-muscular ones in particular, and I was praying I could get the much needed attention they both deserve.
Seven months and over 7,500 miles later, at the end of my Saturday in Carpinteria pictured above, I’d felt very fortunate that my VW had transported me safely on another momentous journey. On this 2011/2012 trip, unlike the first, we’d had three major repairs before finally a new engine was built and fitted in Los Angeles. However every single time, help was on hand. It was miraculous how I was supported and helped along the way.
In the first instance, when the clutch started slipping and it was apparent it needed replacing, the Full Moon Bus Club‘s South Carolina Coastal Group offered to fit a new clutch at their Thanksgivin’ Misgivin’ weekend campout just north of Charleston. Not only did they work on this repair all weekend for free, but Wolfsburg West stepped up and sent a new clutch free of charge and by overnight courier all the way from California to the VW campout’s organiser before we even arrived.
Two weeks later in Alabaster, Alabama, the accelerator cable broke in the middle of a busy traffic intersection as I was driving behind Staci (an MG patient who had been my wonderful host and helper) to accompany her in a Christmas Parade. On that occasion, Bill and Carol from Sylacauga had answered the distress message sent out on the VW network by my ‘support man’ PaintedBus Ken (back in Massachusetts) and they then drove one hour from home to meet me and fix my VW (after which they insisted I have my motor checked and hosted me for a few days while it was).
Two and a half weeks after that, as I was driving early one morning in a remote part of Texas (east of Fort Stockton), the fan belt shredded!!!! No sooner had I stopped on the side of the highway, we were joined by the nicest state trooper I’ve ever met. It was a very cold morning and I already had a sore throat and temperature, so he had me keep warm in his car, offered me his phone to call Hagerty for my breakdown service (my mobile had no signal) and stayed with me until my VW was on the tow truck an hour later.
It occurred to me at times such as those mentioned above that my VW bus is a perfect metaphor for a person with a chronic disease like MG. For example, all of us classic VW owners know (and mostly have come to accept) that our vehicles do not move as fast as high performance models, that they lose their balance around sharp bends, and that they often fight to get up hills. We also know that on a good day or when there’s far less resistance, the engine can run much stronger and livelier … and that during those times we can let out a loud sigh of relief or maybe we smile gently to ourselves, knowing that our faith has been restored and the struggle to keep going is definitely worth it.
We also know that during those ups, we might go a little crazy and do too many miles, and that, while it’s good while it lasts, chances are we’ll be pretty tired and plain old worn out later on.
As time goes by, we also learn that life in the slow lane can have its merits, like being far more appreciative of the good times and the fleeting moments of running free without bounds. Most of all we learn that living in the present moment is all there is, and with that, comes a joy all of its own.
So driving an old VW with it’s foibles and surprises, can really be a pretty good metaphor for what it’s like to have a chronic disease and to be steering one’s body through all the challenges that get thrown up along the way. And the thing is, VWs just keep going and going if they are looked after and treated gently. Also one good example seen out and about on the road can be an inspiration to another, and waves and toots indicate that we share a common language.
For me, my VW has also been the friend who helped me find the very best of friends: those with whom I have a special understanding and with whom I can laugh and cry; those who have similar values and who give without expecting anything in return; and those who realize that trust and loyalty are the most precious of gems.
Boy oh boy … when I look at my old VW campervan, I really do have a great deal to be thankful for, don’t I? :)