I think it was Christmas 1978 and Janice got a blue VW Rabbit for Christmas. Great gift. But she was the first born and the first child going off to college. She had been accepted to Franklin & Marshall. She was always a good student. So I guess Dad wanted her to have solid transportation to and from school, or to at least get around while she was away at college.
Blue was her favorite color and it was a cute little car. But all this meant was that the minibus was going to me next. Dad had discussed it with me. The age to drive in PA was 16 but in NJ it was 17. But the drinking age in PA is 21 and it was 18 in NJ. Go figure. So in 1980 I was legal for everything.
My dad would take me out for a few hours in the morning on the weekends and teach me how to drive. I really learned how to drive a van. Because Wildwood, NJ is an island, tidal flooding must always be taken into consideration. So many of the roads crown in the middle so that water will run along the sides and not the middle.
So here I am with a very patient teacher (Dad) teaching me how to do K turns on a crown in a VW minibus without stalling the vehicle. It’s a 4 speed stick. Oh, and the van has a big blind spot on the back right side. It was very challenging for a new driver. I stalled her out plenty of times until I learned how to balance the clutch and the gas. It’s all just a balanced dance with the feet. When you learn in a vehicle like that that is big, awkward, sluggish manual steering and stick, you really learn how to manage any car after that.
It took a few lessons and I studied the book you get from the DMV when they issue you your permit. I aced the test, and passed the driving test thanks to Dad.
But that was the 2nd time I took the driving test.
The first time I was nearly through it and the guy that was in the van with me when I took the test yanked on the emergency brake and broke it. The van was 12 years old by then, it just gave way because he pulled on it really hard. So he failed me not for my performance but because of the vehicle.
My dad was pissed. I remember him being angry at the guy. It’s always okay to do stuff to your own kids, but see what happens when somebody else does something to them. I remember we were walking back to the barracks and a piece of the paperwork blew out of my dad’s hand and we were both chasing it in the wind.
Well I guess we chased that slip of paper into a restricted area, and when we looked up there were two formidable soldiers with automatic weapons pointed at us. We explained that we were chasing a document and had gotten it. We walked back to the barracks and re-scheduled another test for me. My dad was still salty about the test guy, but we had a good laugh about having armed soldiers pointing their guns at us.
So now the old horse was mine. My dad said he wanted the van to be nice when he passed it to me so he took me to a stereo store and he had a cassette player installed in it. two speakers up front under the dash and three in the back. I didn’t even have a cassette player at home. I was still buying vinyl records and had some 8 tracks.
I remember I had heard a song on the radio called “Girls Got Rhythm.” I wanted that to be the first cassette I ever bought. So I drove out to the Rio Grande Mall and picked up AC/DC’s Highway To Hell album. I cranked that shit up all the way back to the house.
Sometimes after dinner I would just get in and drive around for a while. I just loved listening to my music and driving around. If my sister April needed her and her girlfriends to be transported or picked up, I had the capabilities and the space to carry a load of them.
Having the minibus all summer back in 1981 was glorious. We could cruise around in it, carry my band gear, it was awesome.
There was an old drive-in movie theater out in Rio Grande. One of my coolest memories of the van was, we’d drive out there and see double features. It was fantastic fun for a bunch of young guys. I remember the road leading in was all broken seashells. It was a dilapidated dump of a place but we loved it. We’d find a good spot and park the van at dusk. We’d have our tickets and all get out of the van and head towards the broken-down fence. We’d slip through the opening and hit the liquor store on the other side on Rt. 47. I’d usually get an 8 pack of Miller ponies.
We’d slip back in and then go buy a bunch of snacks. Once it got dark the movie would start. It was always a double feature, which as awesome. I’d recognize another guy’s I knew there sometimes. I’d walk by this one dude’s car I knew and if the windows were all steamed up, I did not approach. He had a girl in there.
But for the most part, it was a fun night with the guys. You would pull up alongside one of the metal poles and hooked to it was a speaker. It had a clip on the back so you could hang it on your window to provide the audio. (A few years later you could just tune your car stereo to a certain station and hear the movie that way.)
Sometimes I’d pull up sideways between two of the audio station poles, and just open up the van. Some of the guys brought beach chairs and we’d all just sit outside and watch the movie. I’d leave the audio boxes on the poles and just crank them up so we could all hear.
I think it’s a shopping center now.
Now it was time to make some new memories with the Magic Bus!
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