Super-Beetle at Twenty Below

Supposed to be the worst winter here in flyover land since 1982-3. And what do I immediately recall from thirty years ago? Not where I lived, nor who I lived with, but the car. It was a VW Super Beetle, meaning it had heat. Now I’m laughing because there’d been an earlier Beetle in my life without heat. It drove my first hubbie and me from New York, via Atlanta, then Alabama, etc until we turned north. At one spot in rural Mississippi, we forded a stream. I kid you not, the road did not have a bridge. We drove through the stream. Cows and some people lifted their heads to watch. Should we wave and call “Hi”? Nope. Too dangerous with our New York license plates. This was the deep south in the late 1960s. (Yes, Emily, that is before you were born! and civil rights did not mean civility.)

By 1982, I’d left the first husband behind, yet hadn’t found the second. I was in “living-with-limbo.” Now I remember him, another poet-type like myself, but he imbibed more. I tried to keep up, but simply got sick or fell asleep. It was not a match made in heaven. Nor was the weather, that first year we shacked up together. The Super Beetle had heat which was a good thing since I was driving to outstate schools, maybe as far as Moorhead–next to Fargo, for those who only saw the movie.   

The cold was intense, the snow depth gigantic, but the little Super Beetle chugged along. Which is not what I could say about myself. That was the period when I learnedly exquisitely about frostbite. I’d stagger in and sit on the radiator by the inside front door. (Yes, Emily, there were two front doors separated by a small anteroom to keep out the riffraff.)

My hands were so cold I could not feel the doorknob to turn it. Once inside and warming my hands on the radiator, they began to tingle, then throb, and finally to ache. It took me several decades before I learned two crucial things: to buy men’s padded gloves and to wear under them thin plastic or rubber gloves. Men’s gloves have strong thick padding which helps deter the cold, as does the looser fit. Women’s winter gloves are worthless. Ditto women’s winter boots. For years my toes also got frostbitten because even so-called “padded” women’s boots had are lined with only a namby-pamby stretch of thin felt or foam. Men’s boots are far thicker and sturdier, and they give me enough leeway to wear double pairs of socks. Now those socks are wool. But for the hands the extra layer of plastic or rubber allows for finer touch without nude fingers getting frozen to freezing metal.

Last weekend at the St. Paul Chamber Concert, a nicely dressed woman slid into her seat on the other side of us. Looking down at my men’s boots with their hooks and eyes, their stiff rounded toes, and waffle-stomper treads, she said, “That’s what I’m buying next time.” I felt moderately vindicated. It’s taken me decades, but I finally know how to dress for twenty below. The Super Beetle has gone the way of most flesh. It had heat, but its defroster was abysmal. My Prius does much better with defroster and heat, but there’s no car on earth that can make the first twenty minutes of driving at twenty below a thing of beauty and joy forever. We’re just luck if they start.

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