If you can’t fix it with gum or duct tape, it’s not a real VW Bus
When I first heard about Volkswagen’s plans to bring back the Microbus, I immediately decided it would become our new family vehicle. That’s because no mode of transportation offers the same level of excitement as riding in a VW bus.
Except maybe riding in a runaway mine car.
But that was always part of its charm, just like the seat belts that had to be double-knotted to the door handle; the innovative heating system that blended engine heat and exhaust fumes with just enough outside air to keep occupants from blacking out; and a horn that never EVER worked — and when I say never-ever, I don’t just mean on mine. To this day, I have yet to meet anyone who has actually had (or witnessed the existence of) a working horn on a VW bus. Remember, this was way before side-impact bars, breakaway bumpers and so many air bags popping out of places that, last year alone, false sightings of Pamela Anderson rose by as much as 64 percent.
It used to be that comfort didn’t have to come at the expense of safety. In fact, the total cost of safety features on an average VW was about $6, which was the price of a bracket for mounting a spare tire on the front. Once it was put in place, that circle of inflated rubber became your vehicle’s most important safety feature.
Because, technically, it was the ONLY safety feature.
Admittedly, this doesn’t take into account the bus’s aerodynamic body design, which was modeled after a standard ACME brick, and therefore created enough wind resistance to keep the vehicle from climbing any grade steeper than, say…
A speed bump.
Because of all this, I was shocked to hear that Volkswagen described their new Microbus as “a vast improvement over the 1950s design.”
This is like saying you have somehow improved on the design of your favorite pair of old underwear; sure, maybe they’re not much to look at, and maybe the muffler’s worn out, but at least you know you’ll get a comfortable ride. At no time since parting with my own VW bus 14 years ago have I ever driven a more comfortable vehicle. And at no time since then have I managed to get in or out of a vehicle without resembling someone failing a yoga exam. That’s because the VW designers of old didn’t see a need to fill every available space with some kind of special feature. Aside from the essentials needed to steer, accelerate, shift gears and slow the vehicle down enough to allow the drag of your foot to bring it to a complete stop, there was nothing else getting in the way of your driving experience.
There was literally enough room in the front for a driver, a passenger and a pair of square dancers to all lock elbows and do-si-do, just as long as they avoided bumping the gear shift.
You see, the new and improved Microbus has things like an on-board multiplex theater, a DVD/video game console and seven-inch TV screens built into the seats — which, by the way, are covered in white leather. How can THAT be an improvement over the old seats? At least when THOSE cracked they could be fixed with a strip of electrical tape that not only blended perfectly with the seat, but also matched many accents in the black plastic interior.
And if you think you can still save money by working on the engine yourself, you can forget about it. The new and improved version is a computerized, 5-speed, 230 horsepower V6 engine with “Tiptronic” clutch-less shifting. Now, I don’t know what all that means exactly, but I’m pretty sure that my standard VW repair kit, which consisted of gum, duct tape, a beer tab, three rolls of kite string and a copy of VW Repair for the Complete Idiot, won’t do me much good.
So, to set the record straight, we do not plan to buy a new Microbus. At least not until they introduce a new, UNimproved version of the 1950s design. I’d like to stir up a grass roots movement for this idea, so I’m asking anyone who’d like to see the return of the old-style of bus to please honk when they see me.
Of course, if you happen to actually be driving an old VW bus at the time, then you’ll just have to wave.
But don’t forget to swing your partner first.
(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)
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Surgery is safer when patients come with instructionsA recent study conducted by the healthcare industry shows an alarming trend in America’s operating rooms. According to the study, reports of “wrong-site surgery” are on the rise.
To clarify, “wrong-site surgery” occurs when a doctor operates on, say…
When he was supposed to operate on, say…
Your big toe.
Or someone else.
Or even someone else’s big toe.
That’s right; in a few cases, doctors have even operated on the wrong patient. However, the report strongly emphasizes that THIS IS VERY RARE, and only occurred when doctors didn’t have the right patient to begin with:
“Let’s see, according to this chart, Mrs. Freemont is 68 years old and is here for a triple by-pass. Nurse, please shave away that thick hair on her chest, right below her Hell’s Angels tattoo.”
“Doctor, are you sure this is the right patient?”
“Absolutely, it says so right here on her chart.”
“But this patient looks like a man.”
“To the untrained eye, perhaps. But if you’ll lift up her hospital gown you’ll see…HOLY COW!”
“What is it, doctor?!”
“This is going to be more complicated than I thought…”
The organization that conducted the study, which was headed up by Dr. Dennis O’Leary, says there are a number of reasons “wrong-site surgery” has increased in recent years. According to Dr. O’Leary, “Doctors are busy, and people are being put to sleep before there is an opportunity to verify who they are, what procedure is going to be performed on them, and on what site.”
What this means, of course, is that you should always insist on staying awake long enough to meet your surgeon, and, if at all possible, scrub in for the operation itself.
For situations when that isn’t possible—such as assisting with your own brain surgery, it’s a good idea to write out a list of instructions that you can keep with you at all times.
These instructions should include: Your name, the type of operation you’d like to have, and what part of your body you’d like it to happen on.
Here’s an example:
My name is Ned.
I’d like to have brain surgery, please.
If possible, I’d like it to happen on my head.
(Please see arrows)
You should know that the surgery which holds the greatest risk to patients is orthopedic surgery, which involves operating on the arms and legs, and therefore increases possible confusion between right and left:
“Okay, let’s open up that right arm…Wait a minute. Is it supposed to be MY right, or HIS right?”
“I’m not sure, doctor.”
“Let’s see…if I turn this way, that would make it my right and his left—right?”
“That’s true, doctor, but what if it’s your left.”
“You’re right! Let’s try flipping him over, and then we can…WAIT! He’s clutching some instructions…”
I should mention that out of the estimated 40 million operations performed in the U.S. last year, only 58 resulted in “wrong-site surgery.”
I should also mention that none of them were fatal, and that all of them happened to Joan Rivers.
As you might’ve guessed, the results from this study have prompted hospitals to find ways to reduce the numbers of “wrong-site” incidents that occur each year. While I’ve had a chance to read over some of the suggestions, I’m going to refrain from including any of them here—just to avoid stepping on any toes.
Especially if they happen to be my doctor’s.
(You can write to Ned Hickson at email@example.com, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439)
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That Time My Daughter Found Nemo — then ate him
To say you could catch a fish from the kiddie pool at our local Outdoor Festival several years ago is like saying you could turn a few heads if you backed your SUV into a Harley during the Sturgis Rally.
My oldest daughter had just turned seven, and the pool was literally brimming with farm-raised trout that would’ve just as quickly latched onto a Milkdud as Powerbait. Given a window of 15 minutes of fishing for every dollar, most kids old enough to hold their own poles were standing gawk-eyed with a fish in their sack after less than five minutes. So, when my daughter landed her seven-incher, I asked if she wanted to keep it or throw it back in — hoping against hope that she would opt for the throw-back.
I think my exact words were something along the lines of, “Sweetie, do you want to keep the baby trout until he runs out of air, or put him back in the water with his family?”
“I want to keep him,” she said firmly, then turned to her mother and asked for another dollar.
At this point, as a parent, you come to that critical moment where you must decide between the following:
1) Forgo the obvious teachable-moment opportunity and just settle for another hot dog.
2) Exert your “Dad” authority and forbid the action completely (after asking your wife, of course).
Or 3) Clearly state the consequences to your child and be prepared to follow through with the consequences and valuable life lesson.
Taking a breath, I chose number three and explained to my daughter that whatever fish she caught she would also have to carry, clean and — most importantly — eat.
And with that, she dipped her pole and reeled in what proved to be a crucial lesson.
* * * * *
“They’re not moving anymore, Dad.”
Driving back home, I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror as she peeked into both sacks.
I could build on this.
“That’s right, dear. If you take them out of the water, they can’t live.”
She met my eye, then checked the sacks again. “Oh.”
I remained silent, letting her process this unsettling development on her own as I prepared myself for her response, which would probably involve some tears.
She’s a very sensitive child.
After a few minutes, she looked up and found me in the mirror.
Her expression was clearly troubled as she leaned forward and asked, “How do you cook ‘em?”
* * * * * *
The guts would get her.
Wrapping an apron around my daughter, I had her stand next to me on a stepstool as I made a long, dramatic incision down the belly of her first fish. As I did, glossy, multicolored things spilled out onto the cutting board and settled into a runny heap. I sliced through the head and tail, and added them to the mix before starting on fish number two.
“Go ahead and scoop that stuff up and put it in this,” I said, and handed her a clear, plastic sack.
She did so without hesitation, except for the heads, which were staring slack-jawed at the both of us.
“What about those?” I asked.
“I don’t want to.”
Ah-HA! I nearly exclaimed, but managed to control myself. Finally, the lesson was about to be learned. A bit smugly, I asked, “You told me you’d help clean these fish.”
She twisted the sack-o-entrails nervously. “I know.”
“Well, then pick these up and throw them away,” I said, brushing the heads toward her with the back of my knife.
“I don’t want to.”
It was time.
The speech was ready, prepared slowly over the last hour in anticipation of this moment; a parent’s sweet victory. “You know, if you’re going to catch fish, you have to take responsibility for… ”
“Can I keep the heads, Dad?”
“… making the choice to — WHAT?”
She looked up at me, smiling. “Can I keep them?” she asked, then slipped them onto her fingers like olives at Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to throw them away.”
* * * * * *
When she helped season and broil the three-ounce fillets, then sat down to eat it, I knew I was beaten. My lesson — so carefully manipulated and contrived — was now being dipped in tarter sauce.
“How’s the fish?” I asked flatly.
I offered a cursory head nod and nibbled at a burger, which I was no longer hungry for. I shoved it aside and swirled my milk glass.
“Dad, where do hamburgers come from?”
“Cows,” I answered, watching as she forked another bite of trout into her mouth.
She then placed her fork on the table and crossed her arms, staring at me with no small amount of displeasure in her eyes.
“What’s with you?” I asked.
She reached over and slid my half-eaten burger back in front of me.
After a long pause, I picked up my burger and began finishing it, realizing that the important lesson I had been trying to teach about respecting and valuing life — especially when it lands on your plate — had actually been learned.
Mostly by me.
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)