It was Canary yellow. The perfect color for a car like a VW Beetle that my friends kept telling me was too small to be seen by the big cars on the road. Nobody could miss that color! During the previous winter’s seemingly endless snowstorms, Volkswagens, with their rear engines, were the only cars that kept going up and down Baltimore’s steep hills. I decided back then that my next car would be a Volkswagen.
Under the dealer’s show-room lights, the 1970 VW Beetle called out to me, like a siren. A salesman recognized the gleam in my eye as I sat behind the steering wheel. In short order, I completed the paperwork that made me the owner of that brand-new, bright yellow Beetle. On delivery day, my salesman pointed out the car’s many features, which I glossed over as I basked in the new-car smell and the overall cuteness of my new VW Bug.
For fourteen months, my Bug safely ferried me back and forth from Baltimore to graduate classes at the University of Maryland in College Park. My only mishap was a slight fender bender when I slid into the rear bumper of a car ahead of me that suddenly stoped in traffic. My Bug incured a few scratches that could be buffed out. My insurance company deemed me at fault and covered the damage to the other car.
Then, about noon, on one of those bright, blue-sky days that sometimes come in late March when you can almost feel spring popping out, my friend Deanna and I were on our way to see a blaxploitation film starring Pam Greer when, as I maneuvered through a left turn, a few blocks from my apartment, a big, dark blue car swooped over the hill and down toward me. I realized that I can’t get out of its path in time and screamed, just before it hit me. Mercifully, I lost consciousness.
Moments later, I opened my eyes, but couldn’t see out of my left eye. Was it gone? Instinctively, I raised a leather-gloved hand toward it. Relief flooded me as I felt the bulge of my eyeball still beneath its lid. As long as it was there, I consoled myself, they could fix it. I moved my hands and arms gingerly. Both legs refused to budge. My uninjured eye noted that there was glass everywhere and that my right thigh bone was bent in the middle. A uniformed state trooper opened my car door and leaned in toward me. “Are you alright?” he asked while wrapping strips of gauze around my face. I was surprised by my calmness and how time seems to be moving so slowly. “Why are you bandaging my face?” I asked. “Because you've got a few cuts and I don't want you to bleed all over that pretty suit,” he answered.
It's serious, but at least I'm not dead, I thought. In that brief instant when I realized the car was going to hit me, I was afraid I was about to die. The far-off warble of an ambulance siren grew closer, then stoped. I floated like a dingy in a stormy sea. All through the ambulance ride to the hospital, it felt as if I was being dragged bodily across rocky terrain. Each jarring movement sent spasms of pain through my legs and chest. At the hospital, a teen-aged candy striper held my hand while doctors examined me for what seemed like hours. My right femur and left ankle were broken. Several ribs were cracked. A plastic surgeon assured me that he could fix the jagged cuts across my face that required a hundred stiches.
After a month in the hospital and three surgeries, I was sent home by ambulance. I never saw my yellow VW again. The insurance company declared it a total loss, and sent me a check. After I taught myself to walk again, I bought another car - a big, blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It elicited none of the excitement my Beetle aroused; but nobody ever ran into it.