April 25, after a family visit on the prairie, I left the Twin Cities behind with my AM dialed to Radio K. (These guys are like such hippies, digging Morly, the VU, James Brown, Jonathan Richman, and like much Prince enriching and delineating their lives man.)
I stopped at the west-bound I-94 Middle Spunk Rest Area, near the childhood home of Charles Lindberg. I noticed that the door to the janitor’s office was wide open, and inside was a gentleman relaxing on a chair. I took a walk down to the lake. As I returned to the parking area, I watched the gentleman (dressed more like a retired farmer than a janitor) inspecting the trash cans.
As I approached, he asked what year my VW bus is (showing he had an unexpectedly good view of the parking area from his little office, else he was just guessing how I arrived), which opened a long conversation about appreciation of well-crafted vehicles and speculations about why people are in such a hurry. He spoke with one of those Minnesota accents that would sound too good to be true if you heard in on the radio or in a movie. I wish I had asked him if I could take his picture
“It’s a 1976. The camper conversion was probably done in Oregon.”
He nodded and told me he had owned a Borgward Isabella Coupé. When he decided to sell it, he was fussy about whose money he would take. He wanted to find someone who would take good care of it, and appreciate it the way he did. He eventually found a buyer who took it back home with him to Sweden.
The gentleman had been in the Navy, part of the crew of the troop ship that carried Elvis to Germany, and he had been introduced to the Borgwards while he was stationed there. Now, he is 79 years old, and has survived cancer and a broken hip, which you would not guess from the way he moves around.
In the 70s he farmed, but his soy bean crops did poorly during the Carter years when the weather was bad and interest rates were so high (either one of which he seemed willing to blame on Carter), so he had to leave the farming to others. He said he is pro-life because no nation that kills its own children will ever be blessed. He said he understands why people like what they hear from Trump.
I asked if there is any reason to think Trump isn’t just in it for himself, since he is such an arrogant SOB who has been divorced several times, and may or may not be pro-life, and do you think a nation that doesn’t make healthcare and education rights not privileges can ever be blessed, to which he shrugged. I shook his hand and told him to “stay strong” (my current favorite way of bidding good bye). He wasn’t quite ready to say good bye, and he talked some more about taking good care of automobiles and how kids these days don’t want to do any work.
When I stopped for gas in Fergus Falls, another gentleman, probably in his 80s, asked me what year my VW bus is. He told me he still owned a VW beetle because it is still fun to drive, and that he recently saw a TV show about how the pre-Vanagon VW buses are getting so rare that even ones found in junk yards are being scooped up by collectors for $45,000.
Next day, in Billings, I was washing the bugs off the windshield, when I realized some guy was shouting at me, “What year is that?” 1976. He grimaced and replied, “A couple years older than me,” as he opened the door of his filthy little red pick-up.
On the home stretch of my 3-day trip home, I stopped at the rest stop located a milepost 4 on Montana’s I-90. A gentlemen watched me get out of the bus and head toward him. “I’ll give you $20,000 cash for your bus right now,” he said. A fellow in Minnesota told me it might be worth $45,000, I replied. He smiled and shook his head. “More like $80,000. I have flipped three of them. And if it was fully restored, more like $200,000.” I could retire on that kind of money, but this is the only car I have ever really wanted to own, I told him. We shook hands and I told him to stay strong.