[Nicole Baldini is my friend and co-worker. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Chris, and their baby daughter, Tegan.--RW]
In the time before SUVs and airbags, when it was more hippie than yuppie to own a Volkswagen, our family car was a red Volkswagen squareback. Since we had it from my toddlerhood through Junior High, it was as much a part of our family as any pet.
It being August 2001, my mind turns back to the summer of 1978 when we took a family vacation down the shore for two weeks. There’s a lot of packing to be done for two weeks, plus my little sister was just a baby. So, into the back went, in addition to the suitcases, a playpen, swing, and other baby accoutrements. Said baby sister took up the middle of the back seat in her car seat. My middle sister and I were buckled up together on the left side. We were charged with keeping the sun out of the baby’s eyes (since this was the time before cool Pooh sunshades for the back windows.) My great-grandmother was seated on the right. My mom was up front with the cat on her lap, since Muffin hated the car and refused to be put in a carrier or even a box. And Dad did the driving.
Away we went on the two plus hour drive, or as my Dad put it, two Sesame Streets and an Electric Company. Muffin never stayed on Mom’s lap, so she roamed all over the car (“Girls, keep the cat away from the baby”) panting and shedding. Because of this, Mom and Dad kept their windows almost all the way up so Muffin didn't take a header out the window. And the windows in the back seat were solid glass; they didn’t open. And the seats were a pebbled vinyl. And the engine was in the rear. Remember, it is August.
As we drove the Garden State Expressway, we stopped often to pay the tolls. “Girls, hold the cat so she doesn’t jump out the window!” Mom would cry, while Dad opened the window for the millisecond it took to throw the change into the toll basket.
On we went. As we reached Cross Keys, NJ, we were given our car treat—pretzel logs. To this day, I don’t know how far Cross Keys is from Philadelphia, nor do I know anything about that fine town. I merely know that that was the time for pretzel logs. This was a treat, because we were never allowed to eat in the car. The pretzel salt always had a way of working itself into the nubby vinyl seats. And no, we didn’t have anything to drink, because it would have been a nightmare to get us all out of the car and into a rest area.
Finally (and happily) we reached the shore house and disembarked from the car (rather like the clown car at the circus), brushing the pretzel salt off the backs of our sweaty legs with the pattern of the vinyl pressed in them.
The Volkswagen spent those two weeks getting us back and forth to the beach. Even though we brushed off our legs with towels before getting into the car (a ritual I always disliked), sand joined the pretzel salt in the crevices of the seats.
When vacation was done, we would prepare to leave in the early evening. Mom made sure we had our showers, so that when we got home, we could go right to bed. I vividly remember sitting in the car, my hair still a little damp, watching the sun set behind us as we drove home. My parents were pretty smart to leave at that time, since it was usually cooler, and we all fell asleep anyway. I always managed to wake up as we crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge and to see the lights of the city, which definitively meant that we were almost home.
And months later, when we were firmly established in school, and the days were getting cooler, we would still find the occasional piece of pretzel salt in the back seat and think fondly about that vacation. Today, I still do.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)