For optimal performance, sometimes the toys need a little periodic maintenance. Case in point, the GuyNo2Mobile was running at just less than ideal speed on the hills. You really can't have as much fun as humanly possible cruising around the scenic hills of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin when your chariot is wheezing like an obese asthmatic on a steeply inclined treadmill.
I decided it was time to change the air filter, seeing as how my current one did not look like it had just come out of the box. My first stop was at a local auto parts store, because that would be the place my mechanic would call anyway.
Guess what? When you roll in with a part off your 1990-something Ford, the parts counter crew loves to dig into its stack of parts books and get you exactly what you need. But when you roll in with something off your 1961 Volkswagen dune buggy, they'll be polite and at least glance at the parts books, but there's not a chance you'll be leaving with any merchandise or any pending merchandise order. You will be out of luck. The best they can do for you is to suggest you check with a competitor. They will wait until you leave before they start to laugh uncontrollably.
As a rule of thumb, there really isn't a huge contingent of classic Volkswagen owners who call northeast Iowa home. I got on the phone and called a Volkswagen dealer in Rochester. The guy at the parts department was with me right until I coughed up the date "nineteen sixty one." He didn't come right out and tell me which year Volkswagens quit or started being real Volkswagens in his shop, but it was apparently somewhere in the 1970s, as near as I could tell. He suggested I switch my focus to the east. La Crosse was my next best hope.
As luck would have it, I had to head to La Crosse the next week for my annual eye appointment, so I decided to combine that trip with a buggy quest. There was a Volkswagen dealer in La Crosse, so I made my way to their parts counter after I had the vision thing taken care of in short order. Turns out the guys in La Crosse feel that real Volkswagens didn't start being manufactured until sometime in the 1980s. Staying with the theme, they suggested I check with a couple of auto parts places . . . which they located for me via the Yellow Pages instead of the Internet. How quaint.
I stopped at the first place on the list and got pretty much the same response that I got at every other place I'd been to so far. No, they didn't have the filter I was looking for (and carrying with me as evidence). Each place kept handing me off to the next one on the list. I kept moving further and further away from La Crosse until I had only two more places left. The second-to-the-last one broke the trend and did not refer me to the next place on the list, which, coincidentally, was more or less right across the street. The automotive industry does not have a long history of being all buddy-buddy cooperative. Surprise, surprise, Hatfield Auto Parts did not send me directly across the street to McCoy Auto Supply. Nope, it was like the McCoy operation didn't even exist in the world of the Hatfields. Without even acknowledging the existence of the McCoys across the street, the senior Hatfield staffer suggested I "try that import place. Dr. J's. They do a lot of work on them foreign jobs. They can prolly hep ya."
So off I went, out the driveway and right past another competitor's store, away from the metro and across the big blue bridge to the swampy area that lies between Wisconsin and Minnesota in the area known as The Causeway. Sure enough, a little ways off the main drag was a shop with a few European imports sitting out front underneath a sign that read "Dr. J's." You can smell the turtles and hear the frogs when you get out of your vehicle.
I was fairly certain I wouldn't walk in and find everyone's favorite Philadelphia 76er, Julius Erving — aka Dr. J — walking around in filthy coveralls with a greasy rag hanging out of his back pocket. There were no obvious NBA Slam Dunk Contest winners anywhere in sight. Instead, there was a 50-or-60-something, very Midwestern-looking guy in mechanic's coveralls leaning over the engine of some sporty little Italian number with its internal organs scattered all over the floor.
Dr. J asked if he could help me. I held out my air filter and told the good Dr. that I was looking for a replacement filter for my 1961 Volkswagen. He took it from my hand, flipped it around and around and said, "Don't bother. These are supposed to be cleaned, not replaced. Everybody tried to sell ya a new one, I bet, didn't they?"
Well, technically, no, there was no sales pressure, but that's only because no one actually HAD the part to sell me. Cleaning it sounds much better. What should I use, Dr.?
"K & N Filter Cleaner works the best, but I don't have any on hand right now. You can find it anywhere, though. It looks like this," he said as he grabbed a can off the shelf.
Answers and advice without slick salesmanship. That's my kind of doctor!
As I turned to leave, something sitting back in one corner of Dr. J's shop caught my attention in a big way, which was rather ironic. Dr. J had a tiny little robin's egg blue car that made a Smart car look like an enormous SUV by comparison. If my eyes were not deceiving me, I was pretty sure that it had a BMW emblem on its trunk! I fully expected to see 14 clowns start hopping out of the thing when Dr. J told me to open the front door.
Dr. J said he worked on the thing from time to time for its owner. It was a very popular item for local parades, and had a pretty much undefeated record in said parades when transporting various politicians up for reelection.
Here's a link to a piece about the Isetta: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isetta#BMW_Isetta_.28Germany.29.
Dr. J gave me sort of a summary of the beast. "It's a fun little car!" he proclaimed. "It really catches people's attention on the road. I mean, sometimes you just want to drive something different. You gotta keep life interesting, you know?"
Huh. What a novel concept. I really need to whip into Dr. J's in the buggy sometime…just to talk philosophy, of course.
Guy No. 2