When I read that the last Volkswagen campervan would roll off the assembly line Dec. 31, I was transported back in time.
The company in Brazil that is the world's last manufacturer of this automotive icon will stop production. It says it can't make money and meet the country's new safety mandates of antilock braking systems and air bags beginning 2014.
I fell in love with the Volkswagen campervan during the summer of 1964, at the end of my freshman year of college. I was driving with a schoolmate in his old Plymouth sedan from Texas to Atlanta. Outside Vicksburg, Miss., the car broke down and we started walking in search of a service station.
Trudging along, we were surprised to hear tinny beeping behind us and to see a psychedelic-painted VW campervan stop on the easement a few yards from us.
We were ready to run when two tie-dye-clad young white men hopped out. The driver waved and asked if that was our car about 5 miles back. His smile and that strange fragrance emanating from him -- which we learned was patchouli oil --put us at ease. He offered to drive us the 15 miles to Vicksburg to find a mechanic.
As we approached the van, the side door slid open, and we were greeted by three young white women wearing flowing, ankle-length skirts. They made room for us on the L-shaped seat.
As we drove to Vicksburg, our rescuers sang Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Blowin' in the Wind," and we joined in, all of us laughing. They drove us to a service station and stayed with us.
We never saw or heard from them again. That was my introduction to the campervan, nicknamed the "bus," the "hippie van" and many other endearing terms.
In 1974, when I taught at Northern Illinois University, I bought a campervan, a 1972 mustard-colored gem with the spare mounted in front.
First sold in 1950, the bus was integral to America's counterculture during the 1960s and 1970s, becoming the top-selling auto import in the nation. It was the vehicle of choice during 1967's Summer of Love, when as many as 100,000 people descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
From 1974 to 1978, I drove my van from coast to coast. Two hours after I placed an ad to sell the van on a campus bulletin board, a colleague came to my office and handed me a check. He said he'd coveted the van for two years.
To this day, I regret selling my bus. I've owned several vehicles since then but without becoming attached to any. I don't think there will ever be another auto with the spiritual pull and adventurous allure of the hippie van.