God’s Go-Kart

Herbie the Love Bug
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A possessed sentient car that locks you inside and then goes where it
wants is actually a pretty terrifying concept. Source: Wikipedia/Vmanjr.

Kids today simply have no idea how cool it was to grow up in the 1970s. Telephones were the size of a loaf of bread and were tethered to the wall. Serious computers would fill a typical bedroom. Fashions of the day could precipitate blindness if gazed upon unduly, and big garish conversion vans were cool rather than creepy. And then there were the movies…

We are spoiled rotten to movies these days. Most anything ever put to film is just a few keystrokes away any time of the day or night. Back then, however, the movie theater was the cultural epicenter of my tiny little Southern town.

Ours was titled the Boswell Showcase, and it was not much larger than a decent barn. You found out what was playing by riding your bike by to check the posters outside or looking in the newspaper (an actual thing made of paper that later did double duty as a toy boat, hat or fire starter). When something extra cool debuted, it left the entire town abuzz. One such tour de force event was “Herbie: The Love Bug.”

“Herbie: The Love Bug” was shockingly popular given its vapid premise. Source: Wikipedia.

Beetle-Mania

The original “Herbie” movie hit the big screens in 1968. It was the second-highest-grossing film in theaters that year. The narrative orbited around an adorable little Volkswagen Beetle that was apparently, with the benefit of hindsight, demonically possessed.

The diminutive car sported a prominent racing stripe and the number “53” emblazoned along its side. The car drove itself, manipulated the humans around it to do its bidding, and just generally did adorable things that would be pretty darn horrifying in the real world. That first movie spawned four sequels. In 1977, that would be “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.”

1977 also saw the premiere of “Star Wars,” and Jaws hit two years before. The Hollywood bar was set fairly high. It became obvious that making Herbie’s latest escapades through the French Riviera financially viable was going to require some sort of gimmick. The gimmick in Clarksdale, Miss., came in the form of the coolest little Herbie go-kart.

A Near-Religious Experience

There were clearly not as many trial lawyers around back in 1977 as there are today because this thing was a death trap. The go-kart in question was a simple, no-frills rig powered by a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine and adorned with a fiberglass Herbie shell. It sat in the lobby of the movie theater so that all the passing kids could adequately lust after it. To make this rolling death machine your own, all you had to do was write your name and phone number on your ticket stub and drop it into a container. When the movie’s run was complete, they would raffle off the kart.

I likely saw that stupid movie half a dozen times. I coveted that go-kart in a manner that bordered upon unseemly. I literally prayed for that thing. No kidding, I promised God that if He would give me that Herbie go-kart, I would gladly become a preacher. I actually offered a life of full-time Christian service in exchange for that cheesy motorized suicide sled.

4-wheelers and go-karts can be terribly dangerous. I really didn’t want this to happen to my mom.

Disaster Strikes

On the appointed day, not only did I not win the go-kart, but a scruffy little kid right down the street did.

You need to understand, in the 1970s, there were essentially no rules as we might imagine them. The little menace tore up and down public roads in that thing at all hours, and nobody cared. He bounced across lawns and spun out in driveways. Folks back then just thought it was cute. As I sat in my room and stewed over this travesty, I had to listen to that neighbor kid screaming back and forth right outside my window in what should rightfully have been my Herbie go-kart. It was enough to make an 11-year-old question his religion.

Then, one day I heard a fearsome commotion outside. I tore out my front door to find a modest crowd gathered around the Herbie go-kart, now upended. The lucky kid’s mom had taken a spin in the thing and had inadvertently gotten her foot through the bottom of the frame. As this was the 70s, she was wearing neither shoes nor a helmet. Her bare toes caught on the asphalt with predictable results. It was literally months and a couple of nasty surgeries before she could walk again.

Ruminations

The whole sordid experience taught me a great deal about life. I love my mom … I mean, a lot. I really wouldn’t want to see her foot all but torn off in a horrible go-kart accident.

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, God knew more about what was best for me than I did. That simple yet timeless truth has since carried me through several careers, and a life aggressively lived. And that’s also how close I came to a career not as a physician, engineer, pilot, and writer, but as a Baptist minister.

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