Cambrian: Opinion

‘Happy Hippie Car’ had personality, right to the end

The columnist’s “Happy Hippie Car,” complete with eyelashes, breathed its last on the way to San Jose.
The columnist’s “Happy Hippie Car,” complete with eyelashes, breathed its last on the way to San Jose. Special to The Cambrian

Many of you couldn’t guess, but I really love the artistic side of the ’60s and ’70s. What can I say? Mom encouraged me as a kid! I had big flowered bell-bottomed pants as well as overalls and long johns. In high school I painted flowers and stars on my face, wore bells around my ankles and feathers or flowers braided in my hair. I was a poor kid who attended a public high school in an affluent neighborhood where I never fit in. I was only 8 years old during the Summer of Love. But, I caught on to the spirit easily.

Fast forward a few years into my life in Cambria, a single mom with a 2-year-old son, moving into a house with two fellow disc jockeys at K-Otter, Cambria’s free-form rock and rhythm and blues and what-ever-else musical station. It was 1989, and by the time we got around to having a housewarming party, it was August, near the 20th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival. I was driving a 1968 Rambler station wagon.

Being in the music business, we knew musicians. We could pool our money for a keg of beer. We could potluck and we had a big brick barbecue pit in the back yard. We had a yard. And lots of friends. And kids. And dogs. And a car ripe for running with the Woodstock theme. Thus the annual Woodstock party was born. And my first art car came alive.

This year is my 29th annual party. In that many years, party-goers decorated five cars (well, the last one got decorated twice). There were a few years I drove a big white van that my former husband insisted not get touched by a paintbrush. I was always pleased when some old lady or another would approach us in the Cookie Crock parking lot and scold me for having such a boring vehicle. When I got a newish car, I did have to enjoy the clean paint. But, after x-number of miles on it, it got a “facelift” including eyelashes this time. “The Happy Hippie Car.”

254 miles later … My sons were both in town for my friend’s recent memorial. I had to leave at 3:30 a.m. to get the younger one up to San Jose to the airport for his flight. Smooth sailing. Zipping south, just south of the city, I hear an odd noise. Nothing “critical” sounding. I then noticed the “check engine” light. “Oh, it’s only a few miles to Gilroy. I can make it and then check to see what’s going on.”

The dash lights started to flicker. “Hmmm.” I began losing speed. “Ah, come on, the exit is only 2 more miles!” The radio started to flutter off and on. I put on the hazard lights. It started to feel like I was pushing through quicksand. I imagined a Flintstone mobile and tried to pedal with my feet to no avail. The radio and dash lights went off. At least the hazards still worked.

The exit! I needn’t have been concerned about which way to turn because I died halfway down the ramp. “Well, now.” Noticing steam/smoke coming from under the hood (mind you, it had been leaking oil around the engine for a number of years – I’d ignored all the warnings I’d been given to mend that – and smelled like it right then), I carefully got out to inspect it.

As I slowly opened the hood, the smoke started furiously billowing out. I slammed it shut and got back in. I noticed it coming out the back. When the cab filled with it, I called 911. It was all just a dream. Calmly, I told her what was going on and where I was and went to wait at the side of the road.

Waiting for the firetruck and roadside assistance, I realized the car stopped steaming so went back for a look.

“Ah, the belt! Sigh. Better text Dave Gerber (my mechanic of 30 or so years) for a recommendation of a local garage.”

He said he’d get back to me.

The tow truck driver arrived (the firemen had stopped for a minute and pushed it off to the side) and was the sweetest young man ever. We patiently went through Yelp reviews and more. Finally I decided to get it to King City for an appointment, within my 100-mile tow limit but closer to home so someone could come pick me up.

The driver and I so enjoyed each other’s company — he beaming about his young son and I doing the same — talking about philosophy, life. … Gerber’s came through with a longer tow for me so this fellow got to take me all the way home. (Oh, with my colorful car on his bright yellow and blue truck, it looked like a parade!)

And then my friend, Dave, gave me a loaner car. Wow. My knights in shining armor.

So, here’s the reframe of an essentially icky situation: I got my son to the airport on time. I was able to exit busy Bay Area traffic. The off-ramp was long and wide without too much traffic so I was very visible and easily maneuvered around. The tow truck driver was kind and patient. Gerber’s helped me beyond measure. Yes, my engine blew and I’ve now had to get another car. But, I held peace in my heart and my head, looked for the good and everything fell into place.

The bottom line, the whole “peace and love” vibe may seem like a bygone catch-phrase but, I believe ultimately it is the way to approach any situation, be it going to a new school and wanting to be yourself, being a single parent for a while, or getting into a predicament away from home. Hush that fear and panic for they do nothing productive and be open to the universe. It will provide.

Thanks so, so very much to Gerber’s Garage and Marx Towing in Gilroy. Don’t worry — I’m just planning a theme for this one. She’ll get her “face” on soon enough!

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at