We have new neighbors next door, in the unit that had sat empty for the better part of two years.  Renters.  They hate me already.  It’s my own doing, I’m sure.  I’m not exactly the warm and welcoming sort.  There was a time when I at least tried to be friendly.  But I learned that if the neighbors actually like you, they soon start placing demands on you.  They corner you with idle chatter.  They want to share things.  Or they demand that you clear a spot on your precious calendar so you can come over and be captive to yet more idle chatter, while being force-fed some Good Housekeeping concoction of questionable nutritional properties.  Or they want to get up some harebrained “community-building” effort, like planting trees, improving the playground, or organizing the holiday — no, Christmas.  Around here it’s definitely Christmas, by God, come hell or high water — parade.

To be fair (to myself), the way the new neighbors presented themselves was a little off-putting.  They were climbing out of one (of their two) BMWs in the driveway that we share just as I was returning from the Sherwin-Williams.

“We’re your new neighbors,” said “George” as he approached with his hand extended.

“Shit,” I said.  Or thought really loud.  I shook his hand limply and looked at my shoes.

“Jane” took over from there.  She was quick to explain that they had just sold their house in Five Points (a varied, but mostly high-end neighborhood), that this was just temporary, and that they were “downsizing.”

“Nothing fancy,” she said, indicating with a nod in the general direction of their rented townhouse (a mirror image of my own).  “But convenient to the country club”

I had to think about this.  Oh, yeah.  There is a country club near here.  The country club.  The one that, when I’m on my bike, I have to be extremely cautious around, lest I’m flattened by an steady stream of impressive vehicles making a beeline for tee-time — or, going the other way, returning to the safe haven of Oconee County, where all the really wealthy white people live.  I’ve often wondered why they don’t just build one great big flyover to connect said clubbers to said county.  It’s a shovel-ready project, for sure.  I’d help.  Gratis.

“The movers are coming tomorrow,” Jane continued.

But I had her number from the get-go.  She wore it like that cloying Youth Dew fog which always preceded, by several yards, the actual presence of my grandmother’s person.

Downsizing, hmm . . .” I mumbled.  “Sure.  Nothing fancy,” I echoed.  “Oh, yes, the country club.  Of course.  And movers.”  They might have been “all that” with their fancy-pantsitude, I was thinking.  But at least they’re short.

I got the feeling my acerbic wit went right over Jane’s head, as consumed as she was with impressing herself.  But I think George got the message.  Can’t say why, exactly.  Maybe he had noticed the single word writ large in an angry, white scrawl across the front of my black trucker’s cap: SURLY.

To the credit of both, neither asked me the one question that is 100% guaranteed, if asked within the first, say, five minutes or less of meeting, to place you as a lifetime member on my shitlist:

“So — Bruce was it? — what do you do?”

Maybe they were getting around to it.  But in one of those elusive moments that can only be described as marital synchronicity, both of their cell phones rang at exactly the same time.  And that was that.

As it happens, I was indeed in a surly mood.  I had spent all morning — a glorious morning, a veritable gift from the cycling gods who were calling to me — painting the trim on the screen porch.  Yes, it’s a townhouse.  And yes, we pay monthly fees that are supposed to cover this sort of thing.  And a very special thank you to the neighbors who stopped by and pointed out (not without an edge of accusation) that I shouldn’t be doing it, that’s what our dues were for, and that I should at least submit the receipts to the board and demand remuneration for my troubles.  Thank you, and thank you.  Ahem.

The truth is sometimes hard to swallow, friends.  But here it is: we live in a dead subdivision.  The builder has long since gone bankrupt, and the reserve fund was left suspiciously, well, underfunded.  The townhomes are indeed slated for paint, but on a rotating schedule.  Ours won’t get it for a couple more years.  But it needed work now.  I could have gone to the monthly meetings, thrown chairs, burned tires, and threatened to sue, but that wouldn’t have changed the fact that there is simply no money for it right now.  I could have Occupied Oak Grove and demanded justice, but since, you know, I already live here, I suspect any media coverage would have been minimal and less than sympathetic (although The Onion might have found it amusing).  Anyhow, my wife is on the advisory committee — good, civic-minded woman that she is, for I haven’t the stomach for it  — so I know that we’re well-represented.  So thank you, observant neighbors, but I know, I know, and I know.

I also knew, deep down, that the color I had been painting all morning was wrong.  I knew it right off the bat, but was hoping that maybe it would darken as it dried.  Or the light would shift.  Or maybe the old paint was just, you know, dirty or something, even though I’d brushed everything clean with bleach and water the day prior.  Or maybe I just like to play the martyr every now and then.

Around noontime my wife (the goddess of wisdom) pulled up in her Eos (the goddess of dawn) with the top down.  Having removed the screens, I was standing on the railing over the holly bushes, one arm wrapped around a post so I could reach the eaves with my other hand.  Before we sold our old house we had a massive garage sale during which I sold, among other things, my good extension ladder.  Won’t be needing that again, I thought.

“You do know that it’s the wrong color,” she said, flatly.

I sighed, climbed down from my perch, hemmed and hawed, stammered and swore.  I hated it, but I had to admit she was right.

But it didn’t rest there.  A rather ugly exchange ensued, during which she wanted to know how I had managed to bring home two gallons of the wrong color paint, why I had continued to work despite the glaring difference, and did I think I could get a refund on the unused gallon that remained.  Good questions all, but at the time I was feeling bit cornered.  I suggested she’d make a better lawyer than a psychologist.  This, naturally, didn’t win any points, and only served to bring the whole thing up a notch.  In the end, though, the truth remained that she was right and I knew it.

Somewhere in there she’d made the observation that the color more closely resembled that of the interior trim.  You can figure out the rest.  Yes, we now have just over a gallon of Sherwin-Williams paint — the good (read: expensive) stuff — professionally mixed to match the exact color of the interior trim, the code of which I supplied.  Just what the customer ordered.

So perhaps I could be forgiven for being in a surly way, which was only exacerbated by the neighbors.  My hat said SURLY not because I generally am, but because that’s the make of my favorite bicycle.  I’m down to two bicycles (from a high of about five, give or take): my lightweight carbon fiber racing bike, and the Surly — a chromoly, olive green, touring monster with down-tube shifters, cantilever brakes, racks, fenders, fatties, flared drop bars, and enough braze-ons and eyelets to attach virtually anything virtually anywhere.  Not a single fiber of carbon anywhere near this beast.  But with the lowest of its 27 speeds pulling 25 gear-inches, and the highest in the upper 120’s, she’s a little bit country, and a little bit rock-n-roll.

It’s the “Long Haul Trucker” model.  Says what it does.  Does what it says.

I built it up myself.  I started with the frame, carefully selected each component, put it all together, and took it for its maiden voyage, a six-day jaunt down to Savannah and back.  Sticking to back roads, and getting lost a few times (I eschew GPS units), it added up to about 550 miles.  I camped out along the way, rode through towns like Kite and Wadley, and was generally looked upon as a homeless person.  There ain’t too many cyclotourists in these here parts, hence the formula:

                             Greasy grimy sweaty unshaven man

                          + Bicycle laden with mismatched motley collection of camping gear

                          =  Homeless person

At least I wasn’t offered any spare change.

I haven’t embarked on The Big Tour yet.  For me, that would mean going coast to coast.  This is done more often than you might think.  I figure it would take me 45 to 60 days at a leisurely pace, depending on the route.  I just haven’t set aside the time yet.  But I’d like to do it before I retire.  Maybe when I turn 50, or something like that.

In the meantime, I’ve found immense satisfaction in the week-long tours I’ve managed to fit in here and there: Maine, Vermont, Colorado (twice), the Alleghenies.  I also take the thing grocery shopping, to the dry cleaners, the record store, the book store, massage sessions, therapy sessions, jury duty, the coffee house, and/or the pub.  I even rode it to the hospital once, when I thought I had broken my toe.

This was about five years ago.  We had only been in the townhouse a couple of months.  It was in the fall, just starting to get chilly, and I was walking up the long flight of hardwood stairs with socks on and my hands in my pockets.  Just as I got to the last step I slipped, fell forward, and proceeded to empirically verify that yes, the gravity bill had indeed been paid in full.  My hands were still in my pockets as I lay moaning in a crumpled heap on the landing.

No.  I was not drunk.  But you can only imagine my disappointment when the X-rays revealed that I would have nary a broken toe to show for all of my woe.  As a consolation, my wife bought me a pair of Crocs, the insulated kind with the grippy soles.

I’m not the over-sentimental type, but after seven years the Surly and I have created our share of memories.  We’ve traversed mountain ranges in the pouring rain.  We’ve forded rivers.  We’ve ridden in snow.  We’ve ridden perilously close to tornadoes when, being far from home, there were few alternatives.  We’ve crossed international borders, even if it was only a twelve-mile stretch along a lonely river road straddling the Vermont/Quebec border.  We’ve camped out alone in the middle of nowhere, miles from a paved road.  We’ve come dangerously close to puking (okay, maybe I shouldn’t say “we” here).  We’ve snuck up on, and passed, triathletes who take themselves way too seriously.  And we’ve nearly been sideswiped by a school bus, close enough so that I could reach out and pound the side of the bus with my fist, and forthwith educate the innocent children within on the effective use of colorful invective — which I felt bad about, until the bus turned and I could read that it was one of the local Christian Academy fleet.

I built the Surly relatively cheap — I could probably build three more just like it for the price I paid for my racer.  It will never fall victim to being out of fashion or outdated, because it was never cutting-edge to begin with.  It’s solid, reliable, and easy to maintain.  The are no exotic parts that are pricey or hard to find.  It’s fun as hell to ride.  It’s got that special brand of functional beauty that, well, you either love it or you hate it.  And around the marque has arisen a subculture, of sorts, of enthusiasts who share a similar ethos.

You can see where I’m going with this.

My Long Haul Trucker is one of the early models.  At the time, you could get it in any color, as long as it was green.  They’ve widened their options over the years, but since my favorite color is green anyway, the choice (if you can call it that) was easy.

The 1965 Volkswagen Beetle Deluxe Sedan came in eight different colors.  I like them all.  I have spent hours and hours on the internet, and sleepless nights, deciding (and re-deciding) what color to paint my car.  Some colors I’ve ruled out.  For example, black looks great, but the bodywork would have to be perfect to hold that dark of a finish.  I’m just not that good.  My Subaru is black.  It looks sharp when it’s clean, but since I never wash it, well, there you go.  Clean or dirty, it’s beastly hot too, especially in the Georgia summertime.  I will probably never own a black car again.

I bought the Volkswagen thinking that it had originally been Pearl White, though it was hard to tell.  At some point, somebody had seen fit to two-tone it, with a very crappy medium blue below the belt line — so flaky that I could scratch it off with a fingernail.  The white paint underneath, and on the rest of the car, was chalky and orange-peeled, but — as I found out when I started stripping it — extremely durable.

The name of the color is a misnomer.  It is not a pearl coat, like you see on a Lincoln or a Cadillac Escalade.  Nor is it refrigerator white, like many new economy cars.  It’s more what I would call an antique white, with maybe just enough yellow to keep it from looking blanched, but not so much there’s ever any doubt the car is white.

Here’s an example I found on (as all examples given, except as otherwise noted):

In later years, they offered a color called Lotus White, which I don’t particularly care for — it’s almost blinding in the sun.  But the Pearl White, in my opinion, is classic and understated, clean and durable.  And, by happy coincidence, it would probably be the best color for hiding less-than-professional bodywork.  I’m just sayin’.

When I began taking the car apart it became clear that white was not the original color.  Big Clue Number One:

This area, behind (or, more precisely, in front of) where the engine lives had been covered by grease-smeared tarboard insulation.  Over time, other hidden areas also revealed their secrets — underneath the carpeting on the storage shelf behind the back seat, behind the interior door panels, and underneath the window rubber.  About the same time as I made these discoveries, the long-awaited document that I’d sent for arrived from the Volkswagen AutoMuseum in Wolfsburg, Germany (, 50.00 euros (!):

Yep, just what I was beginning to suspect.  When my Beetle left the factory in Wolfsburg on that day in October, 1964, it was clad in glorious L-456 Ruby Red enamel.  New, it would have looked something like this:

This was a significant finding.  My first Beetle, you may recall me telling, was red.  Ironically, color code data for the later years is hard to find, and I can’t remember what the original color of my ’75 would have been (31A, Senegal Red maybe?).  But it wouldn’t have been Ruby.  Plus, I got a cheap respray for my seventeenth or eighteenth birthday, not in the original color.  I think it was the same red they were painting Porsches that year, but a cheaper paint job by a factor of ten, at least.

I would gladly sacrifice otherwise treasured anatomical components (and not just the ornamental ones) to have my ’75 back.  But that was that and this is this.  If I do decide to go with Ruby, it will not be for nostalgic reasons.  The body work will have to be really, really straight, because it’s a deep and shiny color.  Also, they tell me that red pigment is the most expensive that there is.  With auto paint easily being in the triple digits per quart, and estimating that I’ll need upwards of two gallons, that could be a big difference.

Often I ask myself this: if I were walking into a Volkswagen dealer in 1965, looking for a Beetle, what color would I pick?  The Ruby, if I’m honest, would probably not be my first choice.  Other colors are more likely contenders.  For example:

This was called Sea Blue, and I happen to think it’s absolutely stunning.  It’s colorful without being flashy, classy without being boring.  It would look great with my original (and mostly intact) off-white leatherette upholstery.  One disadvantage, though, is that there are already two or three mid-sixties Beetles in this color around town.  That’s a silly little thing, but there it is.  As an aside, I’ve noticed some modern cars being offered in a similar color — a Mini, for example, and even a Volkswagen Eos.  Both look fantastic.

A new concept that’s growing on me is this:

Just a few months ago, I would have said that shades from this palette — your beiges, taupes, putties, and such — would have been just too, I dunno, blah.  More appropriate for painting the living room, not the Volksie.  But then this example happened to came up and my opinion changed.  It’s called Sea Sand, a one-year-only color from 1966.  Note that I’ve tried to stick with colors from ’65, but I’m not a purist in this regard.  There is a similar color for ’65 — Panama Beige — but, quite frankly, I don’t like it.  It’s brighter and more yellow than the Sea Sand.  More like, well, living room beige.  My wife and I discussed this and I’m pleased to report that my opinion on the matter is the correct one to have.

Again I picture a make-believe me in that make-believe dealership in 1965, and of course I would be thinking about my favorite color.  It is only natural that I would want to know: Green?  Green!  Whatchya got that’s green?  To which they might show me this:

I took this photo myself at the WinterJam VW show last year, down in Daytona Beach.  I could really groove on this color.  It would work well with my original upholstery.  I don’t have the numbers to back this up, but it also seems to be a one of the more unusual choices.  I even like the name of the color: Java Green.  Reminds me of coffee, although I do know that it’s named after the place and not the beverage.  It’s probably a good thing VW didn’t go that route, because the possibilities would be too tempting: Maibock Amber, Belgian Tripel Gold, Mocha Porter Brown, Milk Stout Midnight.

I had all but decided upon the Java Green, but was aware of something vaguely disturbing about it.  Something tainted, unclean.  For a long time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Then one day at work it hit me: by a modest stretch of the imagination, Java Green suggests — if not resembles — a color that features prominently in the corporate logos of my employer.  This was almost a deal breaker.  Having zero pride in my profession, a lousy work ethic, and a pervasive aversion to performing meaningless tasks for something as trivial as, you know, a paycheck — in short, being the model union member — I do not wish to be reminded of work every time I go out for a drive.

Then things got more complicated: my employer was purchased by, and is being subsumed into, a larger employer.  I’m lucky, they tell me, to keep my job; but I will henceforth be an even smaller cog in an even bigger machine.  All of the old corporate logos will, gradually, become history.  At the rate I’m going, this transformation could be complete before the whole shebang leaves the garage under its own power, once again a’ Beetlin’ in the sun, resplendent in its Java Green glory.  But “. . . a thing once thunk cannot again be unthunk.”  Nietzsche said that.  Or maybe it was Dylan.  Anyway, that’s a whole lot of bread to spend to find out that I just can’t get over it.

It is my belief that the good people at Volkswagen got it right, and that you’re really pushing your luck there, mister, if you think too far outside this box.  Still if there were one color that could be called unique to me — that would bear my signature, if you will — it would be a color quite similar to this one:

Though it looks awesome just sitting there, this color — perhaps more than any other — just makes me want to get in and drive!  This example is a one-year-only color from 1959 called Mignonette.  Although the 1960’s were completely bereft of colors like this for the Beetle, Volkswagen’s palette from the 50’s was a different story.  One might have found, in addition to the Mignonette, an Iceland Green, a Reed Green, and an Agave.  Classic colors all.

But what I’m suggesting here is not painting my car Mignonette.  Not quite.  Take another look at the examples I’ve posted above.  Anything jumping out at you?  Did you look at all  the photos — including the bicycle?

That’s right: this idea of painting the Beetle the same exact color as the Surly is the only instance of which I’ve found myself actually considering a custom color.  Pretty sure a pro could mix up a very close match.  Or better yet, I could contact those wacky funsters up in Minnesota who created the beast, tell them what I aim to do, and could they please let me in on the color secret.  Maybe they’d even send me some swag — a t-shirt to go with my hat, or a pint glass, or even some subtle decals for the front quarter panels: Surly Edition.  I could buy a brown Brooks saddle for the bike with matching bar tape, and redo the interior of the Beetle in the same material.  Then, come mid-February, I could put the bike on the roof and head off to the northern hinterlands on a crazy-ass misadventure in my newly-painted Surly Green Beetle.  In a blinding snowstorm just outside of Bloomington, we would throw a rod, swallow a valve, or spin a bearing.  Game over?  No.  Not in the least bit deterred, I’d take the Surly off the roof, chain it to the front bumper and pedal the remaining ten miles to Surly HQ with the stricken Volkswagen in tow.  I’d be universally hailed as a hero/maniac/Jesus-with-a-‘tude and welcomed with open arms and showered with more free shit and maybe even an honorable mention somewhere on their website.  Or at least, they’d talk about me for the rest of the afternoon, while I’m in their warehouse overhauling the engine with naught but a crank puller, a headset press, a nipple wrench, and a can of Tri-Flow.

I’m not quite there yet, though.  I was hoping to be ready for paint last fall.  Then I said spring.  Then, okay, this fall.  Contrary to what you may think — that I’m losing steam and just want to get done with it already — my standards are actually getting higher as my skills are sharpening.  It will be ready when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I want to know what you think.  Not so much to talk me into a certain color.  There could be a chorus of accolades for, say, Yamshit Orange or Bloodblister Blue but sorry, it ain’t gonna happen.  On the other hand, if it’s unanimous that, egads, no!  Not that color! — I could be talked out of one or two of them.  It might help narrow my choices.

The phone lines are open.  Operators are standing by.

In the meantime, maybe I just need to give the neighbors a little time to warm up to me.  I can see how I might take some getting used to.  The undeniable sound of air tools is, after all, an acquired taste.


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