ELON, N.C. (AP) – Volkswagen announced earlier this year it’s halting production of its van, 63 years in the making.
The iconic vehicle carried a generation of surfers to beaches, hauled Forrest Gump’s girlfriend to San Francisco, and, in Field of Dreams, led Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones on a search for a baseball diamond where ghosts still suit up.
The vans have been disappearing for quite some time.
Brazil is the last place they’re built, and Volkswagen officials said the country’s newly mandated safety regulations—an insistence on frivolities like air bags and anti-lock brakes—have forced them to sound the death knell for the vehicle.
Not to worry, insists Matt Eastman. As long as he and like-minded aficionados have a say, their beloved “bus” will endure.
“My dad’s pushing me to get a more realistic vehicle,” Eastman said, “but I can’t see myself selling it.”
Eastman, 22, is a senior at Elon University. He’ll be graduating in December with a double major in media art and environmental studies. Eastman played football at Elon until last year, when knee injuries forced him to give it up.
His VW van is a ’77 model, just a hair darker than lime green. It’s a Westfalia edition— meaning it’s a camper. It has a stove and refrigerator, and a pop-up camper top. The van is designed to sleep two.
Eastman’s camper is a common sight around Elon, cruising much as it did when it was young and disco music was the rage. The reaction of other college students to the vehicle typically goes one of two ways.
“Some people are like, ‘Oh, yeah!’” Eastman said. “Others are sort of standoffish.”
Eastman, a native of Tampa, Fla., bought the van when he was just 16. While his friends were longing for late-model Hondas or Toyotas, Eastman pined for an old VW van.
“I began searching the Internet for one when I was 14,” he said.
Eastman shrugged. How do you explain why some people order Rocky Road when everyone else is getting vanilla?
“I’m more of a modern hippie,” said Eastman, who sports a beard and wears his hair long. “I’ve always been interested in the hippie era of the 1960s. The love and romantic aspect of it all appealed to me.”
Eastman purchased his van through eBay, an Internet auction site. The vehicle was a one-owner, belonging to a German who relocated to Las Vegas and had the van shipped to him.
The camper was produced for a German market, back when the Cold War was alive and well. Its odometer reads in kilometers, not miles. The writing on the instrument panel is in German.
Eastman and his mother flew to Las Vegas to inspect the van before he bought it.
“For its condition, it was a lot better price than any of the other vans I looked at,” Eastman said.
After placing the winning bid, Eastman had the vehicle trucked to his home in Florida. He and the van have since been pretty much inseparable.
Eastman can’t count the number of times he drove the Volkswagen across Florida, from his home on the West Coast to the beaches on the East.
“They have waves over there,” Eastman said.
The fact that the van was a camper appealed to Eastman, an admitted “free spirit.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I could really go camping in this thing,’” he said.
He’s done so plenty of times, pulling his van into numerous campgrounds up and down the East Coast, and also setting camp in remote wooded stretches.
Eastman and his van have encountered their share of adventures. Press him a bit and he’ll tell about the time he was camping in the Georgia wilderness and a raccoon stole the vehicle’s keys.
“I was stuck in the woods for four days,” Eastman said.
A locksmith was finally summoned before Eastman could continue his journeys.
The van is an attention-getter.
Eastman recalled a homeless, toothless man in South Carolina who strolled up and started a conversation about the camper, as well as a “fanatic from Cocoa Beach” who tried to buy it on the spot.
Eastman once left the van for a day at a shop in Florida for some minor tinkering. Mechanics there specialized in repairs to high-end foreign vehicles.
Eastman said when he returned to get his van, the shop’s owner told him that while mechanics there were doctoring on everything from Ferraris to Porsches, customers were far more interested in talking about the aged Volkswagen that was being serviced.
Exactly how many miles Eastman and his van have journeyed together is anyone’s guess. Translating kilometers to miles has never been Eastman’s forte.
Once he graduates, Eastman plans to return to Florida to work and save money. Sometime next summer he and his camper are off on a cross-country jaunt, with California their ultimate destination.
Eastman, who blogs about the environment at crewgreen.org, said he wants to inspect firsthand the damage to the West Coast that’s resulted from the March 2011 radiation spill at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. He believes damage may be worse than the public believes.
Eastman hopes to make a career working in environmental journalism and filmmaking.
“I’d like to help us change the way we perceive the environment,” he said, “help us realize it’s something we cherish, not something we use.”
As part of his studies at Elon, Eastman has shot an independent documentary about the rain forest in Costa Rico, living in a sustainable treehouse community while doing the work.
He spent two weeks this past summer in Alaska, where he produced a video about the dangers of wildfires.
Of how he came about his independent ways, Eastman said much comes from his mother. His parents are Mike and Loretta Eastman.
“My mother is a free spirit,” Eastman said. “My father is a cop.”
After mulling his declaration for a moment, Eastman chuckled before deciding, “My father, he’s pretty much a free spirit, too.”
Eastman is happy to show his van’s interior to anyone who’s curious. The walls are decorated with broken-down cardboard boxes that once contained cases of Bud Light beer.
“I did the wallpaper myself,” Eastman said, chuckling again.
Information from: Times-News, http://www.thetimesnews.com
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