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punch buggy and other car games


feeling kinda how a girl feels

do you remember what car games you used to play as a kid? my parents came up with all kinds of stuff to keep the three of us amused in the back seat, i think largely so we wouldn't rag on each other. driving at night, we'd play padiddle - if you saw a car with one headlight out, you'd call 'padiddle, you owe me a coke!', then kiss your fingers and put the kiss on the ceiling, to store the coke for later. i swear, at one point, i must have had a case worth of cokes stored up on the visor. oddly, i don't remember ever cashing in on any of them. the point was more being the one to call it.

another one was the Alphabet Sign game. (i just made that up, as it never really had a name.) the idea was to find every letter of the alphabet, in order, one letter per sign. so if you were driving thru, say, abington, you'd have to see two town signs to get the A and the B. the problem letters were always Q and Z. X was never really an issue; the exit signs took care of that. we usually managed to get thru the whole alphabet on drives down to gram and gramp's. oh yeah - we each had to use different signs, or at least not get the same letters from the same signs. this was OK with two playing, because you could look out different sides of the car, but it got a little more challenging with all three of us playing.

the classic game, of course, was punch buggy. those of you who call it slug bug - wrong. that name just makes me think of squishing garden slugs. there were very particular rules about how to call the game when i was a kid. when you spotted a Bug, you had to call it by color - 'punch buggy blue, no punch back!' - then you could punch the person next to you. if you forgot to specify no punch back, then... right back at you, kiddo! only bugs counted, and it was one punch for any of them - convertible, gold, whatever. and you had to be in a car in order to play.

i loved playing punch buggy. i also loved Herbie, the bug we got after my aunt died. it was beige when we first got it, but eventually became primer red and stayed that for the rest of it's life. and the Disney movie had just come out, so of course we had to name it Herbie. it always made sense to me that the engine was in the back; after all, you're trying to push the car down the street, right? i used to run errands with my dad on the weekends, especially in the summer - or at least, those are the days i remember. hot and sticky, with a little waffle pattern imprinted on the backs of my legs, not quite seeing over the dashboard, listening to seemingly endless hours of baseball games on the staticky AM radio, i felt important, being allowed to do Adult Things, like going to the hardware store.

when we moved to the Cape, dad and i ended up driving down in Herbie, with both cats in the back seat. the poor kitties, battened down in picnic baskets, were mewling to get out the whole ride down, which took a few hours. but they calmed down when they could hear us talking. so dad and i talked, about anything and everything, to each other, to the cats, to ourselves, and wore our voices out. we got really parched, but didn't have any juice or soda with us, so dad fished around and found a few LifeSavers (appropriately named) that we shared and rationed out to last us the rest of the ride. the heater never quite worked in that car, and the running boards fell off (rusted off) early on. eventually, the floor started to rust thru too, and it got to the point that dad had a two-by-four and a boat sponge under the pedals, to keep him from putting the brake pedal thru the floor and to soak up the water that splashed in when he went thru deep puddles. dad finally sold it to someone a few towns over, and said he saw him driving Herbie around even a few years later. it broke my heart when we had to sell Herbie; that car had a lot of personality. someday, i hope to get my very own Herbie.

i was reintroduced to punch buggy a few years ago, courtesy of my best friend (ouch! that hurt!). apparently, the rules have gotten more complicated since i first learned the game. either that, or regional differences. so i've had to adapt to the new rules, sort of in self-defense, but they also make the game more fun. you still have to be in a car to call the punch buggy, but there's a rating system for the new version. we started with 1 punch for old bugs, 2 for old convertibles, 3 for new bugs (it was hotly contested as to whether they should be included, as they didn't look right - sacrilege!), and 5 for old buses (they have to be the real ones, with the flat front and the big peace sign emblem, not the icky squared off one that came later). when the new bug became more prolific, we shifted things around a bit, so now it's 1 punch for new, 2 for old, 3 for old convertibles, 5 for buses. oh, happy day when i spotted a trailer of new bugs being delivered! i called the whole damn trailer. whee hee! and when the come out with new buses or convertibles, the scale will get shifted around again.

there are a few changes that i protest strongly, tho. a few friends claim that you don't have to be in a car to call punch buggy. this is wrong; it's a car game, ergo you have to be in a car. we did make an exception to this when in london, tho, as we were carless all week. but just that one week! and i've been told that you can call billboard versions of bugs. this is also wrong (see protest #1). i do think it's fair to mark particular cars off limits, if you always see them in the same place, or mostly the same place (street parking is one of the lovely perks of living in the city), because then it's just a contest to see who's quicker on the draw, which takes the fun out of it. of course, the off-limits have to be personally negotiated, and are only relavent to that particular person, so if you happen to be driving down the same street with someone new... beware!

hey, drop me a line and tell me about your car games, or your version of punch buggy; i'd love to hear from you.

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