Michele "Mikey" Carlson Squires was brushing her teeth Friday night when a TV news report about a Volkswagen microbus caught her attention. Stolen 35 years ago in her hometown of Spokane, Wash., the van was discovered by customs officers at the port of Los Angeles during a routine search of a container bound for Europe.
"It looks like my car," she thought at the sight of the 1965 blue-and-white VW with an accordion sunroof. She had one just like it that was stolen back in 1974. "Wouldn't it be funny if that was my van," she told her boyfriend, Earl Roethle.
On Monday, a call to the insurance company confirmed the 44-year-old bus was indeed hers. It was running perfectly and in pristine condition with 70,000 miles on the odometer.
Now, Ms. Squires, 58 years old, says she's hoping to be reunited with her "beloved hippie mobile," which disappeared from a repair shop during the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane.
Back then, she was a "wannabe hippie" who wore bandanas, bell bottoms and halter tops. Ms. Squires was 21 when she bought the bus in 1972 from a local car lot. She recalls being told it had only one previous owner. "I paid $600 to $1,000," she says. "I'm not sure."
She used it to cart around five girlfriends who waited tables with her at Cathay Inn, a Chinese restaurant in Spokane. Several of the women have known each other since kindergarten and remain close to this day.
They sometimes took joy rides to nowhere. They piled into the bus for "progressive dinners," stopping at one friend's house for cocktails, at another's for appetizers, at yet another's for the main course and so on. They did things they'd rather not reveal.
"It was the '70s. We used this vehicle to go out and celebrate life with each other," says Janice Updike, a member of the original sextet. "It was kind of like a party van. This is before seat belts and all that safety stuff. We'd load up, head over to Idaho, have a good time and come back."