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Note No. 71

June 3, 2010

So, I think I’ve found my Rocinante.

I had been car shopping for the last two weeks and it was totally stressing me out, because I pretty much had no idea what I was doing, nor did I seem to know what I wanted, either. One minute I was testing out every soccermommobile on the market and considering removing all the seats to make the entire back space a cargo load where I could spend the occasional night on the road, because I know there will be times when my host cannot or will not have dogs inside the house.

Next minute, I was squinting at the more Gen Y-friendly, fuel-efficient, wallet-considerate Honda Element, thinking that yeah, when those back seats fold up (and create a blind spot from hell), sure all my stuff and my dog and my person will fit in the back just fine. No problem.

And then I could just see me actually getting out there and having to put it to practice, and hitting my head on the ceiling a dozen times as I tried to make a cup of coffee with my 12V plug-in machine, before reaching into the center console cooler, where I would be stowing my creamer on ice, and I would knock over my steaming mug of joe and cause third degree burns all over my legs and have to go to the hospital. Which then reminded me: Oh, dear. I still need health insurance.

Meanwhile, I bought a copy of Travels with Charley, because everyone said I HAD to read it, so I was reading John Steinbeck’s romantic tale of driving around the country with his dog, thinking, “Why was it so much easier for him?” And I realized it was because he had a tiny home on the back of his truck.

A truck bed camper! Why didn’t I think of that? A Westfalia had been my original hope but then I realized that the repairs would be crazy and frequent, which is where the idea for a modern Japanese make came to mind, but then I became bewildered by the fact that I would have seats that mechanically folded into the floor and a gas pedal that mechanically moved closer and farther from my foot and a DVD player and a camera to tell me how my backing up skills were doing (I once shattered the back windshield of the family SUV by nudging a tree ) and maybe even wireless Internet inside the cabin but where was the logic? How the hell was I going to survive for a year without some organization?

And pulling a camper trailer behind this new-fangled vehicle was out of the question. Higher gas mileage. Jack-knifing on snowy roads. Trying to park in Manhattan. No way.

So I started looking at really old truck bed campers and thinking maybe I could get one and put it in the back of a new truck but then the expense of camper, plus truck, was getting a little scary, especially since I would be stuck with the new truck after the trip was over and I was not sure I wanted it without a camper attached. And then I thought: “Well, a 70s-era F150 is pretty sexy and they’re not nearly as expensive as the new ones AND that’s what the camper was made to fit in the first place AND they just don’t make cars like they used to, so I would be getting a solid vehicle. Assuming a lot of things. Which is pretty much what you have to do when all the vehicles you are interested in are on the opposite coast from where you are. And most of the campers were in Oregon or Washington State and maybe needed fixing up.

So, Monday it all came to a head in my mind and I was moping around at home, knowing that it was one of the best days of the year to go buy a car but feeling particularly overwhelmed by it all, so instead, I was just kind of holed up away from the world, more or less staring at my Dashboard Widget countdown timer, which reported that I had 45 days, 14 hours and 33 minutes until departure for my big trip.

And I kept trying to reassure myself that even if I end up leaving later than planned, the world wouldn’t end. And it won’t. I know it won’t. Not this year, at least. But it just seems so perfect to set out on my 30th birthday.

Plus, all last week, my dad was sending me a new link almost every day to show me how much Facebook is in the news right now and most of it was about how the security settings are totally unfair and must be changed but the most recent one was about how weird the social networking is and how the word “friend” has become such a loose term. The last paragraph, to which my dad wanted me to pay special attention, quoted a professor saying that although the site is keeping us in touch with one another, it still does not replace face-to-face contact, because “I need friends that I can scratch and sniff.” Which is, like, the premise of my project— well, except for the scratching and sniffing bit.

So yeah, I was starting to panic, because I was feeling the heat to hit the road already but as of Monday, I still had no vehicle and you know I have no dog, either, so it was all looking very glum indeed. Until my sister e-mailed me a link to the vehicle of my dreams (that I never knew till the moment I saw it was the vehicle of my dreams): a 1977 Toyota truck with a Keystone camper fitted to the bed. And it was, like, half a mile from my house. And I could not get over to the guy’s shop to see it fast enough. And then, wouldn’t you know it? The seller’s name was Don, as in Don Quixote, as in Rocinante’s master.

Of course, nothing worthwhile comes about easily. Before just buying it on the spot, I wanted to think about it at least a little bit and well, it would have been great to get a mechanic to look at it first, which Don said was okay, but the next morning, when I called to make sure it was still going to be okay to take it off for an hour, Don said that a friend’s dad had already given him a deposit and he was going to come through with the rest of the money later. My heart sank. He said that if it fell through, he would call but that he was pretty sure it would not fall through. My heart sank another notch.

But about two hours later, which was just long enough for me to look through the national classifieds and kick myself blue that I had let such a good one get away, Don called back to say that the guy was taking too long and not sure if he would have the money after all, and so that if I wanted to take it to a mechanic, I could still do so. Then I called the mechanic and he had gotten really busy in the meantime, so he was no longer available. So, I fretted a bit and wondered what to do and e-mailed my sister, who is right about most things, and she said just to buy it. It was cheap enough and if it turned out to be more of a lemon than was worth fixing up, I could just sell it again, as it would probably sell right away.

So, I scrambled to get my money together and I was on the phone with various financial institutions going, “Transfer! No, wait! Cancel that! Wire it! No, wait! Cancel that! A cash advance, you say? And it’s free? Done.” And then I took a wad of green bills over to Don and he gave me the keys and the title and I now am a car owner.

And the mechanic approved, too, when he finally got her up on the jack. More or less. She needs a few things to get her ready for the road, like a new rear axle, but I think I just found one for $250 at the junkyard about 30 miles down the road.

Did you actually look at her yet? Her name’s Roxanne. And she’ll be coming to a town near you very soon.

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  1. Jennifer
    Oct 29 2010

    What a beaut! Like Steve Irwin might drive in Australia. Kinda like my first car, Harvey, a 73 VW bug.

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