A Man, His Truck, and the Road Not Traveled

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With rear-wheel drive, snow is not our friend

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you initially visualize it. My teen mind daydreamed about a flat in London, friends who said, “shaken, not stirred,” lunch dates with Emma Peel (replete in catsuit), and a Jaguar XKE purring in my garage. And while I’m not complaining about my current circumstances, I never thought I’d be driving a moss-covered Mazda truck with 225,000 miles on it.

In 1998, I bought Jennifer Grey, a gray 1988 Mazda truck, for $1,500 and embraced her odometer reading of 151,00 miles without prejudice. The previous owner, a navy-pilot-turned-airline-pilot, drove this reliable maven between Seattle and Portland, from home to flight base, respectively. Thirteen years later, Miss Grey is very much at home on Vashon, enjoying a slower paced life as an “island truck,” carting manure, hauling garbage, and venturing into Seattle every once in while for a good mocking by 20-somethings leasingΒ  ultimate driving machines.

bulldogs in a truck

Boz and Gracie ride shotgun (photo by Rondi Lightmark)

I love my truck, as do Boz and Gracie who consider JG a luxurious (from a pooch’s perspective) mobile kennel. Sure the paint is peeling, dog fur and dust consume the cab, and the driver’s seat is frozen in a lift-off position, but she’s mine and she runs.

Last month, I feared a chugging, labored start followed by a backfire and plume of white smoke signaled the demise of my main-transportation squeeze, make that my only transportation squeeze. Try as I did, she would not turn over. Resuscitation was futile. Even as I pushed her down the drive for a little jump start, I could sense this may be my little Mazda’s swan song. Two days and a new AAA membership later, I had her towed to my favorite island garage.

Several days passed before I got the diagnosis.Β  ( I know better than to rush or bug my mechanics.)

The phone rings. I pick up.

“Hi Tom, Dave here, your truck is ready.” (I’m gleeful. She’s alive, she’s alive!)

“So Dave, was it the carburetor?”

“No.”

“The fuel pump?”

“Uh-uh”

“The starter?”

“Nope, you were just out of gas, Tom.”

“Say what?”

“Yep, it won’t run without fuel. (Ah, the set up is complete.) You can pick her up any time.”

Before you judge me and question my mental acuity and mechanical ability, hear me out. First, I must have run out of gas exactly as I shut off the engine the night before. (How odd is that?) Secondly, because the gas gauge is kaput, I set the odometer’s trip meter without fail after each fill-up. I should have had 100 miles to go before JG succumbed to sputtering and the vapors.

Yesterday’s lesson: When a truck runs on two cylinders, it uses a lot more gas.

Today’s lesson: Know when your truck is running on two cylinders and schedule a tune-up.

The happy ending: Miss Jennifer Grey is up and running and shining like the star she is, thanks to an overdue wash and trip to the tune-up town.Β  Now if I can just figure out how to eliminate the sloshing sound that occurs in the cab panels every time I make a turn. Did I mention it rains a lot here?

Boz points out that I should mow the grass before I wash the truck.

23 COMMENTS

  1. My dad’s words are ringing in my ears “To make a car run, you need fuel and you need spark! If the car won’t go, you’re missing one!” I hate it when Dad’s always right πŸ™‚

    • Myrnie, I recall overhearing my Dad, as he asked my brother, “Why do you think he still drives that thing?” This from a man whose cars are cleaner than a research lab. πŸ˜‰

  2. Try drilling holes in the cab panels for the water to drain…I did this once to my 1984 Buick LeSabre…worked great!

    Love reading your blog Tom!
    Matthew

  3. Hahahahahahaha…that’s a good one! I have had such a run of cars that went kaput that I’m enjoying not owning a car for the moment. Love the pic of the dogs in the car…could they look any more pleased with themselves!

  4. Tom, I am laughing as I write this. I too have a beloved older truck – 96 Ford Ranger. And I love her! She too has a kaput gas gage, but has never given me a lick of trouble. I do two trips in to town and know I need about 20.00 worth of gas – so I just keep filling up – too paranoid not to. As she now has 225 K’s on her, I decided to buy a BCAA Membership last year, just in case! πŸ™‚

  5. Tom,
    I too have an old car that I just won’t give up.
    It’s 12 years old, silver grey and was a luxury car at one time. Now, it’s just an obsolete, rear wheel drive car that has no business driving in any bad weather. So, the poor girl is sitting in the driveway with a pile of snow on her roof…..waiting for spring, to go for a cruise.

  6. I love the comfort of owning an old car; one never worries about it being stolen; people just pity the owner, if that. Cute anecdote about the car. πŸ™‚
    You life seems to be charmed. Love that tall grass.

  7. My dad was a mechanic for 15 years. He tells me this stuff happens all the time. Customers would call and complain he’d done faulty work. He’d tell them to put gas in and call him back if there was still a problem. They never did.

    I love this blog. Very nice.

  8. Tom, I love your blog! Twila told me about it. She said I’d love it and she’s right. It sounds exacly how I remember you at the ticket counter. Funny as heck.

    Thanks for the laughter. We all need more of it in our lives. πŸ™‚

  9. On the way to church this morning, my 1999 Camry began flashing the “check engine” light and there was an unfamiliar and suspect smell. Not a good sign. 135,000 miles and a brand new set of tires. I have plans for her to last a whole lot longer. Nothing open on Sunday, of course, in our small town and so she’ll have a complete checkup this week. Her symptoms started suddenly. She’s running decidedly “rough” so, unfortunately, I don’t believe we’ll be as lucky as you were to just be “out of gas”. Thanks for the chuckle. πŸ˜‰

  10. Tuesday driving home from taking Liz to McMurray the check engine flashes like all get out. U turn and dropped off at Doug’s 2 hours before they open. Get off work to check on the car. Expecting the worse from my 1998 Honda CRV w/1XX,XXX miles. The gas cap just needed unscrewing. Seems a vapor lock happens when you drive from high altitude to low altitude. These Island rigs just keep hanging in there, just like Island folk!

  11. if the sloshing is in the doors there should be holes in the bottom of the doors. Mud is probably plugging them. Locate and probe with a small nail.
    So envious of the green green grass you have.

  12. Thanks David for the tip on the nail tip. I’ll get under the truck after the next drying trend. As for our green grass, I love it too, but surprisingly in mid to late summer it all turns brown as that’s our dry season. No mowing from late July to early October. Not a bad trade-off I guess.

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