It’s Time

This is one of those days when I don’t have a clue about what to write. The words will come as I compose. My life was very different this week, and I wound up driving a lot of miles. The driving only woke me up to the fact that my body has changed since 2015 which is the last time I undertook a major drive of 1850 miles in one stretch. I’m not so sure I would be able to do that as well as I did back then. The last six years have been somewhat stressful on my system. Today, as I took my walk, I decided that I must undertake a vigorous training program to get into shape to take another driving trip. A few months ago, I posted my thoughts about taking one last trip around the United States by car before I hang up my driving gloves for good. Before my post was completed I decided that maybe that kind of effort has gone and left me behind. Driving around the perimeter of the USA and up and down a few times in between to cover all the points I would like to revisit added up to a bunch of miles that would take weeks, no months, to accomplish. It would be the ultimate “Burning Gas” post.

This week I kiddingly told my daughter that this kind of trip would be best taken in a sleeper van, camping along the way covering the warmer southern states in the winter months and then heading to the northern border for the summer and fall. Surprisingly, she agreed with me. Over the years, I have done this trip, mostly camping along the way, except I did it in two week stretches covering a period of twenty-five years. Ask my kids about it. A couple of them have never traveled since, and another took up discovering the world with her girlfriend. None of her trips were by car. She wised up and learned from the boring miles she spent in the back of the van as her father had to make the miles to a new destination. She learned that what took me days to cover by driving she could do in a few hours by airplane. The difference between us is that on my trips, I saw and savored every mile of the country in between destinations. She slept as she flew over the boring oceans between her destinations. I tell people that one has to experience the space of this country by driving across the Midwest. The vast flat plain between our home in Illinois and the Rocky mountains was always a bore that even I would have done differently if I could. I remember very vividly dreaming about how nice it would have been to drive our van and trailer onto a railroad flat-car and to navigate the plains by train. There actually were some services that provided such accommodations between the east coast cities and Florida, but I don’t think they exist anymore.

I stopped driving trips when I neared retirement. It was time for Barbara and me to take the easy way, we flew to dream destinations at home, in Europe, and the far east. That didn’t last very long because she became sick and died within months after I retired. To honor her memory, I took a solitary driving trip to our dreamed about winter residence. The driving alone part I vowed never to do again. During that trip I thought about all the long distance truckers who spend their lives driving their loads from a to z daily logging five to six hundred miles over and over again, living and sleeping in truck stops or the back of their tractors. I decided I could never have made a living as a truck driver.

After a couple of years of living alone I found a new partner who wouldn’t fly. So I took up driving again, and loved it. She turned out to be a very good travel buddy, never complaining about the hours, or the monotony of covering miles. We toured the western United States and Canada east to west over our ten years of good life together. We spent the last five years keeping each other company as she ever so slowly descended into the inner depths of her mind.

I have my first wife Barbara’s advice to me from her death bed embedded in my brain, “it’s time to get on with your life.”

An Overly Long History of My Cars

The Detroit auto show is showing off new car designs with the hope that sales will pick up. I remember a time in my life when I wanted to be a car designer. My grammar school notebook dividers were filled with doodles of new car designs. Years later I reviewed some of the sketches to realize that some of the actual car designs resembled my doodles. Today, I can give a rat’s behind about what a car looks like. I’m more impressed by how little I have to get it fixed.

The Avalon Death Star is a few miles away from turning seventy-thousand miles. (I always thought old guys drove less.) That number began rolling in my mind as I recalled some of the cars I have owned.

The very first car that I bought was a 1959 Volkswagen bug.  That was during my “green period.” Gas was eighteen cents a gallon, and I was worried about mileage. I also preached about conservation, and pollution. Today, I choose to drive a car with the highest horsepower, and the best overall economy.

After the Bug reached sixty-thousand miles, I fell in love with the VW Karmann Ghia. I bought a brand new one for $2750.00 at a time when you could buy a new Cadillac for $2500. I owned the car for ten years. Style wise it was fabulous, but not a good family car. It was a maintenance nightmare in spite of all the cute VW ads that pointed out how many ways they had improved the car. I spent many a cold evening in a frozen garage changing shock absorbers and mufflers. Why is it that these things always fail when it is zero outside? Eventually, the head lights fell out of the fenders because of a severe rust problem. I don’t know how many miles it had on it, because the speedometer failed several times, and I was tired of paying for new ones. Besides, the superior attitude of the German mechanics who refused to believe that a German car could break always ignited my furor.

We needed a family car, so I bought a used 1960 Ford Falcon for Barb. It was an unexciting car, and we piled a ton of miles onto it. I remember hooking a baby seat over the top of the bench seat to give my kids a better view of the steel dashboard. In today’s world, I’d be arrested for that. This car was so unexciting, I have completely forgotten what we did with it.

In 1967, we got the camping bug and bought a brand new Dodge van. It was bare inside except for a bench seat. I built a bed, and storage area behind the seat, and Barb made privacy curtains to shade the sun. This little truck served us well, but it too required lot’s of maintenance. I remember teaching Barb how to lift the hood to remove the air cleaner to tickle the butterfly so the damn thing would start. (The hood was inside the truck between the front seats. You could drive and change spark plugs at the same time.) This little van is etched in my memory as one of my all time favorite vehicles. It deserves a separate story to chronicle all we did with it.

In 1969, I became the proud owner of a brand new Toyota. It was a cute little red Corolla station wagon.  It had a front engine, with water cooling, which meant it had heat. As opposed to my VW which had air cooled engine, and never had enough heat to clear the fog off the windows. Within six months of owning the Toy, I detected an engine knock. The dealer never heard the knock, and my complaints went unheeded. Finally, I decided to run the car until the knock got audible. It did. Within a few short weeks, one could hear the car from a block away. I drove it to the dealer and asked the service guy if he could tell me what the strange noise was coming from the engine. It had nine thousand miles on it. I started it up. Within a second, he waved furiously to shut it off. I left the car with them to be fixed, they finally admitted to a problem. It took ten weeks and daily harassment to get my car back. My kids wonder why I hated Jap Crap so much. I sold the Corolla wagon with twenty-six thousand miles on it.

I chose to keep my Dodge van as my commuter car, and bought a 1973 Dodge van to serve as the family vehicle and trailer tower. We were a two van family.

The seventy-three van left Barb dangling many times with a stuck choke, but the hood was outside and she wasn’t able to tickle the carburetor anymore. The driver’s side floor rusted through after three years, making me a very unhappy camper. Water leaked through the rear doors and rolled forward under the mats to settle under the driver’s feet. We kept the green van until 1978, when I switched to a GMC van.

The GMC had horsepower to spare. We pulled a very heavy trailer and didn’t even know it was behind us. It was more reliable than the Dodge, but it too had problems with rust, and changing spark plugs required as much work as an overhaul.

One evening, Barb and I were returning home from a visit to my Dad’s house. We waited at a red light when a hot rod pulled up beside us. “Watch this,” I told Barb. The light turned green. I put my foot into it, and bam. We coasted across the intersection. I blew the damn transmission. Luckily for me, I still had second gear to limp home with.

In 1985 I became the proud owner of a Mercury Sable. What a sexy car. Ford was improving quality and I gave them a chance to show me how good they were. The Sable was a good car, but it too had moments. I told people that it is the best car I ever owned. When I really thought about it, the best car would not receive a Christmas card from the towing company. I replaced the transmission three times, and a switch failure earned a tow job three times. I was on the way to get the steering arm replaced when I slid off an icy road and hit a six by six mail box post. I totaled the Sable at one hundred and twenty-thousand miles, and after serving me for twelve years.

Barb persuaded me to buy an Oldsmobile Intrigue. The was hands down the best car I owned until it reached one hundred and twenty-thousand miles. At that point, I became friendly with the tow company again. Twice, within a year, I paid hundreds of dollars to have an intake manifold replaced. Researching the problem on the internet, I learned that the GM engine had a known problem with manifolds for years. Did they do anything to fix it? Hell no.

This saga brings me to the 2005 Avalon. I knick named it “Death Star” when Toyota had to recall them for run away acceleration problems. So far, knock on wood. This is the best car I have ever owned. A far cry ahead of the 1969 Corolla, and the UAW counterparts. I have seventy-thousand miles on it, and I expect it to go for three times that amount. That is if I live long enough to make it happen.

As I write this, I realize that each car had its own history, and each one deserves individual reflection.

There are a few I left out of the history, like the VW Scirocco, Buick Sky Hawk, and 1980’s vintage Corolla.

Tracey J Boothe Publishing Blog

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