Tap the starter with a ball-peen hammer, spray some ether in the intake, jimmy the flat head screw driver in the ignition, and start it up, 8 cylinders of mostly reliable american ingenuity, if the engine is new to me, the mystery of it’s reliability, will carry us in optimistic haphazard confidence to wherever we need to get.
In most cases the weather stripping is dry rotted or missing all together, and at least one of the doors has a broken hinge, or is known to the regulars to NEVER open, otherwise it would fall completely off. The rattling of the door, and the windows with the howling of the wind pouring through is louder than any sound system the vehicle will ever have, but is great when the weather is not too hot or bone chilling cold.
Sometime’s it’s so cold, that you have to pull off the highway in-between St. Louis and Evansville, the ice covered road is at a 10 MPH crawl as you watch semi’s jackknife in the rearview, and when it is too cold, all the bags, sleeping bags,and gear are stacked up on top of bikes, to make a wall, partitioning off the van to keep the heat from escaping the are where its needed most, you can watch as the ice and frost grow on the perimeter of all the windows inching inwards, reducing visibility as you also lose feeling in the frozen parts of your body.
When it’s hot, the windows never seem to open enough, and when they do, anything not nailed down gets blown out the passenger window. The road atlas, or at least the page you needed, , food wrappers, plastic bags, napkins and even a couple bucks bill fold of toll or gas money that wiggled its self loose from beneath the quarters keeping it in place in the cup holder.
There aren’t many stickers outside the van, to avoid getting the attention of the authorities, except for one that reads- “worlds best grandpa” or “rather be fishing”. Inside, its littered with stickers gathered along the way, and random sharpie scribbles, doodles and pictographs of van adventures gone by. From the bench seat you can watch all the flotsam and jetsom on the dashboard dance to the rhythm of the road, and if you hit a big enough bump, watch as each object levitates for a split second and comes crashing back down. The wobbly dancing woman in a grass hula skirt never skips a beat.
Sometimes there is a sliding door, wide open, and passengers sit in stolen plastic lawn furniture looking out the passenger side of the moving vessel that turns the landscape into a big screen tv show, until a cop on a motorcycle drives past and makes a hand motion, to either pull over or shut the door. As the door shuts, we just assume it’s the latter and keep on moving.
You can’t tell from just looking, but the inside of tires are worn to the belts from long miles with too much weight, and too much freight, you won’t notice until a gas stop in a winter storm heading west toward Cleveland through the snowbelt of Lake Erie, or while checking the cracked exhaust in Oklahoma, laying down, pressing on the left shoulder while reaching up with your right hand as you wiggle rust flakes into your eye off the loose pipe.
Sometimes, and it’s strange to think that it’s happened more than once, someone will be three sheets to the wind and either relocate to sit shotgun, or dance over the dog box and accidentally use the steering wheel to keep their balance. Fifty-fifty odds on being able to keep it on the road, at this point the gambling rambling odds have been dancing with lady luck long enough, you just keep rolling the dice on down the road.
Changing the brake pads which burned out after stop and go traffic on the BQE, you are lucky to have enough tools to make it happen, and even luckier you know someone with a working vehicle to drive to the nearest parts store, so you can do the repair in the grass in a field across from a skate park, where the pro’s are practicing for an underground event near the end of Long Island.
If you get a flat, it’s always in a place like Shepardsville Kentucky in the winter, where the garage staff throw racial slurs around like shop rags after wiping the grease off their hands, never aware of the multi ethnic passengers inside, who hear each word like nails on a chalk board, totally uncertain of what trouble might be looming. Once we hit the road again, the laughter and howls recounting the episode, hide the despair and disappointment we all feel. Our van is the safe haven in ‘Klan Country’, a diverse group of travel kooks, a united nations on wheels, passing through scenes from the movie ‘Easy Rider” years later.
By the time you get to Texarkana or Glen Burnie, the oil is milky white when you check it, because of a cracked head mixing coolant with the oil. No matter what, even if you are checking the dipstick in someplace totally convenient and practical, you always change a fouled plug and bee line it for the next destination, if you are lucky you’ll break down there and not outside of Waco or Baltimore.
If I leave the keys with the crew, I playfully tell them- Don’t drink and drive and DON’T catch it on fire, and of course that’s what happens. True story.