Death in the Vehicular Family

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

“THUD! Thud thud thunk!” … with this noise, I knew it was all over: my baby of 18 years, the now legendary Nissan 2×4 “hardbody” truck the Murdochs rolled off of the Pacific Nissan lot in 1993 for $9600 cash, has bit the dust. I cannot express how sad I am that I have reached my breaking point: I will not put another $1000+ into this vehicle; it is barely worth $500. Love ya, and every one of your 177,546 miles, but it is time to put you out to pasture. Or perhaps donate you to KPBS.

Nissan Truck Front End

Nissan Truck Front End

Thinking back over the lifetime of this truck is pretty magical; there are almost too many stories to tell about where it has been, who has ridden in it, and what shenanigans have occurred in and around it. A good example is the damage to the front end; I constantly had to explain what happened and why I refused to get it fixed. When I was living in the Evil Dead 2 cabin in Roswell, GA back in the early oughts, the mailbox was at the foot of the driveway — a 300 yard long crumbling asphalt road — so I would always hop out and grab the mail before driving up to the crib. This one fateful day, I was counting $300 cash that I owed my ex-wife (#1) and forgot to set the parking brake. While getting the mail I heard a loud bang and looked up and down Roswell Road to see if someone had fender-bendered or backfired. There were no cars on the road. Strange, I thought; then I turned around and my truck was gone! After a moment of panic, I saw that it had rolled about 30 yards down the side of the driveway with the driver’s side door open and smacked into a young pine tree.

The Evil Dead 2 Cabin on the Acres

The Evil Dead 2 Cabin on the Acres

Without that pine tree, it would have gone another 50 yards into the creek. The engine was still running. I hopped inside and drove it up to the cabin, then wrenched the hood open and inspected the damage. I had assumed that I had cracked the radiator, but after slipping a piece of cardboard under the front overnight and noting no leakage, I realized that — once again — the luck of the Froggacuda held. The damage was cosmetic only, and after getting a number of estimates to fix it, I decided that it just wasn’t worth it. It is a proud battle scar, and it has helped avoid tickets for not having the front license plate on in California.

One time when I happened to be picking someone up from the San Diego airport, a Harbor Patrol cop motioned me over to the side. He commented on me not having a front license plate, and proceeded to write me a fix-it ticket with no expiration date that he said to present to anyone else who wanted to ticket me for that infraction. He had a friend or a family member perish in the events of 9-11-2001 and thought that it was pretty badass that the truck was sporting that alternative license plate. I am pretty certain that piece of paper is still in the glove box, along with the original window sticker listing the $13,600 price tag. I am certain I will find a treasure trove of garbage that only has meaning to me when I get around to cleaning it out this weekend.

Chart House - Lo Mejor

Chart House - Lo Mejor

This truck has been everywhere. I first got ahold of it when I was a junior at UCSB, and it made many trips to and from The Playgrounds, camping and inner tubing at Red Rock River over the San Marcos mountains, and reliably got me to and from my dishwashing job at the Chart House — which is now the Fish House. Back then I didn’t have the camper shell on it, and it was easy to throw a bunch of gear in the back and just take off for the mountains. It didn’t take a long time owning the truck for me to festoon it with stickers. The Ministry one got me an approving comment from a septuagenarian, who said “It’s so nice to see young people who are involved in the Church”. The other side of the bumper sports Fishbone and The Beastie Boys from the Check Your Head era. The back windows — now underappreciated because they are inside the camper shell — sport stickers of Calvin and Hobbes, several stickers given to me by my T.A. Amanda Ireton at West Hills High School (Fly Girls and a stylized girl kitty), and one from Blanket Party, Erik Rogers‘ band pre-Stereomud. Once I got the camper shell on the truck, I went out and bought a bunch more stickers to apply, and kept adding to the collection on the back window as late as last month, when I applied the Surface Furniture one, apparently sideways according to the owner, Jamie Huffman and, slightly earlier, the Who Is John Galt? slogan. The truck was broken in really well over the summer of 1994, when I would spend a week in San Diego working, and then drive back up to Santa Barbara to go out to Santa Cruz Island and work with LJ Moore and Adrian Wenner on removing feral European honeybee hives from the environment.

Rear Window Stickers

Rear Window Stickers

On moving back to San Diego, the truck was a landmark at the foot of Abbot Street in Ocean Beach. After moving up to Sutter Street in Mission Hills, the truck was notably involved in the incident of the gigantic rat in the engine block. My cat Hobbes decided to capture a sewer rat out of the canyon — seriously, this monster’s body was a foot long — and on letting it go, it scurried up the left front tire and into the engine compartment of the vehicle. My neighbor must have called the cops, because they skidded up to me in the middle of the street as I had the hood open, wielding a flashlight and a straightened coat hanger, wearing a black sock cap and a black turtleneck at 2AM, and trained their guns on me. San Diego’s Finest didn’t believe my story of the rat, even with three cats circling the truck and peering inside, until the beast decided to make a break for it, erupting out of the engine and running around in the middle of the street. Pandemonium ensued. The lady cop was shrieking and pointing her sidearm wildly around at the ground, and the guy cop — who was playing the tough guy — was immobilized in shock, and then in laughter. Needless to say, they let me collect my felines and go home with no further interrogation.

Mermaid Thursdays

Mermaid Thursdays

It was when we moved to Las Vegas, NV that I regretted not springing for the air conditioning. I remember it getting as hot at 117 degrees F once out there, and I used to prepare for the drive home from Nevada Power Company by stripping my shirt off and burning my fingers on the sun shade. The truck reliably got me to and from the Mermaid Cafe every Thursday night for my weekly four+ hours of DJing and drinking 22oz Sapporos. This was also the start of putting a lot of miles on the truck, as trips to and from San Diego would start to take their toll on the odometer.

On moving from Las Vegas to Atlanta, GA, the logistics company was good enough to put the truck on a flatbed for the trip, saving wear and tear on the vehicle. The Woodweaver and I got out there by driving the valuables — including four cats and a tarantula — in a U-Haul, making it to a snow-covered city in less than 48 hours, including an unscheduled stop in Jackson, MI. I had to flatbed the truck myself on the way back, driving the 17′ U-Haul plus the truck on the trailer all the way back to San Diego when I finally moved from the Acres back to my hometown of OB. I hadn’t seen my homeboy Tyrone since I had moved out to Vegas — something like 5 or 6 years — until I moved back in 2003, and he could not believe that I was still driving the same Nissan truck. Although the front end had been busted up, the rest of the vehicle was in pretty good condition; that is, until it was sideswiped no less than five separate times because it was parked on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard when I was living at The Porch on Santa Monica Ave.

In the last 12 months, I have poured about $1200 into the truck to keep it running, including fixing the brakes that were squealing like stuck pigs, and new tires all the way around after an exciting blowout going 70mph on the 15 south in the fast lane coming back from visiting S.A.T. in Murrieta.

Cthulhu by Erol Otis

Cthulhu by Erol Otis

Kelly Blue Book for fair condition (and that’s a stretch) is $675. But there is no denying that I love this truck dearly, and it has never let me down. I was on my way to Target to obtain moar wet fud for the creature that is my cat Brother when the thunk of something critical in the drive train went kaput. The truck was nice enough to let me flip a bitch and limp her twelve blocks home so that I could abandon her outside of the Edgemont Compound. This vehicle has been such an integral, personality-defining part of my life for so long, I feel a little lost having to do new and interesting things like apply for a car loan and figure out what ride could possibly replace her.

Everything about the Nissan is rich with details, stories, and legends:

  • the amplifier under the driver’s side seat was purchased for $100 including install from Circuit City in 1995 and is still working
  • the speaker box with the 8″ MTXs in it behind the bench seat was given to me as a birthday present by Bob Nickel around the same time
  • I traded the dual 12″ speaker box that used to be in the truck bed for the Cthulhu tattoo I have on my left shoulder back in college
  • Every single compilation I have ever produced has been extensively tested on the stereo in the Nissan rolling around the city I happened to be living in, including Festivus, which I just released in 2011
  • Even though it was only a 2×4, I treated it like it was a 4×4, and that lightweight truck made it through some stuff that stuck Jeep Grand Cherokees, especially sand in the desert
  • I lost count of the number of people that “learned to drive stick” in the truck; the clutch was rebuilt three or four times and the transmission once
  • You get used to $100 / month insurance and $50 / year registration costs
  • The Nissan has the “chrome package” which includes rims, bumpers, mirrors, and other details, although you couldn’t tell; the last time I had it detailed was in Las Vegas, and the company cleaned the air vents, which promptly fell apart because they were so brittle

    Tire Blowout

    Tire Blowout

  • When I was out in Atlanta, I ran the truck for three years without any maintenance, not even an oil change
  • Fact: the most environmentally-friendly thing you can possibly do with your vehicle is drive it until — as the SoCal gangstas say — the wheels fall off; you are not encouraging the production of another vehicle just for you, thus this was the most energy-efficient vehicle at GreenHouse
  • Fact: the Nissan did not qualify for the Cash-for-Clunkers trade-in because its MPG was too high
  • It was astonishing, the breadth of things that could be found in the depths of the truck, either in the buckets bungie-corded into the back of the bed or behind / underneath the seats; spanners, socket wrenches, frisbees, road flares, Taco Bell sauce packets, lighters, money, wire, jumper cables, folding wheel chocks, LED disco lights that ran off of the cigarette lighter adapter, flashlights, rigging knives, packs of cigarettes, mung rags, screwdrivers, and other assorted random magic items

Research has proven a relationship between your vehicle and your personality (here, here, and here, for example). I could have a field day with all of the descriptors that would match me and my Nissan: messy, sideswiped, dependable, function-before-form, tough, rugged, beaten up, olde, etc. This is why I refer to this as a “death in the family”; there is an emptiness when I walk outside and look at the carcass of the vehicle that I have loved for so long and that has been my faithful companion for so many years sitting next to the curb and not going anywhere but to a junkyard to be parted out for other 1993 Nissan trucks that are still running.

A long time ago, I received $5000 from my Grandma Gelin as an inheritance. I spent $1000 of it on an engagement ring, and the other $4000 of it on this truck. My dear Aunt Peggy gave me a matching $4000 towards a vehicle and my parents made up the remaining dough so that I could buy this truck outright from Pacific Nissan (<–warning: irritating audio intro) on Mission Bay Drive. The truck panned out a lot better than the ring did. Everyone that worked on this truck over the years, from Fred at Muryani Auto Care to Ron at Pacific Automotive noted that this particular year, make, and model were incredibly dependable, sometimes seeing 300K miles on the original engine. Buying this truck was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and she has served me so well, I just don’t know what could possibly replace her. There are yet more stories about confining cats in the back of the camper shell to move them from one place to another rather than stuffing them in little boxes, and that’s why I am reminded of Kanji, who hated transport more than any other child of mine, and who has helped inure me to the inevitable death of those that you love.

Double Rainbow and Nissan Truck

Double Rainbow and Nissan Truck

It may seem weird that I am eulogizing my truck, but those that have ridden shotgun bumping tunes, or driven it to pick up (pun intended) something or other that wouldn’t fit in your own vehicle, or were just happy that I made it from point A (my home) to point B (your house, or work, or elsewhere), then you know my truck. She is the best investment I have ever made, and will be only the second vehicle to join the storied ranks of those things that I have driven like I have stolen them, right next to the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Part of the drive (pun intended) to blog about this is that I have promised myself that I would blog at least once every week in 2011, and there is nothing better than reflecting on almost 20 years of history to inspire me to write. I seem to be pretty good at eulogies, and so I thought I would reminisce for a while about a faithful friend and companion of mine, that rarely complained, was a true workhorse, and who I relied on like family. Because, honestly, she always loved me more than I loved her.

Comments
  1. Devi says:

    Ahh…my heart breaks. That truck was the epitome of my chosen home. Might not be pretty, but it got the job done and then to the beach!

    I have been preparing myself for a similar loss. The trusty dusty ’86 Honda has rolled over 260,000 miles and is starting to act her age. I’m afraid that she might have internal car cancer, and so she and I are spending our last days together putting in as many miles as possible. Like your truck, her MPG was way too high for C4C.

    So, it is with a sad heart and a heavy soul that I send my condolences on your loss. I think I’ll stop on the way home, buy a beer and a quart of oil and she and I will send a long distance toast to you and yours.

    Homesick in KS

  2. Domenic says:

    Touching story, man. I too have a love affair with the cars I drive (long live Bessie, the ’86 Volvo 240!) and can relate!

    I vote for donating her with a send-off of ‘long may you run’

  3. Joel Farris says:

    Shotgun!!! 😉

  4. LJ says:

    Aww… thanks for the shout-out, and that rat in the engine story almost made me pee my pants at work, I laughed so hard. Sorry about your Nissan… and you know I can relate– I had a 1992 Nissan exactly like yours until I got broadsided in San Pedro by a guy running a red light: both his toddlers were in the car with no seat-belts, and he didn’t have insurance. The happy ending to your story (and mine)- all the humans walked away unscathed. 😉

  5. Dawn Reed says:

    So sad to hear about The Nissan. I can’t believe I never drove her in all our years of marriage! She was good to all of us and will be missed…

  6. froggacuda says:

    @LJ: Truth: I traded the entire Datsun SX that you kindly gifted me for the $250 bedliner in the Nissan Hardbody; it was thus that I carried that wonderful car forward until this time. The clever folding Nissan tire chocks have survived, and are in the back of the replacement vehicle: a 2007 Nissan Xterra.

  7. […] to take it home on a $125.00 down payment. This is the replacement for the venerable-but-dead Nissan Truck that I gimped around to the alley that is Edgemont Place right into the “do not disturb, […]

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