Departure Day | Trucking Past Midnight

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Grab my book here, if interested. 

None of these free stories appear in the book.

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Good morning from the ice-block ground under this tent, here in the backyard next to the truck.

The new sleeping setup works great, thank you for asking.

Glad I tested it in the backyard before hitting the road.

Departure day is here.

If I don’t leave today, I won’t be able to meet my friend to work on the land.

He’s only got one week free.

And we have a large to-do list.

The truck, well, she’s mostly ready.

New mid-body fuel tank in place. New shocks. New alternator.

Oil change and fluid topped-off as needed.

Good crash course in auto maintenance and repair.

No spare tire.

I called three auto shops in driving distance.

Described the make, model, year, and tire size.

Nada.

Improbable for a truck this popular.

But that’s what they tell me.

Maybe I can collect a spare at my first stop.

The town of Warren, Pennsylvania.

It’s an eight hour drive to get there from here.

I should arrive well after midnight.

It’s just forty hours for the full trip.

I have to leave after 5, when the workday is over.

Grabbing last-minute supplies on lunchbreak.

Departure time arrives.

I throw the last bags and my guitar in the bed.

Fire up the truck.

Listen to that deep mechanical hum.

The engine sends jitters through the cab.

Rhodie, you weren’t meant to rust in a dirt parking lot with ‘FOR SALE’ white-soaped on your windshield.

Let’s see this big country, you & I.

I pull off the backyard with its wet green grass matted over by fallen leaves.

The tires leave two fine grooves.

It’s getting dark fast.

I’ve got a temporary license plate taped to the inside of the back window.

The permanent was scheduled to arrive before departure day, but it didn’t.

The DMV is struggling for the same reason everything else is struggling. The pandemic.

I’ll add the permanent plate when it arrives, but I can’t wait for it.

Anyway, that’s the reason for choosing quieter roads, even if they take longer.

An audiobook about the moon landings is playing.

The GPS lost service.

Who cares? This early in the journey, all I need to do is keep going west.

No cruise control, just a forty-hour ankle workout.

Soon, I’m trucking between the reddish-grey granite walls on either side of the Vermont highway.

Thick foliage grows in the dark over rolling land.

Dark shapes of tree canopies, shiny from rain, run past the windows.

It’s getting foggy.

Deer with glinting eyes peep from the shadows next to the road.

One can of Fix-a-Flat but no spare tire.

Long way to Warren.

To be continued

The Truck’s Mission Out West

You can grab my book here. None of these free stories appear in the book.

Yes, it’s taken a loop of trips to AutoZone, Walmart, Tire Warehouse and Home Depot with a stop at Rawlings (for variety), but the truck has new tires and new shocks.

It took two trips to buy a special tool to disconnect the fuel lines from the old fuel tank.

The first tool snapped in half upon use. Bought the more expensive one the second time.

It took hours of wrestling with wrenches and cutting fingers on metal edges but the hole-pocked old tank is out and the new, gleaming one is in place.

The truck is almost ready to make the 2,000 mile drive out west.

THE MISSION

The mission: Get this work truck to 40 acres of land I own out west with a friend.

We’re building a lodge out there.

This F150 has to bring supplies from town to the land.

After this trek, it will only have to make short supply runs.

Asking this truck to make this cross country journey is like saying to a pro fighter: do one last championship fight then you can open a gym, put out an online course, and dink around with some exhibition matches.

I still don’t have a spare tire. Maybe I should figure that out before I leave.

Tonight, I’m testing my tent and sleeping bag in what will be a 48 degree weather.

The tent is a simple two-man deal from Walmart.

The bag is rated for 30-40 degrees and I snagged an insert to bring it 20 degrees lower.

Should be cozy.

Still, I’d rather discover you shouldn’t bargain hunt for outdoor sleeping gear sooner than later.

After all, this polyester stretched over aluminum will be my lodging for a full week or more.

Back on foam pad and sleeping bag in between me and the nearly frozen ground, I go over the to-do list for the upcoming trip.

  1. Find a spare tire

2. Pick up propane & camping food

3. Pick up landscaping tools and big measuring tapes

4. Have a pro mechanic give the truck a final check over

Bunch of other things I can’t think of at the moment.

I’ll find out when they become problems.

Solve them then.

Good night from out here in the backyard.

To be continued

Guess I Asked for This

Check out my book, Odd Jobs & After Hours here.

Guess I asked for this, to be crammed under the undercarriage of this truck, cranking a wrench on a bolt while a fine mist of metal rust showers down endlessly.

Still cursing though, even though I got what I wanted.

Job one on the new truck is getting a new mid-body fuel tank in place.

We got it home without a fireball despite a drip, drip, drip of gasoline out of said tank in the final leg of the journey.

The bolts holding the old tank in there are rusty and crusty.

Soaked ’em down with PB Blaster overnight, but I still had to fight for every centimeter of thread on the bolt.

Back on a blue tarp, and the old gas tank dripping gasoline on me for about an hour. I’m completely soaked.

Highly flammable, that’s what I am on this crystal clear fall day in New Hampshire.

It’s a matter of life and death to avoid my chain-smoking housemate in this moment.

Shing – out slides the bolt. At last. One metal strap drops down from the undercarriage. Bonks me in the face.

The tank creaks and droops down.

Wires and the second metal strap hold the fuel tank in place.

The rest of the bolts might need another night in PB Blaster.

What is the truck for?

Teamed up with a friend to buy land out west.

This is going to be the work truck on the land.

I’m working on a pressing deadline. My friend has one free vacation week in which he can meet me on the land.

I’ve got to get the truck ready to trek well before then. I need it ready to drive across country one week before my friend is free.

Right now, soaked in gasoline, covered in rust dust and fingers sliced to ribbons on metal bits, that seems unlikely. I mean, this truck needs so much work.

The to do list is extensive.

The sun goes down.

I decide to slide back under and attack the bolts again.

To be continued

My Book is Available Now | Odd Jobs & After Hours

My book Odd Jobs & After Hours is available now.

What’s it about?

Take the time of life in between leaving home and finding a track that works.

Capture the all-night shifts, seasonal work, scary rooms you rented, criminal colleagues, moments of your own questionable judgement, and get them down as stories before the river of memory washes them away.

That what Odd Jobs & After Hours is.

It’s a story collection I hope you find humorous, relatable, and cathartic.

Filled with the types of places that (I hope) make you say, “I’m glad I got chance to be there.”

Filled with characters I hope make you think, “I’m glad I got to meet those people.”

I leave you with the intro page of the book itself:

“Feel the heat of molten metal.

Hear the clang of hammer and anvil. Be bowled over and skid across a muddy rugby pitch.

Taste the kiss of the sea.

Work odd jobs & after hours in the big city.

Get thrown out the window. Join the all-night, coked-up film crew. Meet the vegan poacher woman, the psycho roommate with a hatchet, and the world’s greatest salesman before he explodes.

Bloody your hands with the worst of it.

These stories are a tin mug dipped into the river of life to draw up one cupful you can’t catch again.

It’s like every portion and none other at the same time. It’s a hot day, and I pass the mug to you.”

Grab yourself a copy. Let me know what you think.

Got the Truck Home. Just Barely.

Audio available

Getting Rhodie roadworthy

Check out my book for rare stories you won’t find online.

Like I said, bought an F-150.

It’s a ’94, just like me.

It’s dark blue and rusty, also just like me. (Kidding).

A mechanically savvy friend agreed to drive me to the northern Vermont town where I bought it to pick it up.

Brilliant leaf change and reddish, craggy angles of rock wall all along the 89.

About 72 degrees, and not a cloud in sight this particular time of year.

That’s the good thing about Vermont, even if the taxes make you want to hang yourself and there are statistically more bureaucrats than normal people.

Yes, some of the young newcomers there want you to live on chlorophyl and charcoal and drive a sail-powered Prius, but the land itself is gorgeous.

I kid, they’re good people, the Vermonters, especially the old school farmers.

What scenery on the drive. Rolly-polly hills. Apple-red, pumpkin-orange and goldenrod leaves overhead.

Can’t wait to see it passing by out of the window of the new truck.

New, now there’s a wrong description if there ever was one.

Rust holes pock the lower part of the blue bed. Rust encrusts the undercarriage. If you lift up the rubber mat under the driver’s feet, you can see clear through to the pavement below. If the brakes go, at least you could use the Flintstone option.

Why buy a truck in such morbid condition? Other than affordability?

There’s a cliche about certain women, that they look at a chatty, coke-head wino and think, “I can save him.”

Even knowing nothing (yet) about mechanics I look at this battered truck and think something similar: I can save her.

We are here. There’s my blue ride where I left her.

The auto-savvy guy strolls up to the truck.

This is the first time he is seeing it.

He’s been advising on the truck hunt from a distance, but I forked over the cash for this one on my own.

Wonder how I did.

He chuckles at the degree of rust.

He asks me to turn the engine on. I slide into cabin, with its cloth seats, elderly rubber, and old truck smell, and fire up the engine.

Whine, rattle and roar.

“Holy moly, that is the worst sound I ever heard come out of a truck in my life. Shut it off.”

A twist of the key, and peace returns to the Vermont afternoon.

Well, it could be worse.

Savvy guy opens the hood. He pops the belt off of the wheels in there. Spins the wheels. The rattling is all coming from the alternator.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he says that, the guy who sold it to me, an old-school Vermont guy, a walrus-mustache biker with a leg in a brace, hobbles into his shop and comes out with a brand new alternator.

Just like that.

He plunks it down on the edge of the hood and says it is included in the price of the truck, no extra. That was pretty cool of him, I thought.

Unclear what the standard etiquette is when you buy a truck for cash, but that seemed pretty cool.

The bolts on the old alternator love their home. They won’t evacuate. We soak them down with PB Blaster.

Out comes the old part. Its wires need to be snipped, poked into the new part’s metal tubes, and the tubes crimped. Out comes a pen knife and the copper wires get their oxygenated crust scraped off.

My friend lays a wrench down on the edge of the truck’s open hood to create a hard surface he can use to hammer the tubes into a flat crimp. He brings the hammer down.

Orange sparks fly up. The wrench slid under the blow. It completed a circuit running from the positive battery terminal to the edge of the truck. After some adjustment, my friend tries again. The tubes are crimped and the new part is connected to the wires. Now it’s time to get it bolted in place.

Getting the belt back on is a two-man job.

I scoot under the truck to hook the belt over a wheel from there.

Then I’m back up to crank back on this wrench that lifts the set of wheels the belt runs on to make them reachable. The wrench is just too short.

My friend grabs a piece of pipe from his truck, and saws it off with an electric grinder. Orange sparks rocket off the metal and onto his jeans. The grinding rips through the quiet air, and echos off the barns. He hammers the wrench into the end of the pipe. Now it’s a lever that will work.

I crank on the better lever and savvy guy shoves the belt into place over the wheels. I fire up the ignition.

Nothing.

Dead battery.

That was fast. It sparked a second ago.

Trip to town and back for a new battery.

Last thing is fixing a flat tire.

We grab an air tank from the truck and fill the tire.

We’ve got about 25 minutes to a town where we can fill up the nearly empty gas tank.

I am driving the new truck while my friend follows .

The truck is rattling and rumble-bumping along.

It likes to lurch way to the right.

Driving takes constant correction on the steering wheel.

It sounds better with the new alternator in.

Hey, here’s a Shell. Perfect. I pull in.

The truck has two gas tanks, one in the middle of the body and one in the rear. The condition of each tank is unclear. The switch that toggles between them is set to the back.

I put seven gallons in the back and seven gallons in the front. As soon as the pump is back in its holster, we hear trickling.

I look under the bed. Rivulets of gasoline are trickling all over the pavement out of the front tank.

I pull it up near the grass next to the shop.

We figure we have get it home, even though it is dripping gas from one of its tanks.

My job is to watch the rearview mirror as I drive in case the truck makes a spark and a fire starts.

The plan is pull off to the right, scoot out of the passenger door should that situation happen.

Well, I’m watching the speedometer, the road, my sideview because there’s no rearview and then just before our exit, almost there, almost there-

BOOM!

Tire blows.

I pull off to the side of the road and scoot out.

Soon, I’m riding home with my friend and Googling the tire type for a ’94 F-150.

All the shops are closed because it is Sunday night.

I guess I’m doomed to a fine from the cops for an abandoned vehicle.

Or maybe not.

Wouldn’t you know it, my friend has a trailer’s tire with the exact right lug pattern.

Yes, it will be so skinny compared to the other tires it will practically look like we jammed a bike tire on a truck.

But for one more exit?

Twelve more minutes of driving home?

It should work.

Back home, we grab jacks, blocks, the tire, and head back.

After the roadside tire change, I ease the truck home watching the mirrors and dials with intense paranoia.

After everything, there’s the truck in the front yard, leaking gasoline into a five gallon bucket. Got it home. Just barely.

Tomorrow the real work begins.

To be continued