The things are in the saddle and they ride the people. 


I have a more than passing devotion to my vehicle.  It is a GMC Safari, born just before the turn of the century, 1998.  I bought it from my mother, whom I never call “Mother” when she upgraded to a 2005 version of the same.  My van has circumnavigated the Gulf of Mexico, piloted by her, once or twice.  It easily carries four large mountain bikes and 4 passengers, although there are no working seat belts in the back seat.  It is not a mini-van, it is a maxi-van.  I am way past the point of reasonable accommodation for repairs.  Although the engine has rarely faltered, arthritis has set into the electronics system.  The transmission has an ominous kick when it shifts from 2nd to 3rd.  It ran hot to the point of melting once. The mechanic found no damage, but I suspect that episode left a mark somewhere deep in the block.

Last month, on the road home from Gulf Shores, AL, the smell of burning aluminum foil filled the cab.  That terrible sweet smell of a tweaker on meth sweating their way deep into Ketosis.  The rain fell so fast and hard that the tire tracks on I-10 were filled with water and I surfed along the edges, confident in the Safari’s roadworthy heft to keep us safe.  Then my wife, with fear in her voice, said “Juancho!  There’s smoke!” and I tacked across the hydroplane lanes and beached us as far on the shoulder as I dared.  She grabbed the poodle, Summer Chanel, and we bailed into the muddy bank, tractor-trailers blasting by 3 feet from the driver’s side door.  It was a low moment.  Certain that the van and all our cargo was about to burn up, I held fast to the relief that we were safe, and could find our way to shelter.  Then nothing else happened.

I popped the hood, no smoke.  My wife inspected the door, and tried to roll down the window, which produced one last dramatic puff and a serious stench.  It was the window motor.  Just the window motor!  All was well.  We loaded back in, wet but relieved and I punched the accelerator, sling-shotting us back to highway speed.  I apologized and soothed, and promised to get a new vehicle as soon as I could.

I have a good job, and thanks to the influence of my wife, a decent credit score.  My bank happily offered to place me in debt to about any amount I liked.  My heart isn’t in it though.  Everything is a step down from my van.  I am reminded of a couple of useful homilies which I will now share with you.

Pa Ingalls, whom you may remember from this blog, had a little mutt named Suey Dog.  Suey Dog was part Boxer maybe, part something else and she followed Pa around like his familiar.  They were such a pair.  Trustworthy and loyal to one another beyond compare.  Pa never had to worry about Suey Dog.  She would jump in the truck,  ready to go anywhere.  These two grew up together, as she followed Pa from a teenage skate brat to wilderness guide, to married rancher.  Suey-girl, as Pa affectionately called her, had three legs.  The story goes that she was hit by a car shortly after Pa adopted her, and in his grief and panic, he asked his mom if they were going to have to put Suey Dog down.  His mother replied, “When you broke your arm we didn’t put you down did we?”  That was that, and Suey Dog survived long into Pa’s adulthood, may she rest in peace.

Our next story comes secondhand from that Mother of mine, by way of the History Channel perhaps.  So I mentioned that I have a job, and could therefore finance a new or lightly used automobile.  Although by examining my track record I am quite the Steady Eddie when it comes to employment, it is essential that I feel like I can walk away into the sunset.  The shackles of debt have ground down better men than I.  I want to do this work with a joyful heart, and beholden to none but my wife, my creatures, and those whom I  serve.  When Harry and Bess Truman left office, they returned to their humble home in Independence, Missouri with no more than an Army pension.  He said he just couldn’t stomach the thought of exploiting the office of the President for financial gain.  Ha!  What an utter buffoon! A moron! A man of integrity!

So, thanks for listening.  I still may replace the Safari, or I may resurrect it yet again.



14 Responses to Loyalty

  1. Well, whatever you do, it will be the right thing.
    And what a lovely tribute to a vehicle. We do come to love these beasts who ferry us safely wherever we want to go.

  2. Your story reminds me of a -25º day when Steve and I were leaving Colorado for good. Everything we owned was stuffed into our old station wagon. When I got in the driver’s seat, I found that the switch for the back window was frozen in the “down” position, so we did what anyone would do: bought plastic and used duct tape to cover the rear window and shoved off, heading East. The switch must have fixed itself, because eventually that plastic came off. But several years later, the rear window motor caught fire, and now, with rain, snow, kids, and mandatory vehicle inspections, it had to be fixed. Problem is, there were so many things wrong with it that it was no longer safe transport for me and three little ones still toddling around. Funds were really scarce in those days, but riding (literally) to the rescue were your grandparents who lived down there near you at that time. Granddad found a sweet ride for me at an unheard of price, and he and Grandma drove it up from Florida. That car was a huge part of my life and the beginning of my passion for blue Fords. One morning, I drove it smack into a piece of paving equipment because the morning sun blinded me, but the car was like an armored truck and took the blow. I calmly got out, found the “F” from “FORD” on the street, and wore it on a chain around my neck. Zach once had to draw a picture of someone in his family, and he did a lifelike rendering of his mom in the blue Ford. I didn’t care about any of its dents or blemishes. We were friends to the bitter end. You and your Safari still have some memories to make.

      • I think I still have it but am not sure where it is. I think because Steve didn’t drive that your cousins saw me and the car as inseparable. I will look for it! When my dad pulled up in the driveway with that car, I felt as though I’d won the lottery. And who better to trust than Granddad to buy me a car? He could pick ’em! I can hear his throaty chuckle now. [sniff]

  3. This reflection of yours has extra resonance with me today for tomorrow we are closing on our new home. We’ve been renting for the past five + years. Things have been going well but my contracting job is still basically a month to month thing. Yet tomorrow I will sign a 30 year mortgage. Scary as hell when I think about it but what good does it do to worry?
    We are looking forward to being masters of our domain again. Same neighborhood and it’s only 240 steps more to the metro station than my current commute.
    The woods adjacent to my neighborhood have a Fern Trail in them. The RR corridor down the hill has a world-class greenway pathway along it. At this time I am the only one who sees either of these things.

    • I was in a state of panic when we bought our first home with mortgage payments double what our rent had been. This was in 1983 when interest rates were sky-high. I had cold feet. I wanted to bail out. Instead I reasoned with myself that the worst thing that could happen was that we wouldn’t be able to make the payments, the bank would repossess the house, and we’d be back to renting. We don’t know if life will throw us a party or run us into a brick wall. All you can do is enjoy your new home and don’t think 30 years. Heck, I’ll be 95 at the end of my 30-year mortgage. All I know is that here it’s a lot cheaper than paying rent. Congratulations on your new house!

    • Damn your special eyes and the curse they bring upon you. Sharpen that machete. Congratulations on the house purchase. Welcome back to the hustle.

  4. I need to double-check, but I believe the Trumans returned to his mother-in-law’s home. They never had a home of their own. Those were, I guess, the days of built-in support systems, or some such things. And the Safari’s first trip was from San Diego to Florida, before she made various trips around the Gulf to the Yucatan. After buying that cream puff from that anal Navy guy to pick up DH and his wheelchair at the Tijuana airport, I wasn’t going to let 3,000 miles stop me and the dog from bringing it on home. I think I need to find 5 acres and a lot of blocks to store all the vehicles I get attached to. But go ahead and sell it if you have to. I’ll get over it someday. 😉

  5. A van is a van, mini or maxi. Its a matter of how much gas she guzzles. My Previa continues to make it happen for me at 330k!!! Yeah, thats right. Don’t be afraid to rip that door open and replace that motor. It can’t be THAT hard. Be a man, drive a van.

    • Gas mileage is the least of my concerns. I just don’t want to put my bike on the roof like Mitt Romney’s dog. Also, private changing room.

  6. It’s just a vehicle. For less than a quarter of a new vehicle, you can revamp it for another 200k miles.
    You’ve clearly let it go, and it has clearly returned- it must be so.

    • GM stopped production on Safari and Astro models in 2005. Mary and I have a 2003 Safari that we were thinking of selling but the dogs nixed the idea. Maybe when they’re not looking…