Before we start, some administrative stuff to get out of the way. Some of you may have noticed that I've added a few pages. I've made Melissa's slideshow its own permanent page. I'm planning to start lists of Melissa's and my favorite music, books, and films. These will be living lists, so check on them often. I hope they can help give you all an insight in to what a special person Melly is.
I did something potentially stupid this past week. After several weeks of going back and forth, I broke down and bought a 1966 Chevy 1/2 ton C10 pickup. I've been debating buying a truck for several weeks, and ventured a few questionable bids on some internet auctions. Somehow, thank God, I missed out on those trucks. I've instead managed to get myself in deep with a fairly decent looking aqua marine machine.
I've known about this truck for a little while, it belonged to guy who lives a few blocks from us. I found out it was for sale last week, at a pretty good price, but resisted. For a week I went back and forth in my mind about buying it. I followed it on Craigslist. I did a bunch of research on the VIN and parts availability. I thought of it as something to take my mind off of other things.
Then the seller made a mistake. He texted me a couple of times to gauge my interest and tipped his hand. Welcome to my web said the spider to the fly. I ended up talking him down on the price, getting it for about 10% below what he was asking, already well below appraisal. There is some wiggle room left for me to get my money back if I need to. More than anything else, I bought because I needed a smile. This truck isn't going to fill any holes in my life, but it is fun to tool around in.
I have a long and sorted history with project cars. This particular C10 is truck number five if you count just trucks. It's truck number nine if you count jeeps as trucks. In the time Melissa and I were together I owned a grand total of 18 cars and one trailer. If you count those, this truck is vehicle registration number 20 in 15 years. That's an average of greater than one "new" vehicle per year. I don't seem to ever learn my lessons I guess. Melissa always had mixed feelings about my obsessive car collecting. She used to joke that if I got another project car, she could get another cat. It's only funny until you realize she was possibly serious.
We average about five cars in the fleet at any given time. To say it is a problem may be an understatement. I've never felt like I was in over my head or in trouble. It's just a hobby for me. A loud, greasy, moderately expensive hobby.
At any rate, I plan to keep this one for at least the winter and then try to make my money back on it. Got to have a truck to haul stuff. I have grandiose plans to build my side yard in to a more permanent carport, up to and including rebuilding my side fence. I am sure that my neighbor is tired of my car tent, though she is very nice and says otherwise.
Two days after Melissa died I went on a wild goose chase. I needed to get out of the house, to find something familiar. I made my friend Matt get in the car with me and drive to Casa Grande. We were headed to a pistachio farm about 90 minutes south of Phoenix to find the first truck I ever drove. My goal was to try to get it back, to try to restore some order in the world.
The truck in question is a 1980 Ford F-150. My parents bought it the summer after I was born. It was the truck I grew up in, the truck that my brother, sister, and I all learned out to drive in. It was my truck from the day I got my license until a spring morning in 2001. It was the truck I drove all through high school and my first two years of college. I was responsible for it crashing in to our school superintendents house on New Year's Eve 1995 (another story for another time). I took a job as an apprentice mechanic so I could work on it for free. It was the truck that ignited my passion for working on and restoring old cars.
My Dad surprised me by selling it to their neighbor in Flagstaff without checking with me first. The man who bought it is an 85 year old rancher in southern Arizona, growing pistachios, sorghum, and pima cotton, among other things. He is rancher turned real estate mogul. The majority of Maricopa, AZ sits on land he once owned. In the old days, the term would be 'gentleman farmer'. He owns the house across the street from my parents and they spend the occasional weekends there to escape the heat. As I later found out, he had been trying to buy the truck from my parents since about 1985. He caught my Dad on the right day with the right price (too low in my opinion) and that was that. I have been trying to get the truck back literally ever since.
I found the truck again in 2010, rotting away on his ranch under the Arizona sun. The truck that I spent my weekends washing and waxing is now sitting under a pecan tree in a back lot behind a rusted out cotton shack. I tried that day to buy the truck back, but was rebuffed. He said he was still using it, but he'd make a deal with me. The day he decides to retire he will give me the truck back, for free.
For several years I put this empty promise out of my head. This past spring I started having dreams about the old Ford again. I suspect the idea of becoming a Dad broke some part of my psyche loose and I started thinking about what it would be like to restore it for Matthew. I even joked with a few people that he would be the only kid in his Kindergarten class that would know how to rebuild a carburetor.
After a few weeks of these dreams I decided to give the rancher a call. He reiterated his promise, but also said he was going strong with no plans to retire anytime soon. Flash forward a few months and Matt and I are in the car headed south to bring my truck home. I figured that if any story would break it free, this would be it. I even brought my checkbook. Money was not going to stop this from happening.
We sat and talked with him for about an hour. He listened to my story and understood why I wanted the truck back. But, dang it, he was still using it. It was his daily work truck. You can't put a price on that, even it is double what he bought it for.
Sure it never left the property. Sure it was still parked on dry rotted tires under the same pecan tree. Sure the carb was off it without so much as a rag stuffed in the intake to keep dirt and critters out. It was his and there was no way he was going to let it go. Not that day, I suspect not ever.
As we were leaving the ranch, for the lonely ride back to Phoenix, I had to pull over and cry for a while. I was lost, I had lost everything, and here was just one more example. Yes, it was a long shot and yes it would have brought more trouble than it was worth, but you have to keep fighting for what is yours no matter what. The pain of losing Melissa and Matthew was wrapped up in everything, all rotten under the hot Arizona sun.
In the days and weeks since things have improved. I've been able to look past that pain to remember the truly good things that Melly and I shared. Thinking about that old Ford reminded me of why I love cars. It also reminded me of all the absurd vehicles I've dragged home over the years.
There is the 1948 Jeep that has been stuck in project car hell since Thanksgiving day 1998. That jeep begat four other jeeps, all of which were cannibalized so that it could live.
There was the 1960 Willy's truck that we named 'Gravedigger'. That truck was home to more cats than it had miles driven. When I brought it home there was a bumper sticker on the back that said "On The Gas, Kicking Ass!" God, she hated that truck.
There were two Toyota's trucks. The first was totaled after a teenager in an old Volvo ran a red light. The second had a snorkel. I used to joke that the first thing people would ask me when they saw the snorkel was "can you really drive under water with that?". She didn't believe me. She said people weren't that dumb. The first question her Dad asked when he saw it? Yep. Sorry Jim.
There was our FJ Cruiser. We loved that thing. It was the perfect dog car. Then one spring morning I was bringing Betty home from the vet after she was spayed. She was still groggy from the anesthesia and accidentally pee'd all over the seats. I couldn't get it cleaned up before it soaked in. It was spring and not yet hot so I quickly sold it. Somewhere there is an FJ with a mysterious funk that just won't go away. I'm sorry to whoever owns it today.
So now we have an old 60's Chevy. I have driven it a lot in the four days since I brought it home. I've enjoyed every mile. Time will tell if it has the staying power of the rest, but that doesn't matter as much any more. I'm sad that Matthew and Melly won't be physically here to sit on the big bench seat with me; but something tells me that they are along for the ride wherever the road takes me.