Chevy Van (part 1)

Boom!! Clak Clak Clak Clak!!

Damn!! I thought, bad timing! Fast lane on the 405 freeway going South was no place for this to happen! Just threw another cotter pin in my distributor. It had happened at least twice before shearing the pin connecting the distributor with the cam shaft. Damn! I thought again seeing no openings to the right towards the shoulder as my van was now effectively coasting. I steered the dead vehicle into the center breakdown lane against the barrier.

“Shoot! This is bad” I mumbled to myself taking stock of the situation. My 1967 Chevy Van was not only my transportation but my home. Everything I owned in the world was in it or like my Schwinn mountain bike up front, strapped to it. I was on a spontaneous surf trip heading South towards Trestles, hoping to catch some South swell there. I looked around for a sign to figure out where I was relative to West LA where I worked and went to school. Looking through the large front window I could see the dark green “Los Alamitos” exit sign down the road just a quarter mile from where I’d broken down. That was at least 50 miles from Westwood I figured. “Too far.” I thought.

I looked around the van. My bed with the simple blue bed spread sat neatly behind the front seats. 2 surfboards hung above it suspended in the curvature of the roof. My 10 foot Hansen longboard and my 6 foot Craiger. Oak wood paneling lined the walls. A book holder filled with drawings books and papers about halfway up on the window side. The 2 windows were tinted dark so no one could see in framed by green bamboo patterned curtains my sister had made for me. On the floor near the door was a red and white igloo cooler which held the cold things I bought daily. On the wall next to it a wire basket with a brown bag holding the dry goods. A small toggle switch next to the matching side doors controlled the dome light overhead. That was a big deal on those long Winter nights when I’d hunker down inside alone either reading or drawing for hours on end. Blue astro turf lined the floor. I’d cut that to fit just recently. A nice touch I’d thought and easy to sweep the sand out of. A large portfolio filled with drawings from my Art classes sat at the foot of the bed near the back door squeezed in by my single 2 by 4 foot locker containing all my clothes in the world. Storage under the bed contained all my tools and spare engine parts. No room to access that from the passenger side since that was next to the fast lane and a steady stream of cars were whizzing by at 70 miles an hour. I certainly knew better than to try that so I crawled between the seats over the center mounted engine compartment to the back. I reached down unlatching the small door under the bed. I fished inside. I just managed to pull out the large red plastic toolbox then the plastic tool holder containing spare parts. I lay this down on the bed next to me. “Didn’t think so.” I mumbled to myself. No more Cotter pins. I’d gotten 3 last time I was at the Auto parts store. Not easy to find them either for this 20 year old vehicle. I’d driven to half a dozen auto parts stores before I had found those 3.

“Okay then, plan B.” I sighed. Nothing to do now but wait for a CHP and a tow truck. I hoped I had enough money for it or my home would be impounded. I looked in my little cash box under the driver seat. “250.” Thank God I’d waited tables the last 4 nights. I pulled the money out and put it in the cheap black leather wallet my sister’s boyfriend had given me. I put that in the front pocket of my blue jeans then turned the keys in the ignition to ‘Acc’. I looked in the cassette case I kept on top of the engine compartment.  ‘Bob Marley.’ I thought, perfect for my down trodden mood. I popped it in the cassette player. “No Woman No Cry…” Bob began to sing.

Within 10 minutes I saw the CHP officer pull up behind me on his motorcycle.  I turned the music off, pocketed the keys and stepped out the driver side next to the center divider. The officer approached. “Not a Good idea to sit in your vehicle in the breakdown lane.” He advised as he came along side the van. ” Oh?” I asked. “Yep, people get killed all the time doing that. Drivers are drawn into parked vehicles for some reason.” “Car trouble?” He asked. “Yes.” I replied. ” I guess I’ll need a tow.” “Already on the way.” He said making notes on his pad the scene reflected in his mirrored aviator shades. “Hang tight, I’m going to call this in.” Ok.” I replied.  Just then a tow truck came along the passenger side and pulled in front along the divider and then began backing up. The white truck was adorned with “Los Alamitos Salvage.” painted on the door. A stocky white guy with about 3 day beard, bushy mustache and grease stained work shirt stepped out. ” Need a tow huh?” “Yeah.” I replied. The officer left as my home was hitched up from the front and the steering wheel tied off. I explained my financial situation to the tow-truck driver on the way. He seemed to empathize and said he knew the right place. It wasn’t far and the tow would only be 50 bucks there. “Great.” I had relaxed a bit then and we had driven the 10 minutes into an industrial part of Los Alamitos against the freeway overpass. I’d thanked him when he deposited me and the van at “Norms Auto Mechanics.” Norm had been kind and taken all my info giving me an estimate of 250 dollars. I was short, but he said call tomorrow and he’d let me know the full damage. I could pay when I picked it up. I guess it was fairly obvious this was my home and I’d be back. “Do you have a phone I could use?” I asked. “Sure.” He said.  “Over there” he said pointing to a filthy desk covered in papers. ” Thanks” I said walking toward the small office. I had to try and cover my shift waiting tables tonight. It was only 10am. but I was at least 50 miles away and all I had was a Schwinn 10 speed. No chance I could make it by 4.

I made a couple of phone calls to fellow waiters but no one could do it. ” Shoot.” I began to wonder what to do. I couldn’t afford to lose that job. ” Maybe I can make it.” 50 miles”. “That’s less then 10 miles an hour.” I could probably do that I figured. I went to my van again and grabbed my tan canvas back pack. I filled it with my Waiter uniform, a sweater and my tooth brush. I unlocked my bike from the front bumper bike carrier lifting it off. “Which way to PCH ?” I asked Norm. “That way.” He said pointing to left under the overpass. “Kind of far.” He said. “I got the time.” I said rolling off. “Thanks.”

“Damn, he was right.” I had to admit after riding due West for about 45 minutes having still not crossed PCH. The ride had been through some of the most hideous industrial wasteland I’d ever seen. Auto mechanics, salvage yards, heavy manufacturing and wrecking yards in Los Alamitos had evolved into the Oil refineries and holding tanks of Carson. I traveled alone on my bronze mountain bike, the black road and bridges otherwise empty except for the occasional big rig hauling a load of fuel. It stank of oil and the refineries burned the excess off 200 foot smoke stacks with 50 foot flames.  Like something out of a post apocalyptic movie. “It’s gotta be close. ” I hoped. I’d never ridden more then 10-15 miles at one time in my life. I began to realize this journey may be longer than the 50 miles I’d estimated. No map, operating on dead reckoning. I reasoned to just ride West and then North. It seemed simple enough but I was beginning to wonder if there was some flaw in this thinking. I was beginning to really doubt my logic when there it was, Pacific Coast Highway. The oily non-descript industrial buildings that marked the corner felt at least a bit encouraging. I felt relieved to at least to now have some idea of where I was. I hung a right and headed North.

The minutes and miles ground by as I pedaled under the hot sun through Carson past the gigantic Harbor area of San Pedro, one of the largest port cities in the World. The light commercial traffic grew into a constant line of semis blowing by me often only a few inches from my left handlebar. “This is insane” I thought feeling like a bug dodging an army as it marched by. I put my head down and pedaled blocking out the fear. Slowly the traffic morphed and became lighter commuter traffic. People busy going about their lives indifferent to my own slowly unfolding epic journey. The road left San Pedro behind and began to climb the bluffs of Palos Verdes. I looked at my watch. 3 hours, I was already feeling wasted. I saw a liquor store and pulled up. I grabbed an OJ and a power bar. I could feel the sweat and grime drying on me as I gulped the juice down. The coolness inside my throat so wonderfully different seemed to be absorbing into every cell.᤾

“1pm.” I said to myself looking at my watch again.” “Maybe 2 more hours at the most?” I guessed as I got back on my bike synching my backpack down. Having never been to this intersection even by car, I had no way to know I was still only half way. I rode off again joining traffic and began the slow climb. Retail buildings transitioned into homes and then nicer homes. Street lights became trees and lawns. By the time I reached the top of the bluff a few miles later there were only multi-million dollar estates with spectacular views of the Pacific now sparkling off to my left. Even as tired as I was I couldn’t help but marvel watching the bluffs descend steeply to the empty rocky shores. I cruised easily settling into a rhythm for the first time as I rode along the almost  level road. I spun past more beautiful coves and steeply winding trails now an occasional person or small group visible at the bottom. Past the decaying ruins of  “Marine Land” it’s gates and former arenas surrounding only empty pools and the memories of cheering crowds applauding the very first performing sea creatures on the planet. The gates leaned precariously and the bright blue and green paint now peeling and faded. My own memories surfaced revealing a day when I was here as a small boy.

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