A Romantic Gesture Involving 1,250 Miles and Gas Fumes

Author’s note: on March 27, 2013 I took possession of an early anniversary present for my bride — a 1969 Bronco. The beast, something she’d always said she wanted, was M&M yellow (peanut, not plain) with a lift kit and correspondingly large mud tires. A friend and colleague in North Carolina who turns wrenches for fun helped me find it and fix it up. I flew to Raleigh,  went to his house to pick it up and then drove it a short distance to a hotel for a dinner/conference that would last until the next afternoon. The next day I left that meeting early, threw my bag in the back seat and began my 1,250 mile drive to Houston. The story below is a slightly cleaned-up version of the e-mail I sent to that same friend/colleague upon my arrival the afternoon of the 29th.

Left the hotel restaurant at noon.

Large group of maintenance workers came out the backside of the hotel for lunch. They congregated around the Bronco as I fired it up. I learned that it’s finicky when cold, and that I needed more practice with the clutch (I stalled it twice and my crowd quickly departed).

Filled up both gas tanks.

Discovered about 12:20 p.m. that I felt a bit pukey. Remember how the smaller of the two gas tanks had a leak we thought we’d fixed? Apparently not. Decided to run that one dry and then solely use the 13 gallon tank in the back.

Can confirm that the exhaust package was targeted for 16-year-old boys who don’t care about their long-term hearing. Had to roll down the window to cope with the gas fumes, which created an auditory battle between 70 mph wind and the exhaust pipes. The radio didn’t really have a chance.

Had to stop for an hour for an incoming call from a new client. Not possible to hear or speak with the engine running, so I spent quality time in a parking lot with gas slowly seeping out of the leaky tank.

An hour later I was back on the road to hit the first of several massive traffic jams on I-85. Lost an hour trying to go 5 miles. Repeated the exercise just outside of Charlotte (that mess attributable to eight miles of road work; drivers behind me maximized their meager gains by pulling within inches of my bumper on every incline so the clutch and I got on better terms quickly).

Sweat now rolling down my face from the heat pouring out from the unshielded engine and transmission.

Making really lousy time — partly because I’m constantly stopping to fill the 13 gallon tank, and partly because my theoretical top speed is about 75 but it’s a lot easier on my ears to keep it under 65.

Darkness provides opportunity to confirm that the lights behind several gauges, including the gas gauge, do not work. Using phone for illumination.

Running out of gas. Again. Find a sketchy gas station. Looked like an employee was changing out the trash bags in the cans by the pumps. Further review revealed that he and a meth-head friend are dumping out the trash and culling through it for something worth keeping/selling. Several other folks are hanging out, drinking. I decide to put the face plate from the stereo in the glove box (which like the rest of the dash is metal) and lock the doors while I head in for another sugar free Red Bull. When I fired the Bronco back up I reached over to open the glove box. No dice. Tried a few more times. Nada. The wind and the exhaust will now have to duke it out between the two of them.

Next gas station continues what’s been playing out all night: gear-head dudes want to talk about the Bronco. The Bronco at a gas station is equivalent to a puppy at a park. The difference is that no one asks you how you upgraded the puppy. I can handle the basics, but when the conversation turns to all of the various types of carburetors that Holley makes I’ve got to tap out. When asked if I’m responsible for all of the upgrades I go with the line, “I’m the guy that bought this from that guy.” Everyone’s still disappointed, but it goes a lot quicker.

Several single ladies up past their bedtime signify their appreciation of the Bronco by baring things that are normally concealed as they pass at 85 MPH. Georgia has its moments.

Hit another massive traffic jam in Atlanta.

In the full embrace of darkness and the cooler night air leaking in from … everywhere …  I realized that the sweat has frozen to my body. Where had all of the engine heat gone?

Discover in rural Alabama that just because I need to stop every 90 minutes for gas doesn’t mean that there will be a station at that interval. Gas gauge is finicky, indicating full for many miles before it performs a sudden swan dive past empty. By my calculations my miles per gallon varies between nine and eleven. Decide to stop every 100 miles. Nothing good can come of running out of gas at night in rural Alabama.

Is VISA is going to call my wife at home and report that we’re being slowly bled by someone buying $33 of gas every 90 minutes on our card?

Threw caution to the wind and filled up BOTH tanks to try and make some time. Pulled my undershirt over my face as a rudimentary, and completely useless, gas mask. Don’t remember much of the rest of AL, but did end up having an argument with myself in front of a Hampton Inn in Gulfport, MS (I don’t recall the topic, or who won). It’s 2:30 a.m. Part of me wants to push on. The rest of me is done. Bronco’s belts are now howling (the forced march of a drive has stretched them or something has come loose; fix problem by ignoring it). Give up and check in to hotel. Get a key for a room on the opposite end. Walk there. Key doesn’t work. Repeat process. I’m wired, staring at the ceiling until about 3:00 am. Then crashed. Hard. Woke up at 4:00 and felt remarkably good. Fell back asleep til my alarm went off at 5:40 and I awoke feeling the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.

Glove box still not cooperating. Lack of cooperation now affecting the gas gauge, thus ending any further controversy regarding its accuracy. Math becoming increasingly difficult. Had to abandon the two tank approach to avoid passing out so I’m now once again stopping every 100 miles.

Really cold.

Buy a screwdriver at the next gas station to try and persuade the glove box. No dice.

Sunrise set against the Louisiana swamps was nice.

Not having any trouble staying awake as something is going on with the steering. Bronco increasingly wants to drift to the right, ignoring gentle persuasion from the steering wheel, until something eventually clicks/catches and forces an impromptu hard left turn — at 65 MPH. This element is added to the growing list of things to ignore.

In vicinity of Texas border when I lose track of when I last filled up. Minor panic attack.

Glove box relents for no apparent reason and the almost audible music is back – as is another conference call with a new client. I have no idea what I said. I believe I also spoke to my bride and pretended to be at the airport in NC. And the Oscar goes to…

One more big traffic jam in Beaumont (probably from everyone trying to leave).

Made it to my neck-of-the-woods about 2:00 p.m. Stopped at nearby gas station for yet another 10 gallons and then went to the neighborhood car wash. Attempted to remove the aroma of gas with what I thought was a modest amount of success (will later realize that my nasal passages and a fair number of my synapses had been permanently singed).

Pulled into my driveway at 2:30, exactly when my fictitious flight was going to have me arrive. My bride walked out after several minutes with a confused look on her face “That’s not your truck?”

After the shock we took a spin around the neighborhood and she subsequently sung my praises on social media. She also wrinkled her nose — a lot — and asked if that oil refinery-ish smell was a permanent feature.

Epilogue: We sold Lucille, as the beast came to be known, when we moved to Costa Rica. During our time together we learned a few things, including: 1) owning an un-airconditioned car in Houston is not as romantic as it sounds, 2) my sense of self-preservation is underdeveloped, and 3) I can, apparently, be quite the sneaky bastard (hopefully these powers will continue to be used for good).


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