Saturday
Sep172011

« 140,165 Miles on the White Donkey »

The White Donkey is always ready to rollThat's how many miles I've driven my Toyota truck since I bought it this day 15 years ago. Taken as a simple average, that's about 9,345 miles each year, but I think the devoted readers of TAPKAE.com know that the trend has generally been a downward one since about 2002. I have to say though that this year I am keeping only skeletal records for the year, and certainly my trip to New Mexico cast another 1,800 miles into the mix. Again though, disregarding that trip and the exceptional stuff, the daily discipline is still there. Even still, this year, even with those road trips, is only 3,547 so far. A bit more than recent years, but still pretty confined to about a third of the 15 year average.

I'm missing two hubcaps (as of this year, just before I left for New Mexico). The radio is a hit or miss thing, and even on hits it seems to distort at what to me is a listenable level, but gets worse above that. The headlights are rather dim from moisture inside the lamps. The back bumper is a bit warped from the time when a postal truck accidentally was let to roll down a slight incline and used my truck as a barrier. The bumper up front is dented from letting my old man talk me into pushing a car into his back yard. The right side door lock hasn't worked for a decade it seems. The back fender is dented some from an unfortunate early era (within the first year I got the truck) pizza delivery mishap. I haven't washed it but once in the last five years. The bench seat has been replaced with a reupholstered version. No one would confuse it for anything but a work truck.

I bought it in the midst of a disaster. My grandfather had squirreled away about $12,000 in stock for me when he died, and only a month and a half later when I was also squeezed out of my childhood home by the deeds and attitudes of an increasingly unbearable old man, I was also faced with needing to get my Ford Escort fixed. (I had shopped for a Totota truck two years before that when I was given a $10,000 gift/inheritance in 1994. Some of that went to the Premier drum kit I still have, some went to a trip to Alaska to see Shelby, and some was just squandered between jobs. But the stock was the last hurrah. The money that wasn't used to buy the truck was left alone for some time until I heard about Roth IRA and put it there in 2001—just months before 9/11 caused the economy to crash and my IRA to go with it. While watching that money plummet I was also racking up a student loan bill at AIC. Years later, I paid that off with the rebuilt stock money that I had since withdrawn from the IRA. Possibly foolish, but it got me out of debt which I regard as wise.) 

Digression aside, the truck was a crisis decision that worked out. I sold about $8,000 worth of the stuff and put in about a grand of my own money to but it outright. My girlfriend at the time even put in about $500 to buy the Lo-Jack system that mercifully never had to get used. (But I used to fret when it was a pretty new vehicle.) The Ford fetched me $150 of trade in value, in part because I did not prepare it in any way but also because it was nearing the end of the Ford lifetime, at 95,000+ miles. I had already replaced the head and done numerous other fixes with the "help" of just about anyone who I could afford or not. The last repair I had was to get the timing done by a real mechanic with a real shop, after having tried to let my grandmother's new housemate Bill Francis work on it, and during which my old man decided to terrorize me some by taking it off the working ramps and causing the system to get all out of sync. That last repair bill—about a week before I traded it away—was for $300. I only got half of that in trade! It was a basket case that I was glad to see go.

When I bought it, I had barely had much experience driving stick, so it was a bit of a learning curve at first. I did have a job the year before that had me drive a similar truck, but I was rather sloppy with it and sometimes abusive of it as I learned to drive it. When Robin and I left the dealership rather late that September 17th, 1996, I had sweaty palms from just closing the biggest purchase deal I have ever made (even to this day). We went to the ARCO at Genesee and Clairemont Mesa Blvd. to buy gas. The tank was pretty empty so I filled it up. Cost all of $14 and some change! (That seems so quaint now just like people and their $0.12/gallon tales from the 70s.) I was sort of living at Robin's in La Mesa. I was in an odd place. I was barely working for Rockola around then, just got ousted from home, was unwelcome at my grandmother's place, and on top of all that, Robin and I were in the middle of what I called an eight month breakup that lasted from about April till the end of that year. But I had a new-ish truck! 

I anticipated it would cost me less to operate since it probably wasn't going to be problematic. And it generally wasn't. I had bought it from the dealership that had used that very vehicle as its parts truck. That's how it got its 78k miles in just two years. That's about 39k each year! Far more than I use it, you see. What I did realize, given my situation, was that I needed to get some work that had some potential to change things some for me. I was feeling quite devastated in that state. Living at Robin's was testy, given our relationship that was in an off-on-off-on state for so long. It was at her parents' place anyway and that is awkward on any day of the week. Rockola (Bob, mainly) was washing hands of me, and even though there were a few things that turned up as other musicians in town discovered my availability, the need for my own apartment space was clear, and taking care of my new ride was key to enabling me to work as an assistant and cartage guy. But since music related work was not so empowering then, given the network I had, I turned to Pizza Hut and got that gig in La Mesa at the start of October. I was quite delighted the day I got the call while at Robin's place. It was the first time in a year or so since Advance Recording Products that I had a "real" job. All the time since I was just doing music tech work and getting paid what little I was worth then.

After about a month at Pizza Hut, I was looking in the San Diego Reader for apartments or rooms to rent. For the first time ever I was feeling empowered enough to do so. I looked at just one or two and ended up at a place in Clairemont (with my job now in La Mesa, about nine miles away), where I got one bedroom for $270 for the first year or so. I moved in on Halloween and was invited to some fun on the town with one of my new roommates, Art Pacheco, and his girlfriend. We went to the Red Fox Room in University Heights, and listened to some torch singer and watched freaks in their costumes. It was a plunge into a new world where the characters were unfamiliar. The lock on my door, flimsy as it was, was all that kept the world at bay but since we all paid our shares and were strangers, I do not know of any intrusions like I was getting familiar with at home. The bills were legit and shared. It was kind of scary, not least of which because I was in an apartment with people coming and going all the time in the area. I used to check on my truck a few times a day and night. 

Working at Pizza Hut did not require a new vehicle and in some ways I'm bummed that I used the new truck for that because within a year I got it dented upon one ill-considered backing up. But aside from that, I was able to drive it confidently and reliably report to work where I got what seemed like a king's ransom over well over a thousand dollars a month. That was epic. I used to dream fancifully of getting $800 from Rockola back in 1995. This led me to wonder why I bothered with them, but I did have an attitude that was rather self aware that I had no business doing this work if I was to ever seek happiness. 

Just about as quickly as my life seemed back on track, with new truck and new apartment, I was at Wal Mart one day. (November 13th, one of the extremely few dates I ever set foot in there and about one of three or four that I bought anything at a Wal Mart.) I was buying a new phone for my room when I got a page from an 818- area code. I had no idea who that was so I blew it off till I was rid of Matt and Robin for the day. When I got home, it was on the answering machine...a call from none other than Mike Keneally. The message he left offered me a crappy paying gig doing drum and bass tech and driving on his tour that was to begin soon. In FIVE days it would be starting. At that time, I was a drooling fanboy and almost took no time in saying yes. It meant that I basically would have to quit the Pizza Hut gig, park my truck somewhere (ended up at the old man's back yard under covering tarps), and to be gone from Robin for five weeks, which eventually turned out to be just what the doctor ordered to finally put the distance between us that we were not able to achieve. I basically dropped everything to work for about $37/day for each day gone. It wasn't much but for a few weeks' work, it was stable and no less than Pizza Hut. And it was gonna be fun like nothing else I had done for work!

After getting a wishy washy word that I could come back to Pizza Hut when I was done with the tour, I basically just got ready to go. Parked the truck under the tarps at the old man's back yard. That took some doing because one of his strategies in getting me to move originally involved game playing with ripping my keys off and holding them hostage. I have a hard time understanding his motives, but once in a while it makes sense to trust him more than the world around. 

Skipping ahead the better part of these 15 years, I reiterate one more time that this was a purchase well made. It's odd but it was only with my trip to Arizona early last year that I actually started driving it across country. No kidding. Prior to that trip, as far as I had ever driven it was on day trips that generally did not ever top 300-400 miles at a stretch, and even those were rather few and far between. Trips to the LA area, Palm Springs, El Centro and Salton Sea are about as far as I ever took the truck. Then last year I decided to drive to Arizona. And then to Death Valley. And to Joshua Tree. The thing runs great. So I went to New Mexico (after replacing the radiator though, and some other work), and then off to Big Bear. Now Kelli and I are cooking up other plans for more such travel. It's just a reliable little donkey I got here.

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