01 July 2011

The Epic Tale of my 1963 Econoline, AKA: The Van Story- Part 1

I decided I should post up the long and strange journey that is my van build-thread from the LBCC board. I'll post it up in a few installments. Enjoy:

Part I- In the beginning:
Josie and I left for the desert at about seven o'clock at night. Still being at the height of summer, the sun hadn’t fully set, but it was steadily on it’s way there. I hadn't even unpacked from Paso; my duffel bag sat in the back seat of my dad’s crew cab half full of yesterday’s dirty laundry as we climbed the Altamont. My heart pounded as I held the wheel of the truck, swerving around potholes with one hand, pounding an energy drink with the other while my brain went over all of the important details of our trip: We were heading for Nevada, and tomorrow I would be pulling home my Econoline. We left so quick I didn't even bother to get directions; I knew we were staying the night in Vegas, a drive I’ve made a handful of times, and finding a room should be easy. We would call Walt in the morning to go see the van, thus far I had only spoken to his daughter who had posted the van to the Las Vegas craigslist for her computer-illiterate father. This whole ordeal started from that ad and a picture she emailed me before Paso:

She had said that there was a U-haul down the street from him, and we'd rent a trailer one-way from there for home. I don’t even think I said much more to my Dad when I borrowed his truck than “We need to borrow the truck for a few days”, carefully not mentioning the madness and adventure that we were heading straight into.

The sun had set thoroughly before we got through Bakersfield; Josie dozed off as I drove steadily through the Mojave Desert through Tehachapi, Barstow, then Baker. The drive was surprisingly uneventful; I hardly even remember talking much on the way there aside from debating whether Chrome Smoothies or Supremes would be more appropriate on the van, whether or not 1963 was too late for Lake Pipes, and whether I could still pull them off in more of a 70’s street-machine sort of way.

I pulled on the strip in Vegas at about four in the morning, but with Vegas being, well, Vegas the street was alive with tourists in t-shirts. We pulled in to the Flamingo at about four in the morning, a place decidedly hard on the eyes after an all-night drive.

As we walked through the lobby we passed endless aisles of middle-aged women staring blankly at slot machines and video poker, slowly watching their money leave them with one hand poking at buttons with the other gripping a cigarette with a mile-long ash. We made it to the counter, and checked in to an over-priced room for the night. The coked up kid at the counter wouldn't cut us a deal based on our late arrival, and we ended up staying in the room for a few hours. I didn't really sleep, but rather passed out from exhaustion for an hour or so. We took this picture from the window of the hotel room:

We got dressed, grabbed our things, and we were off for Day 2:

I felt just as bad as I looked.
We stumbled out of the room at about nine in the morning and wandered slowly through the Flamingo back to the truck. In a daze from the Nevada sun, exaggerated by our overall exhaustion and lack of food we took a minute to observe some of the Flamingo’s wildlife; a handful of dying koi fish swimming listlessly through a green pool marred with spit and cigarette filters.

I called Walt from the truck, and he gave us directions- we still had an hour or so before we were in his town, so we were back on the highway again, nearly blinded by the bright desert sun.

We saw a foreboding sign along the way that said we were just outside of the “Valley of Fire”, which didn't lie. I guess it got that name from some Indian tribe, and I could see why- this was the closest place to hell I had ever seen. We pulled off at Walt's exit, and headed in about twenty minutes off the highway into this small town. I don't remember the name of the town, or if it actually had one; the place was more of a collection of people living on the edge of the desert, still dry-humping on to the American dream, but just barely. The dry wind of the Nevada desert seemed to have blown most of the life out of there. It was the kind of place that doesn't get a lot of visitors, a fact that quickly became apparent to us- our white California plates must have been shining bright on the truck because every porch-sitting denizen of this place couldn't take their eyes off them. Some people even got up and stood in the street behind us as we walked by, which was one of the eeriest things I had ever seen. It didn’t occur to us at the time how vulnerable we were out there, no one, including ourselves, really, knew where we were, we had a handful of cash, one cell-phone between Josie and I, and no idea about the caliber of the people we were about to meet. After driving up and down the only paved road in town a few times, we finally found our meeting place- a trailer park with no visible address on the edge of oblivion.

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