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Friday, July 28, 2006

Vanbulance

I got a $400 free van. Yes, it's like tha barefoot boy with shoes on.

This means I technically have three vehicles in my name right now. Well, I'm trying to sell my old Mazda, and the van is not so much a vehicle as an accessory to an art project.

I had been thinking how I'd get my big pair of hands down to the Playa, and the cheapest way seemed to be to buy a van before the event and sell it afterward (renting a van from a rental car company for almost two weeks costs well over a thousand dollars, probably more like 1500). So, I finally got around to looking on craigslist, and found a bunch of promising hits for 1500 or less. That seemed okay, since I should be able to sell it at no (or very little) loss afterward, so I should just have to pay a few paperwork fees and some temporary registration and insurance. But I figured I'd try the British Columbia/Washington burners list that I'd just joined, to see if maybe I could avoid some of the paperwork and runaround and borrow a van from somebody, or, failing that, did anybody want space in the van I was going to buy otherwise?

That was Sunday night. Monday, sure enough, I got a reply from a guy (Randy) saying he had an old van that he just didn't have time to deal with anymore, and he'd sell it to me "EXTREMELY CHEAP." Upon further inquiry, I learned it had a leaky hose because a tire had blown and the flapping rubber had smacked the hose. I assumed this was a coolant hose, so I was having some trouble picturing the physical setup that caused that smacking, but whatever, this sounded good enough to look into. It turned out "extremely cheap" meant free, and the hole was in the gasoline hose leading from the place you put the gas in to the gas tank, and it was right over the exhaust pipe (gotta find the person who designed that and talk to them with a comment stick)... thus, we agreed that it should definitely be fixed before I drive it across the floating bridge. I was already in the city, and it was already 9:30pm (still a bit light out, though, I might add), so I didn't want to go home to grab tools. I headed over to Beacon Hill, where Randy lived, to meet the van.

So, not having the proper tools (really big pliers) on hand, we decided well, if we were going to replace the hose anyway, maybe we could just cut it in half and pull off the ends separately. After running around in the dark between a truck, two houses, and a shed, we found a big pair of garder clippers, so I went under the van, which was parked on the street, and proceeded to start trying to cut the old hose off. Randy, being a very nice guy, did not want to see me get run over, so he stood out and made sure no cars came to close. After much awkward bending, I got the hose off.

The next day (Tuesday), I took my hose specimen to Napa auto parts, where I told some of this story to the guy behind the counter, including that, despite the van's age, I trusted it for my purposes, since it had been used for the same purpose twice before - to drive down to Nevada. The guy gave me a look and said "Burning Man?" Turned out he'd been there a few times back in the very early days, and we both had a good laugh exchanging stories while he got the hose.

Problem was, my hose was 2 1/8, and the hose at Napa only came in 2 and 2 1/4. So that I could actually get it on, I went with the 2 1/4, and we figured if it's too big, it can be clamped down harder. He also told me that if it does still leak, put this magical glue called Seal-All, only available from 7-11 (not from real auto parts stores, of course), on it, since it was the only thing he knew of that he trusted to withstand the solvent powers of gasoline. Man, if I'd known that, I wouldn't have taken the old hose off... oh well. That old hose was nearly 20 years old, most likely, so replacing it wasn't a bad idea anyway.

Tuesday night, back I went to Beacon Hill, and attached my new hose to the van (more lying on asphalt with my legs sticking out into the street), got the van signed over to my name, and got the keys. This is where the slight disparity in price came in. I had been thinking I wanted to offer him some money for giving me this cool thing, and he had been thinking that the batteries and inverter alone were worth at least a hundred bucks. I decided to offer him four hundred, and since he'd seen my beamer, he didn't feel bad taking it. As he said, he loved his job - he made art for children - but he was far from rich off it. I feel like I got a great deal and he got more than he was going to ask for, so everybody was happy.

I had arranged for Shauna to be my second driver, but she was at a baseball game, and right as they were about to leave, they were going to throw away some beer, since it couldn't be taken out of the stadium. Rather than seeing beer go to waste, Shauna chugged it... and then remembered that she had volunteered to drive. We agreed to reconvene on Wednesday.

At this point, I should add some details about this van which was now officially mine. It is an '87 Dodge Ram, decommisioned ambulance (painted black, so it's legal). This meant it had not one, but two sets of backup batteries, an inverter, and all the ambulance lights, and it was well-insulated. Randy had driven it down to BRC twice, and it had obviously been there before that (I found stickers back to 2002). It was part of The Machine camp, which I remembered climbing on last year. It had big Machine logos painted on the sides, and it even said "Machine" backwards on the front. In short, this thing had some character.

Wednesday night, after dinner at Qdoba (kinda like Chipotle), Shauna and I went again back to Beacon Hill ("again" for me at least), where we tried to put some gas in the van, and found that it was dripping, of course right onto the exhaust pipe. On a scale of good to bad, we figured that was bad. And that we needed some Seal-All. First we parked the van (out of the gas station), and I crawled under yet again to tighten up the hose clamps some more. This seemed to work, but we figured we should find Seal-All anyway, and besides, it would give it some time to show if it was still leaking. We asked a random guy on the street (who had commented amusedly on our vehicle) where the nearest 7-11 was. We went, and no Seal-All. We figured maybe we'd try some other convenience stores. By then it was nearly 11:00pm. We tried a Lowes that had closed at 10:00pm, and were driving around further when I started to get these red and yellow ideas. I am not prone to having ideas that are just colors, and I couldn't figure out why I was then. Somehow, it hit me that not only might I already have a tube of Seal-All, but that if I did, it would be in my tool box, which was in the trunk of the car. Sure enough, we pulled over at a convenience store, opened the trunk, and there it was, right at the top of the tool box.

This really stands out to me as "one of those things". I don't even know where I got that tube, only that I'd had it for years. Maybe my old neighbor in Tucson gave it to me; I really couldn't say. But there it was, this same obscure substance, in a tube I had had for years without thinking about it.

So, back to the van. We elected against putting the Seal-All on right then, because the package gave perilous warnings about the flammable, hazardous, and did we mention FLAMMABLE vapors, and the tightening seemed to have worked against the leak (I had really cranked it down, with leverage this time, until the clamp screws either slipped or felt like they were about to). After some adjustment of the 'mirrors' (some reflective material one step better than stickers), we were off, with Shauna driving my new hulking black Machine. We figured at first that I would lead, since I knew the way better, then decided maybe it was better if I followed so I could keep an eye on the van and make sure nothing bad happened, like, you know, fire right next to the gas tank. This turned out to be a good thing, since the van did not have very good visibility with its makeshift mirrors, and I was able to move over into anther lane ahead of her and make space for her to switch. We were remarkably well coordinated for the ~15 mile drive back to my place across a couple of freeways with tricky entrances and exits. Hurray for the hive mind :-) I had a good time playing tug for the barge, a little black ninja bodyguard for the big, slow old hippy.

So, now the Machine vanbulance is sitting in a parking stall across the road from my apartment, and I'm sitting at home for the first night since Sunday I haven't been crawling under a car in the dark on a busy street. I must wonder what the condo association will think of this; they had already left a note on my Mazda when I hadn't moved it for a month, saying, in their friendly patronizing way, please get your old beat up car off our pretty complex if you're not using it - they even had a list of places to donate old cars. Bite me; I'm gonna get some money for that thing. Maybe not a lot, but more than the value of the write off. But, here we are, with four cars associated with this unit (three of mine and one of my housemate's), two of which are weird old beat up things that have more character than a grizzled pirate. But, the vanbulance - my vanbulance - is awesome... I really don't care what the condo association thinks.

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