We push-started the van (one great thing about stick shifts!), and decided to head back to the shop to work on the ignition. But of course we didn’t even get that far when the engine lost compression, and got slower and slower, like the inferior “ordinary carbon” battery in the Eveready commercials. We pulled off at the next exit and crawled to a nearby parking lot, the van coughing and farting the whole way. After working on the car for close to an hour they realized they needed more tools and parts, and drove back to the shop.
Ivette and I walked about a half mile down the street to an ice cream shop and waited out the delay eating double scoops of mint and mocha. Mainly we just wanted to be indoors where it was warm (of course we came to Florida on the coldest day of the year).
Forty-five minutes later the guys were back with thick canvas bags full of tools and parts. We watched as they replace the battery, the starter, and the points. All to no avail.
The AAA flatbed tow truck arrived about an hour later, and the guy attached a huge cable to somewhere under the perfectly preserved bumper. “I just want to let you know the bumper where the chain is scraping against it might get a little scratched,” he informed me perfunctorily. I suggested he put a rag between the chain and the bumper, and he did, with a look on his face like I was asking for more than anyone else ever had.
After about three hours at the shop the van was once again ready to hit the road. Something to do with the distributor, I think. Hand shakes all around, more comments from both sides about how beautiful the van was, etc. Whether we had intended to or not, we had gotten to know these people.
Finally - on the road! There had been a bomb threat on the main route (I guess someone wanted to blow up a palm tree, or something) so we were redirected onto a smaller residential street through the hood. (The sellers had earlier talked about how dangerous this part of town was.) We hit a speed bump and the headlights went out. I slowly drove for a couple blocks while trying to get the lights to come back on, pushing and pulling knobs, the windshield wipers wiping, emergency flashers flashing. Good thing we weren’t attracting any attention! I finally pulled over, but changed my mind and pulled back out when I noticed a couple rough characters walking towards the car.
We drove for half a mile and parked on bigger street, one with street lamps. I got out and lightly kicked the headlights (I had seen that in a movie once), but it didn’t work.
Back on the phone. Ryan and Mike were washing their hands (literally and figuratively) and almost laughed. I told them we were only a few blocks away and to wait there. When we pulled up, laughing ironically (at least we were still laughing), Mike reminded me that sometimes you had to jiggle the ignition a little, which he did, and the lights were back on.
“Bye, Bye, thank you.” “Good luck. Take care.”
This time we got about fifteen miles north on 95, and the van just DIED. Unbelievable. We called Ryan who by that time was home with his wife and kids, showered and ready for bed. It had been a long day. He put the call into AAA, and we sat in the cold camper for at last 45 minutes until the tow truck arrived.
We met Ryan back to shop, where we dropped the van off. The car was going to need new parts, and they would have to drive to Ft. Lauderdale in the morning to get them. Ivette and I headed to the nearest hotel. It was midnight, and last call at the lobby bar, where Ivette and I sipped a cabernet, and ate the free Double Tree cookies (our dinner).
The next day was spent hanging around the lobby, calling for updates. At one point I hadn’t been able reach them for a couple hours and I hoped it was because they were under the car, and not half way to Mexico.
When we finally did get them on the phone, it was apparent the van was nowhere near being road ready, and we decided to get back on a plane to New York.
A couple days later Ryan called. The van, with rebuilt distributor, new battery, new points and plugs, repaired brakes, and new starter, was ready to be shipped to New York. “Good to go,” he assured me. I told him I’ll believe when I see it (and drive it more than 15 miles...).
I got a call from the shipping company on the following Saturday - the camper was in Brooklyn, in the shipping yard. I could let them deliver it, or come and get it for a $50 discount. I opted for the discount.
Bright and early Monday morning Ivette and I headed out to Brooklyn on the subway. A guy picked us up at the subway and drove us a couple miles to some industrial area near the water. We pulled into the lot, and there it was, wedged between a couple nondescript vehicles: my beautiful, candy-apple red 1971 VW camper. I guess it wasn’t a dream - I really did buy this thing.
I signed the necessary documents and climbed into the van, praying to the Hippie Gods somewhere that this would start. It did. Thank you Reality D. Blipcrotch (won’t make sense to you if you didn’t read Part I).
First stop: the DMV to get plates. The car was currently unregistered, without plates, and bright red. Not a great combination. Navigating through lower Manhattan using the iPhone GPS wasn’t working - it placed us somewhere in New Jersey. After a few wrong turns we finally pulled up in front of the DMV. It was closed! Martin Luther King Day! I need to start watching the news...
Half way through a nervous drive up the West Side Highway, with my constant glancing in the rearview mirror for police cars, the car started making a very loud noise. And got louder and louder. Hmmm...the car still had good compression. Then I remembered: I was supposed to turn back the key slightly after starting the car. The ignition switch was faulty and stayed forward constantly engaging the starter, unless you did this little trick Mike and Ryan had showed me when we first looked at the car in Florida. Well, I hadn’t done it, but did as soon as I remembered. Slowly the loud noise began to fade. The rest of the ride uptown felt calm and steady.
My original plan was to get to my neighborhood a little before alternate side of the street parking was over, to nab a good spot in front of my apartment building. The timing was perfect, but my plan wasn’t - there was no alternate side of the street parking in effect due to the holiday. By some miracle, however, I found a spot across the street. A good omen? Let’s not act so fast...
I got into my apartment and immediately called the police station and asked what would happen to a car parked in the street that didn’t have plates. “You can’t park that in the street. It’ll be towed. Or at least tagged. You gotta get that off the street.” I almost sprinted to the car. But was okay so far - no ticket. But the cop was right - I needed to get this into a garage for the night.
I get and turn the key and guess what - the car wouldn’t start. (You’re getting smart.) Just a loud churning noise coming from the back of the van. “The starter,” I thought to myself. “I burned out the starter!”
My neighbor Paul was home and helped me push start the car, and I drove it straight to the nearest garage, where it spent the next three days getting the burned out starter replaced, and having the tricky ignition to not be so tricky.
When I picked up the car three days later, it started and drove with no problem. I parked it in front of my building a couple days ago and every time I pass it, heading to the subway, or going to the store, there is always someone standing there looking at it. Or taking a picture of it. I guess it does look like some kind of museum piece. Come to think of it, maybe it WOULD be better off in museum...
The van will be used in a TV show I will be hosting called “The Best You’ve Never Heard.” This will be the subject of a future blog.
I have posted photos and a video here:
Thanks for reading all the way through!