Let me just start this out by saying, this was not the way I expected this Saturday to go. There was no ulterior motive, there was no carefully plotted scheme. Stuff just…happens. All we can do is roll with the punches and hope we can afford everything when the bills come due.
I’ll back up a little. Mr. Scout and I have been transiting the greater Baltimore area for the last year on the rare occasions we see a Scout pop up in the classified ads. It’s partially a good excuse to get together and catch up, and it’s always a good idea to look for parts for 25-year-old vehicles—you never know what you’ll find out there. Generally speaking, we always know we’ll be disappointed because the trucks in this area are usually long-neglected basket cases sold for exorbitant amounts by hopeful and deluded people. But that hasn’t stopped us yet.
He sent me a Craigslist ad on New Years Day about a truck for sale in beautiful Laurel, MD (home of hot-sheet motels, odd tire shops, the sketchy Laurel Park racetrack, mobile-home wholesalers, and the dot-com I used to work for) at an auction lot, and asked if I’d like to check it out. I didn’t actually get back to him until last night, when I sent him a text and told him I’d run out there for a quick peek. I wasn’t expecting anything special. The last truck we’d checked out actually looked kind of interesting in the pixelated, compressed CL pictures, but what we found after humping all the way out to Middle River was a frightening, leaky wreck.
The truck in this listing had “ragged out trail beater” written all over it, so I figured we’d be there for fifteen minutes, tops. It was a hideous grape color, accented with a bright yellow hood and an orangish-red windshield, sitting atop four oversized 32″ tires on blacked-out rims. As a rule, any lifted truck I’ve ever looked at has been thrashed to within an inch of its life, so my expectations were low. I sent him a text on Friday night after the baby went down, and told him I’d join him to take a look.
Early the next morning, he met me at the door to the house with a box of doughnuts (he knows well the way to my heart, that sly devil), and after I kissed my lady goodbye, we headed out into the cold.
The truck was sitting in a crowded impound lot, and on first glance, it wasn’t any better in person. But as we started crawling over it, I got more and more amazed at the condition it was in. All of the sheet metal was straight and 97% rust-free. It had a new-ish exhaust system, new-ish shocks, new-ish lift kit, a clean rollbar, soft top, full-size spare, clean rims, a 4-speed stick, and almost brand-new tires. The engine was not running, but it looked as if it wasn’t too far from doing so. Now, it was far from perfect—there were patches welded into the floors, the paint job was a 30-footer, the seats were hideous replacements, the interior hardware was pretty much gone, it didn’t run, and it was PURPLE. Inside and out. The doors, floors, tailgate and dash, all sprayed a noxious shade of goofy grape.
An old Scout friend I’ll call Mr. Clean joined us, and we discussed it briefly before going through the truck again. In retrospect, I didn’t actually say “I really shouldn’t buy this today”, because Mr. Clean, a veteran of many other auctions, went over and registered before I could stop him.
And when it came time to auction the truck, I seem to have failed to take into account the motivation of the auctioneer to get rid of his rolling stock as quickly as possible, because I tried to remain absolutely motionless after he hit the $300 mark, thinking, holy shit what am I doing?!? and he kept pointing at me, and suddenly it was at $500, and I tried not to blink, but it was cold, and then it was $700, and I tried not to breathe, and he pointed at me and raised, and then it was SOLD and I owned a Scout.
After the realization sunk in, I felt a little sick to my stomach, and Messrs. Clean and Scout took me aside for a pow-wow. They assured me it was a very good deal (as did a helpful gentleman who, unsolicited, pointed out that the tires were worth more than the purchase price of the truck).
I then got on the phone with my loving wife, who laughed and said immediately, “I kind of had a feeling you were buying a Scout today.” She could not have been more supportive, but behind her, I heard Finn giggle, and I suddenly felt like a selfish, stupid shit, and that made me feel sick all over again. At that point, I was ready to go find the two guys who’d been bidding against me to see if they were interested in taking over my bid, so I walked back to my two companions and told them my plan.
They could see I was worried, and assured me that they would help their pale, weak-kneed friend get the truck running, and if I changed my mind, they’d help me sell it or part it out for at least what I’d be paying for it.
And so it was.
So, the next problem: How to get this brick home. Mr. Scout dropped me at the bank to pick up cash (he’s my pusher man, that one is) and after a brief dalliance with a tow truck driver we saw in the parking lot ($65 flat fee, and $4/mi, which equalled at least a trio of Benjamins) we decided a rental trailer would be a better bet. Mr. Scout picked me up in his truck and off we went to lie to the U-Haul rep. As it turned out, his hitch is rated for much more than he thought, so the trailer we picked up was more than good enough for a Scout, and it was set up with hydraulic brakes. However, we had no winch. I don’t own a come-along, and time was getting short (the yard was due to close at 3), so we hoped for the best and high-tailed it over there. Mr. Scout navigated the tight maze of cars with the precision of a Swiss watch, and after consulting with the yard foreman, he had to turn the entire rig around in the space of a two-car garage. Once that had been completed, the money changed hands, and I was given a worn ignition key, a bunch of other chuckling employees appeared, I horsed the wheel left (power steering sucks when there’s no power), and we pushed it out of the spot and lined it up about thirty feet behind the tow rig. On the word “Go”, I let off the brake and aimed for the center of the trailer. I thought I hit the ramps dead-on, but apparently I was too far right, because the left wheel slammed up against the wheelguard, sending the entire thing forward, the tongue of the trailer off the ball hitch, and directly into the tailgate of the pickup.
Mr. Scout has a mighty good poker face, internets. Remind me never to play him for money.
At this point, that rollback was looking better and better, but my pusher man convinced me we should give it another try. We got the trailer hooked back up, tightened the hitch down as hard as it would go, and pushed the Scout back for a second run. This time, Mr. Scout took the wheel (I couldn’t bring myself to fuck up his truck a second time, and the yard guys all looked like they’d been asked to punt newborn kittens) and we yelled, “GO!” and everyone heaved and got it rolling, and the Scout somehow made it up and on the trailer the whole way. Relieved, we began to cinch it down onto the trailer when we discovered a new problem: The straps bolted to the trailer were made for tiny Geo Metro tires, not giant 32″ offroad Scout tires.
On the brink of despair, I had to marvel at the simple, practical, offhand solution offered by one of the yard guys (Mr. Scout, correct me here if this wasn’t your genius idea): “Looks like you’re gonna have to air them tires down.”
Um, right. I was just about to suggest that.
Using sticks we found in the gravel to depress the valves, the driver’s side tire only went down about halfway before the strap was long enough to grab hold, but the passenger side was sitting over the edge of the trailer and therefore was harder to deflate. The tire was so low the bead was almost off the rim and the strap just…barely…reached the ratchet, but there wasn’t quite enough of the strap to grab hold. On the verge of giving up, I decided my puny frame might give us the last bit of leverage we needed, so I jumped onto the top of the tire and stood there while Mr. Scout somehow coaxed it into the ratchet and cinched it down. I believe this was the point my heart started beating properly again.
The rest of the trip, while a little nerve-wracking for Mr. Scout, who was piloting the barge, was uneventful. We took the back way home, transiting the lovely, run-down Rt. 1 corridor between Laurel and Baltimore, and passed three police cars who took not a second glance at us.
Once in the driveway, we had to contend with two very deflated tires and a 4,600 lb. brick with limited stopping potential (power brakes, too). After ducking inside to grab my Christmas present, a shiny new air compressor—thanks, family!—we used an attachment from Mr Scout’s magical toolbox and aired both tires up in about two minutes. A call was made, and soon another friend appeared with an electric boat winch, which was attached to the frame of the Scout and the trailer hitch. After a few shoves to get the right tire off the rail, it only took one small push to get the Scout rolling, and suddenly it was parked in the driveway.
I’ve spent every minute since then wrestling with myself over what I should do. This truck cost less than one third of what I paid for my other Scout eleven years ago, and it’s in much better condition (aesthetics aside). If I was to keep it, it would need to go directly into the garage, which would mean cleaning out the garage, ripping up the useless plywood floor, and installing some rudimentary barn doors. I wouldn’t be able to do any major work on it for a long time, although simply getting it running would make me feel worlds better (and I have a date with my
enablers Scout friends this coming Sunday to attempt just that). I could leave it in the garage and let it sit out of the elements until I’m ready to work on it in earnest, whenever that might be. The difference between this Scout and my last one is that this is in much, much better condition to start with, and I now have people in the area who are enthusiasts like myself. That alone is a huge hurdle compared to the old days when I felt all alone in my madness.
On the flip side, I have a wife to love (and who loves Scouts), a daughter to raise, a house to finish, and a lack of free time. I already have enough crap on my plate that needs to get done. And there’s this little thing called the recession…. If I’m to sell it, I’ve got one standing offer already (and possibly two). The parts alone are worth more than the purchase price, if I was willing to go that route.
Herodotus once said, “It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.” While I’m not looking to a quote by a dead Greek to rationalize my ultimate decision, I’m looking for inspiration from the universe as to what my next move should be: this week is going to be filled with a lot of introspection while I wait for a sign.