(first posted 2/13/2013. Updated with a new ending 2/3/2018)
At eight-thirty on the morning of February 12, 1971, two weeks after turning eighteen, I sat on a wooded hillside looking down on the large back storage lot at Towson Ford. Instead of going to Towson High that morning, I had walked here to retrieve my Boy Scout backpack, which I had packed and then stashed under a bush the night before. I was about to leave everything behind today: family, friends, school, job…something out there was calling me and I was going to heed the call. I had planned to hitchhike after picking up my paycheck when the dealership opened at nine–and then, as I sat there looking at all those new 1971 Fords, an idea popped into my head, one that undoubtedly changed the trajectory of my life.
Why not just take one of them and drive…all the way to California?
I had an after-school job at Towson Ford, in the new-car prep department, that gave me access to the large wall-mounted cabinet in the hall that held the keys for every new car. Given the vast inventory, I figured it would be weeks–more likely, months–before my ride would be noticed as missing. By then I’d be sitting on a sunny beach with my new California girl, the 1971 Ford parked nearby.
It was a scary thought, and one that brought on a familiar surge of hormones. I’d shoplifted a bit, and the adrenaline rush was often more satisfying than whatever stupid object I’d lifted. I’d taken my parents’ and other cars cars out repeatedly before I had my license, and the previous summer I’d repeatedly “borrowed” one of the dealership’s 1970 LTD rental cars on weekends.
But this was seriously stepping up the game, as a felony with likely prison time. I had pushed aside the thought numerous times, but it wouldn’t stay away. I went through this same yo-yo process just the day before, when I decided to leave home without telling anyone, and yet here I was with my backpack; hey, decisions aren’t all that hard if you don’t allow yourself to think too much (or at all) about the unknowns. And my barely eighteen-year-old brain was well versed in that (non)-process.
As I sat there imagining driving across the country, I looked down at the storage lot, where every model and color of Ford’s 1971 lineup was well represented. I’d driven them all, so which one would it be? It certainly wasn’t going to be a Galaxie or LTD. Or a Torino. Needless to say, the Maverick also didn’t make the first cut.
Then my eyes fell on the fire-engine red Mach 1 with the 351 HO glistening down there in the morning sun. I knew it well, having driven it back from the body shop that just the week before, a drive I extended considerably via winding back roads. It was a beast, and it even had the four-speed, too. As I had wrestled with it through the tight esses and barreled down the straights, its exhausts bellowing, I had imagined myself riding off into the sunset, forever.
Needless to say, it was very tempting. Like so many car-crazy kids, I had dreams of becoming a famous automotive writer at Car and Driver. Wouldn’t this be a brilliant way to start out, creating the fodder for my first story to send to them? “Gone In 30 Seconds”.
Or just how I raped and pillaged my way across the country in a stolen Mach 1? They’d hire me on the spot, right?
Well, I actually did harbor that dream rather intensely, but it seemed utterly unattainable then; what did I really know about cars? Or life? Or what to write about them? Or how to take the first step towards actually attaining such a dream? School? I already knew more about cars than any college prof, or at least I thought so.
I didn’t have a clue about how to become an automotive journalist–or better yet, an auto industry executive–in order to head off the rapidly-escalating Broughamization of Detroit. All my pot smoking and LSD-taking hadn’t exactly done much for my career planning. My dreams then were utterly amorphous, or about the next girl I would meet, or how the world needed to be re-invented from scratch, or how I was going to sit in the redwoods in California and gain enlightenment. Anyway, muscle cars weren’t really all that cool with the hippie crowd I was hanging out with at school. Radical politics and a Mustang Mach 1, even a red one, just didn’t mix all that well.
Perhaps surprisingly, there actually was some practical calculus (a subject I’d failed) in my mind about which car to swipe: I may not have been giving a lot of thought as to what would actually happen if I did get caught, but I was thinking about how to improve the odds of that not happening. And the red Mach 1 was way too conspicuous, both in its absence and being behind the wheel of one without license plates.
No, I needed something that would encourage slow driving and be as invisible as possible. An encounter with a cop was going to ruin my plans mighty quick. It suddenly hit me: a van; as dull and plain as possible, and my new house on wheels. As long as I had it, I’d never want for a home again. And I knew exactly which one: a plain white short-wheelbase Econoline E-100 windowless van that had been sitting on the lot for months.
If I couldn’t make the great youth migration to California in a VW bus, this was the next best thing. I’d driven it once; it had the 240 six and three-on-the-tree. It would probably get 15-16, maybe 17 mpg, which was the low end of what was doable on my budget. With the last paycheck that I was about to pick up, I had some $125 to my name. Let’s see; about 3000 miles at 15 mpg…..200 gallons, at 35¢ a gallon…hmm…about…seventy bucks for gas. That left $55 for food and as a start in California. Shoulda’ saved more money, or sold my stereo equipment…maybe hitch hiking was a better choice after all.
Nine o’clock: Time to act, one way or another. My ears were buzzing, my lips were dry, my heart beat audible. I walked into the office, picked up my check, and as I walked back down the darkish hallway, I looked both ways; the place was dead. I took a deep breath, opened the cabinet, and quickly found the keys to the Econoline. I paused for a moment, the two dissenting voices in my head rose to a scream: DO IT! – DON’T! – DO IT! – DON’T! – DO IT!….
My feet were so shaking from nerves that I popped the clutch as I pulled into York Road, letting off a little chirp of rubber. Good thing I didn’t take the Mach 1 after all. I hopped on the Beltway that was just a few blocks away, and then hit I-70 West. For the first hour or so, I kept scanning the rear view mirrors for the flashing lights I was sure would appear. But they didn’t. By the time I headed over the Appalachians, my heart finally slowed down some. Somewhere in Ohio, I pulled into a town, stole some license plates, and bought an old mattress in a Salvation Army store. But I never really fully relaxed though…wasn’t the point of running away to get away from all the stress?
Four long days on the road, and with each state line, I relaxed a bit more. Once I got to Los Angeles, I didn’t stop until the freeway ran into the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. I pulled off, and savored my first view (and swim) in the Pacific. I’d made it, and then I bid adieu to Los Angeles forever; a few hours of the traffic and hustle was enough. So I made my way north, always along the coast. The Ford made a perfect home on wheels; I’d pick up odd jobs in little beach towns for food and gas money, and kept moving, never staying in one place for long.
In Big Sur, I found this skull on a hike. And that’s when I first had the idea to start decorating the Econoline with mementos I found along the way. And I’ve never stopped since. The Econoline became my living scrapbook, and every little piece of decoration has its own story to tell.
One of my many girlfriends during that first year hanging out on the coast had an anole lizard, which she kept in a little fish tank in the van. Mealy worms weren’t good enough for her beloved “Chamelio”, so it needed fresh flies. So one of our daily rituals was catching live flies with our bare hands, tossing them into the tank, and closing the screen cover quickly before the fly recovered and flew back out.
We would spend hours some days, hunting flies, with nothing better to do. And I got really good at it, sneaking up on them stealthily; watching Chamelio hunt them down in the cage and was our reward. Life is like that; whatever you spend your time and energy on, you get better at. Was there a possible career in live-fly catching?
Anyway, when Chamelio failed to start moving one morning after an unusually chilly night in the van, I decided to memorialize him with this plastic lizard. But if I tell the story of each artifact on and in the van, we’d be here for a very long time. Note that I said “the van”, not “my van”, because even after forty-two years, I still feel like it’s not quite truly mine, even if I did get some guys in a Bakersfield junkyard to “sanitize” my VIN plate so I could legally title and register it. Maybe that explains why I keep adding things to it; to cover it up, and make it seem more mine than not.
Eventually, I worked my way up the coast to the Redwood Empire, in northern Humboldt County. One perfect sunny spring day in May of 1972, while walking through Redwood Park in Arcata, I met a sweet young lass with dark hair who was sitting on a tall giant redwood stump reading a book. She looked like something out of a fantasy painting, sitting up there cross-legged holding her book.
We started talking and I climbed up there with her, we really hit it off. We both loved the outdoors, walking on the beach, pickling wild berries, and camping in the van. She was always reading; the classics, novels, mysteries. She’d read them aloud while I drove; I learned more about literature and life than I ever did in High School English.
After she graduated from high school a few weeks later, we traveled up the coast to Oregon, including a few days hanging out in and around Eugene. We dreamed aloud about having an old house with a big garden with kids and chickens running around in it someday.
The next day, we were sitting on a driftwood log on the beach when she suddenly turned towards me, looked me straight in the eyes for what seemed like forever, and asked how how I came to have such a new van. Our eyes were locked like they had been so often; I couldn’t lie to her and told her the story. After another long pause, her eyes started to lose focus and cloud over, and she turned away to face the crashing surf. She never looked me in the eyes again.
After losing Stephanie, I never felt I could really be totally honest or tell the story of how I got this van. So I started hanging out with women that didn’t care so much about the truth, and more about just having a good time, usually in the back of the van. And there were plenty of those; I started adding a pebble to the engine cover and dash for each one; you want me to go count them all?
Let’s just say they haven’t had to move from the engine cover very often over these many years, as the 240 six is a durable lump, and it lasted almost 300k miles before I had to rebuild it. And now I’m closing in on a half-million miles.
I eventually did end up in Eugene, like so many others of our “tribe”. I was always good at fixing things and building stuff, and became a Jack-of-all-trades. Helped folks build yurts in the woods; lived for awhile in a commune out near Mapleton, painted houses (and always used some of the paint on my van) fixed old cars, helped friends convert old buses into rolling homes, built structures at the Country Fair, became a Dead Head, grew some weed…you name it, I’ve done it.
Except settle down, that is. I’ve never had a long relationship or lived in one spot for more than six months or so; I always get antsy, and have to move on; it’s as if I’m still looking in the rear view mirror expecting to see flashing lights.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out at the coast picking huckleberries along the Tahkenich Dunes Trail. As I came around a bend in the trail, I saw a woman also picking huckleberries. As she turned to look at me, I bolted out “Stephanie?” She looked me in the eyes and said “Paul!” She was sweeter and cuter than ever.
We headed out to the beach and walked along the edge of the crashing surf, just like we had done so many times before. She told me about how she was recently divorced from some guy in LA in the tv business, and how she had finally decided to move to Eugene, like we had talked about doing some 45 years earlier. She was looking to start life over after having raised three kids and lived in LA for a lot longer than she ever wanted to. And she told me how much she loved it in Oregon, with all the fresh air, and the mountains and beaches both nearby.
It was so wonderful; it was as if that 45 year interval had never happened. We spent hours on the beach, and finally headed back with a magical golden sunset over our shoulders. She told me all about her house and garden, and said I needed to come and see it.
When we got to the parking lot, there were only two vehicles left; a white Acura station wagon and my van. When Stephanie took that in, half-way across the lot, she stopped in her tracks and turned to me: “What? You’re still driving that van you stole? You should have gotten rid of that damn thing decades ago.”
She turned away, walked straight to her car, got in, and drove off, a bit briskly at that. I heard the Acura’s twin exhausts snarling a bit as she pulled into Hwy 1, and soon saw the white Acura’s flashing silhouette heading north between the gaps of the big spruce trees. I stood there looking at my van, and then did what I should have done that fateful day back in 1971 when I also stood looking at it in the Towson Ford back storage lot: I turned away, walked out to the highway, stood on the shoulder and put out my thumb.
Wow. Just wow. You must have brass ones, I would still never be able to sleep at night with a stolen van parked out front. Great story though
It’s an absolute miracle you haven’t been caught, but you could probably pay off fines now (unlike when you “obtained” the van).
Not sure how much of this is fiction, or if it’s really a melding of two reaities.
Best guess: “other road taken” fiction.
My exact thought.
From some experiences, I can assure the unschooled: success does not come from running or from impulsive acts.
I think there’s aspects of this tale we all can recognize, though. I remember how I got priced out of auto insurance after a DWAI in New York State…at the time, one needed an insurance binder to get plates. And if the policy were lapsed, a memo would go to the DMV, and registration cancelled.
I hocked a set of my old man’s old New Jersey plates, hung them on my Pinto, and drove insurance-free, registration-free, to Houston in 1981.
As for that van: It looks like a ringer of one I abandoned in San Diego in 1991. 1971; short wheelbase. Olive drab paint; and finished inside. Bought it in Atlanta; rust-free. It would have been a find for someone with a shop and some funds.
That’s the way it is in NC. Now the inspection is tied to the registration and the yearly taxes so best get your p,s and q,s in line!
Nice one Paul.
I only ran away (for real) once, when I was about 10:
Mom: Where are you going with that bag
Me: I’m running away from home
Mom: Ok, just make sure you’re home for dinner
Sure enough I was hungry by dinner time and came home. Never stolen a car either, but many times have wondered “what if I just keep driving? what if I never go back?”
Check out this cool van…restored just like this guy with the 71
Wow, Paul, I don’t think I’ve seen a better expression of a personal “road not taken”.
Countless times, probably daily, my mind drifts back to the forks in my road. I think that applies to most of us. I’m grateful for where my bumpy road has taken me. Clearly you are too. Surely Stephanie and your kids are glad you didn’t grab those keys!
As for your dream of becoming an automotive writer, CC’s traffic is rising to mainstream levels!
I felt like I was 18 years old again…seriously. I can’t remember when a piece of writing ever did that to me before.
+4. Too many forks in my road.
What is it about old vans that makes CC authors go crazy, present company included? Just think how differently life could have turned out if you had not taken those keys. Long-term marriage, multiple kids, hotshot life in LA in the 80s, and an eventual life running an apartment building dedicated to owners of curbside classic-worthy cars. You might have even done something wild like owning a Dodge van instead.
We may have a CC first here – a PN – authored piece about a 1971 Ford that is without a single unkind word about the car. 🙂 I am with you, though – there was a lot to love about these old Econolines.
My experience with a ’71 short-wheelbased Ford van is more or less a harrowing tail of what you get when your grandparents let their Mr. Magoo neighbor drive you in his van through rush hour traffic. Poor guy couldn’t remember he’d already gotten in the left turn lane, so he just kept moving over into on-coming lanes. Not much of a crumple zone, and he couldn’t hear the horns or understand the…ahem…friendly gestures from the other drivers…
Hunh, that could have been me, except the windowless van I took was black; that was my first mistake. Don’t really think I can discuss what happened on THAT trip; let’s just say it came out entirely differently…
Truth sometimes duplicates fiction.
I owned a brand new Econoline at age 21.
I drove that Econoline from New York State to the Pacific Ocean.
I later owned a 1970 Econoline E-200 cargo van with the 240 six and 3 on the tree.
I have lived in Eugene, Oregon
I once drove from central Mississippi to northern New England without any plates (and nobody stopped me).
I am a (lousy) writer.
I am a house builder (three so far).
I have lived in a housetruck for eight years.
I am a nut about cars.
BUT . . . . . . . .
I have never kept a lizard for a pet.
I don’t have anything like Paul’s imagination. and . . .
I wonder where he gets his material.
That story is SO ’70’s!
That shot of the red ’71 Mach 1 up on two wheels is from “Diamonds are Forever”, the last Sean Connery James Bond film and a hilarious outrage. This Mustang commits one of the all-time great continuity errors in the history of movies. Check it out in this YouTube clip. Skip ahead to the 4:00 mark to see it. (And read the first comment there to see how many Mach 1s were wrecked to pull this off.)
Sean Connery did step one more time as James Bond in “Never Say never again” in 1983 to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Say_Never_Again
And 4 Mach 1 was breaked by Remy Julienne. I wonder how many AMC Hornet, Citroen 2CV and Renault 11 (aka Encore) was breaked for James Bond stunts? 😉
My grandfather had a whit 71 ecnoline van when I was a wee tike. The only thing I can remember was sitting on his knee while steering it up his driveway, I think I was three. When I was seven my step father borrowed that same van to go pick up some piglets for our hobby farm. My grandfather sold that van three days later and many hose outs and shampoos later, he couldnt handle that smell.
I made it all the way through before pausing to wonder if this was fiction or not. At first I didn’t catch the hyperlinks at the end; once I saw those, I also recalled that Paul has mentioned (a) Stephanie in several of his articles. The puzzle pieces started to fit from there.
Damn, what an awesome read! I think you may have just grabbed the ‘Best Automotive Fiction’ award from Baruth. Most novels today don’t have such loving attention to detail.
This was most awesome. Having a true dislike for vans, this could make me come around.
One of my favorite movies is “Charley Varrick” partly because of the plot and Walter Matthau but partly because of the neat old Dodge Van he tools around in and also being chased by a bounty hunter in a 1968 Chrysler Imperial.
Didn’t you just get finished telling me a few days ago that it was NOT a Chrysler Imperial, but an Imperial? Grumble Grumble. 🙂
OK – Imperial by Chrysler… 😉
In a totally unrelated note, GM is one of the few parent company entities that isn’t named by one its own vehicle marques.
GM EV1 !
“Charley Varrick” is awesome. Just re-watched “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” confirming that Matthau is great in city as well as country.
And JP, the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles says my car is Imperial make, LeBaron model, so at least one indifferent state agency confirms what Craig told you. 🙂
Yeah, that was great! More of this please! I once owned a Fiat 600T van, with a shoehorned Fiat 1100 engine in it. Now with wife and kids, big sedan and SUV, I still have a vw van lingering at the top of my driveway…One day…
What a hoot. I did a double-take at the baby-faced golden-tressed head shot of our dear leader. “I thought the girl he met was a brunette – oh wait…” 🙂
Am I the only one who’s weirded out by the delivery waif on the van brochure?
With a big box of tasty Ford Philco something or other.
fun story and a great read!
Hands up everyone who instinctively clicked on the yellow arrow on the side of the van in the last pic thinking it was a video link…?
That’s a great story it set’s ones imagination to thinking of roads not taken thanks for sharing it
My brother was mistaken for you in Eugene during the early ’70s. The Bon Marche house detective warned him that he looked like a known shoplifter in town and to not do anything suspicious in stores.
Thought you’d like to know.
Thanks! I try to stay away from department stores.
Well written- great fun.
The closest I came to stealing a car was when I needed to move a bunch of stuff to my college apartment. My friends, then as now, didn’t seem to ever own trucks, or often cars at all. So I came up with the plan to test drive a privately-owned 1980 Citation, a car whose value had cratered by 1983 to the point I could buy one for about $1,750 even though three years earlier they were $8,000 new. The word was out about their troubles, but I wanted to still believe all the raves bestowed on them in 1980. So I test-drove several, but declined to buy. Then I decided, why rent a U-haul when I can test-drive a Citation hatchback for free? I’d meet the owner, they’d give me the keys, usually not wanting to come along once they knew my ID, and drove off. In this case past my old home, filled the car with my stuff, drove off to school, unloaded, went back for a second trip, dropped off at school, and back to the owner in just over an hour with clean empty car in tow. Those two carloads were enough to transfer my mini-fridge, my component stereo, my record collection, rugs, bedding, and other dorm room essentials to their new home. But I took too long, and the owner had called the police thinking someone had ran off with their car. I explained I just wanted to get a feel for how it drove off on the distant highway and I wasn’t familiar with the area (this being the pre-GPS era when people got lost often). The cops let me go.
There’s also the time my dad borrowed a friend’s van (also an early ’70s Ford Club Wagon Chateau) to search for my runaway brother, since he wouldn’t recognize this van. I was along to help search, but unbeknownst to my dad, was on my brother’s side on the altercation that led to him running away, so i wasn’t going to say anything if I found him – which we never did. He returned home on his own shortly after we left, as he usually did when he “ran away”.
I never stole a car but a friend of mine did when we were 22.
Here’s the sordid tale.
Phone rings early on a cold November Saturday morning in 1982. For some reason
I had stayed in the night before (parents were away in Australia). Anyway, I answer the phone and it’s his mom.
“Do you know where Jim is” she asks. No I did not. She then proceeded to answer for me. “He’s in the clink!” I asked for what. She replied “auto theft!”.
I tried to reassure her that it must have been some misunderstanding . Back in our high school days, it wasn’t unheard of for us to punk each other & our buddies at parties by taking the marks car out of gear and pushing it down the street or around a corner, so they’d come out thinking it was stolen. I was sure that’s what had happened. Mind you, it hadn’t occurred to me at that moment that at age 22, were getting a little old for such shenanigans.
Turns out he was at a house party clear across on the other (bad) side of Saskatoon,
and his ride had bailed on him. Either having no money for a taxi, or being unwilling to spend it, I can’t remember which, he set off on foot for the alcohol-fueled several mile walk home, and it was cold. Stopping next to a street-parked mid-70s Monte Carlo to tie his shoelace, he just happened to glance over and see that the keys were in it!
You can surmise what he did next. He had only gotten a few blocks when the cops lit him up. Apparently, they watch for frost-covered cars on frigid nights spewing the tell-tale copious steam of a cold engine. I was told by a cop years later that they had a high bust rate on DUIs and stolens doing this. Well, that night they got a Two-fer.
The cops quickly determined that it wasn’t his car and that he was looped anyway. He tried giving them some likely story about it being “his uncles” but they weren’t buying that.
They run the plate and find out the address of the owner. Now for a real corker. They run a 10-29 on the guy and he has a couple of outstanding traffic warrants. So he gets hauled in too!
Our neighbors & parents best friends son was the attorney who handled the case.
He managed to get him off with no jail time, only probation and a suspended license. The reason being, the case immediately before his was also an auto theft case. Except in this case, the inept and dimwitted car stripper had stolen a 1969 El Camino and had torched off the whole front clip at the firewall, frame rails and all! Why he’d do that I’ll never know.
In fact, I actually saw it with my own eyes at the police compound a few days later.
He was caught red handed by the police. So the attorney was able to juxtapose this obviously nefarious crime against Jim wanting merely to get a ride home on a cold night, and had not intended to damage the car.
He worked for a vending machine, pinball and video game outfit and needed his license for his job. The owner of the business determined his skill set valuable enough to hire me as his driver! I was in university at this time and got in a lot of fun weekends all over the province doing this. So I now had a fun part-time job due to his misfortune.
You had me at “the bad part of Saskatoon”
5 years later and I still love re-reading stuff like this 🙂
Thanks Paul, your experiences both real and imagined bring joy to those of us still stuck in cubicles..
In my version of this I pick up the paycheck, buy one share of Berkshire-Hathaway, and years later end up as Paul’s neighbor.
Paul, I could absolutely see you in the role of Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) after reading this.
My father and I just discovered that film a few months ago. Great car-spotting movie. The scene with the black Fury is…something else.
I’ll never forget my time with the folks white ’71 Econoline Dad bought around 1984 to shuffle around his over age 50 baseball buddies team. It was missing all it’s seat belts, we went to U pull and rounded up about 9 pairs of black late ’60’s early ’70’s manual adjust push button GM lap belts. Went through quite a few cars to get 9 sets to match up exactly.
A couple of years later, after the city of Oceanside voided their retirement neighborhood of over age 55 status, the beautiful neighborhood quickly went downhill, my parents house was robbed 2 times, after they sold the house the Econoline was stolen 2 weeks before moving to their new house in Vancouver, Washington. At least the house sold for about twice what they paid, and the house in Vancouver was a lot less than what they sold the Oceanside house for.
Dad was a U haul kind of guy, so I and my niece were roped into helping with the move.
The Econoline was recovered but some damage was done to the wiring, it was repaired only a couple of days before the move. I got to drive the Econoline along with a couple unhappy cat’s in a carrier. My niece followed in my 1977 Rabbit which we would drive back to SoCal after the move. No AC in the Rabbit, it was August and hotter than Hell the whole trip. At least following the U Haul which also towed the parents ’85 Towncar would be comfortable as the old Van had AC, especially with the cats.
The AC worked for about 50 miles before the wiring smoked and the AC quit. Everything else in the Econoline still worked fine so we pressed on. Cat’s were screaming and howling every minute for the whole trip, they were as miserable in the heat as was I. Dad had a nasty habit of running yellow lights everytime we pulled off the Interstate, despite the fact the Econoline and Rabbit were behind him, having to stop as he sailed away. No cell phones back then. Several times we would pull over and wait in the scorching heat for him to realize we were no longer behind him. No amount of reminding him of this fact made a difference.
Finally about 3:00 AM we were in the new Vancouver neighborhood, we followed him for about an hour. Dad had no idea where the new house was.
I finally lost my temper, screaming at him for being so stupid and being such an asshole and… well, let’s just say our tempers are both equally nasty and the scene must have woke up the neighbors for 2 blocks or more. One of the curious who came out to witness the scene did show us how to get to the street were were looking for, at least.
We finally made it to the house and passed out on the floor for some much needed rest. Next morning we unloaded the truck and all was well and peaceful. The next day, going to the supermarket the Rabbit failed to turn over, the battery had boiled out all it’s fluids all over the engine compartment, turns out the alternator’s regulator had stuck, cooking the battery during the long, hot trip. So new regulator, battery, and tons of baking soda were required before we left for the trip back home to SoCal in un-airconditioned discomfort.
I laugh about this now, they lived in this house until the end of their days, Mom passed in 2010,and Dad passed in 2013. I moved to Vancouver in 1997, my former next door neighbor’s daughter and her husband (and their daughter) now live in the parents house. They rented it after my parents got too sick to care for themselves any longer and were in assisted living. I would bring Mom and Dad over for dinner from time to time, they were happy to visit the old house and my friends were happy to see the folks and cook them dinner. I sold the house to them after Dad passed in 2013. They had rented it for the last four years and were thrilled to get the mortgage and become it’s owner.
My parents helped my ex Socal neighbors buy the house they still live in today, they became good friends with Mom and Dad, I know my parents were happy their daughter and family were able to buy the house, it is a strange feeling I get when visiting them in Mom and Dad’s house. Dad was in real estate when my friends were thinking of moving to Seattle, Dad found them a nice house (and helped them close the deal) a few blocks away from their own house in Vancouver instead. They were life long friends after this.
Thanks for the great Econoline story, Paul, I was a lurker when it came out, and it’s so great it really tugged my own Econoline adventure memories.
I LOVE the 70-74 Econolines. I want one sooo bad!! Always looking. But I want a E200 or E300. No wimpy 4600lb GVW for me mister.
Amazing story, congrats Paul.
I also run away from home (real life) but I was 43 at the time and I had the money to buy a motorcycle. For 3 weeks I went totally “Easy Rider”.
I am afraid I won’t be able to write about it here.
The new ending is sweet. Nicely done, Paul.
Well, Paul, not only is this a great story, but I have learned a valuable CC lesson.
As a relatively recent reader of the site’s stories, I tend to ignore the ones that start off “…originally posted in ________”….
A Man With A Van, But No Plan.
My favorite part of this is the new picture of Stephanie. She was cute in the 70’s. She’s very pretty now. She’s definitely prettier than I would have guessed for an old hippie like you. I really hope you guys have another decade or 3 ahead.
Great story. Both endings.
I dont get it, she walked away from you once, because of the van, you see her again……and she does the same thing???? i wouldnt give her a second thought. then you walk away from a van thats comparable to what a trusty horse was due to her reactions???(i dont care how you got the van im not here to judge)this is why i say “a woman that makes you question your love of and attatchment to your vehicle…………..has got to go. you’re lucky she walked away!!
“I stood there looking at my van, and then did what I should have done that fateful day back in 1971 when I also stood looking at it in the Towson Ford back storage lot: I turned away, walked out to the highway, stood on the shoulder and put out my thumb.”
After about an hour and a half, a car pulls over to pick up this potential “passenger”. The driver, an accomplished wheelman named Louis Broderick thought, ‘this guy looks a little down on his luck, like he could use a friend and a ride.’
As the car pulls over, Paul looks a the driver a little warily… not because of his appearance, or the smoke coming from his Brougham brand cigarette, but because of the Brougham he was driving… a 1971 LTD Brougham with a Towson Ford emblem on the back.
To be continued….
(Sorry Jason and Paul… that was too easy, and also hard to resist. ;o)
A job like this is hard to be found for me. At least in 2018, Slovakia, at the ripe age of 18.
Two years ago, there was a search for a part-time worker in a used car lot of my classmate’s parents. Unfortunately, I was too young then and did not even have a driver’s license.
But, the delivery drivers’ job is quite appealing to me. I’m waiting for the winter to end with the icy roads and winter conditions, because of my parents’ advice. Since this year’s winter seems to be a weak, lame one, with neither proper freeze nor proper snow, I might be able to employ myself even sooner. As soon as I get my grades better, but that won’t be an easy task. The year before the finals in our high school is considered to be the hardest.
And about the article. I already read it some time ago, with the original ending. I like the idea of ‘other road taken’, because thinking like that is sometimes going on even in my, not so old, mind. And being roughly the same age (18) as you, Paul, were back then, I’m imagining myself answering a call of the road. To free up one’s mind is sometimes very pleasant and useful thing to do.
Holy crap! Is this a true story?
This is too funny, I lived in the Baltimore metro area all my life. Anyways, a couple years back during an excursion through the “u pick, u pull” junkyard I stumbled upon an early 70’s Econoline from the Disco/Hippie era.. It sported old trick metal flake brown and gold paint, shag fur everywhere inside, chain link steering wheel, diamond star bubble windows on each rear corner, weed burner mufflers below the rocker panels, painted up small block ford with headers and really neat looking valve covers.. Should have tried to buy that old piece as it looked like it was just parked in a barn for eons.
Honestly, couldn’t help but look all around at that rig! Even sat in it for a while. Looked at the body lines, the back doors, the front end, just all around….really took it all in after knowing the ’75 – ’90 Ford Econolines intimately all my life. (even those are disappearing here in the Mid-Atlantic) These old Ford vans are really neat pieces! Definitely more compact than the Ford Econolines we all see everyday. Lower glass line, possibly narrower, definitely shorter in height. I’m not exactly young either. I’m 43.. Always have been an auto enthusiast. You know, it’s like this.. We all see the Mustangs, Torino, Chevelles, Mopars, AMC’s of yesterday.. The ’67-’72 GM trucks, F100’s and what not at local cruises and shows. However, that nice spring morning aforementioned.. Was a special rare moment in my life that I truly stopped to smell the roses. That rose was an old Ford Econoline van. Not because of its disco cladding. Rather, to admire it for it’s charm (now rare and) unique machine it really is. It never occurred to me to try and save this van from the crusher. Hind sight is always 20/20. It was not rotted out. With its utilitarian nature, I could have EASILY gutted it out and updated it inside to be really cutting edge with all the technology we have today. Laminate hardwood floor, large LED TV, LED low draw lights, XBOX, laser displays, serious audio…you name it! The good old 302/5.0 liter ford has matured to become a very efficient and effective powerplant to retro-fit a roller version in with a superior aftermarket following.. Fuel Injection is not off the table.. Hell, Coyote 302 why not?!? Suspension could >possibly< be replaced and updated with a panther/crown vic front end including large disc brakes and rack and pinion steering.. Independent rear suspension borrowed from the Explorer/ Expedition is not out of the question.
Air Bag it better yet, and park it on the ground!! Possibilities are endless these days. Anything goes.