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Fear and Loathing in the World’s Most Hated Mustang: The Finale
Drifting off to sleep in Salina, Utah while Rodney, my 1974 Mustang II Mach 1, was hopefully recuperating from his overheating ailment.
Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.
Happiness and fulfillment are honest goals to aim for but those goals can also be a curse, and in the case of our cross-country odyssey, the glory of the moment created an amnesia that brought the whole show to a steaming, stumbling halt.
Drifting off to sleep in Salina, Utah, I was simultaneously grateful for the warm bed and also for not being stuck on the side of I-70 in the dark, while outside Rodney, my 1974 Mustang II Mach 1, was hopefully recuperating from his overheating ailment. It was my fault, of course. Had I just remembered to top off the radiator after dinner that night, all would be right with the world, and Rodney would be up and ready to rock in the morning. But no, awash in the combination of vibrant explosion of colors of Aspen trees turning to winter, the gloriously curvy Glenwood Canyon, and the silky, sewing machine-like performance of the freshly tuned V6, the realization that I was driving a 42 year-old car that many consider a total pile of junk just flew right out the window.
So let’s assess the situation, shall we? The night before, I hobbled Rodney with a lack of coolant that resulted in him yelling “uncle!” at the most inopportune time. I was fairly certain that the 2.8 had blown a head gasket or, worse yet, cracked a head in the intense heat, but he drove on and off the tow truck without a hint of trouble, so sleep was aided with the dream that everything would magically fix itself overnight. While I rejuvenated myself with slumber, maybe time alone would help Rodney recover. After waking up and with crossed fingers, I walked out to the lot, loaded my luggage, said a small prayer, and hit the key. He started fine and we drove to the hotel entrance where there was a water spigot and hose, and I loaded the radiator to overflowing with cool, fresh water, hoping that all the badness of the previous night was miraculously washed away.
After the transfusion we headed to the truck stop/blood bank next door for as many more pints of Type W as we could carry. With five gallon-jugs of water loaded in his hatch, I aimed Rodney back onto I-70 Westbound, headed to Vegas with the delusion that everything would work out. Remember my vow to stop worrying during the trip and live in the moment? That was the attitude of the day, so with Pandora cranked on the Shinedown station, we accelerated up to speed.
The miss was back. Shit. Maybe the overheating situation killed a couple of plugs—no big deal; I’ll change them in Vegas. On this rodeo though, my eyes were glued to the temp gauge and for the first 10 or so miles everything was good. But then the needle began a slow creep to the right, confirming the suspicion that there was more wrong here than plugs. The needle movement accelerated until Rodney began to buck again, so I pulled him over and got out to assess our situation.
At least I knew exactly where we were and it was daytime now, sky as clear blue as it was black the night before. But damn it, the wind was howling, the kind of wind that makes it difficult to walk without leaning into. As soon as I activated the hood release and cracked the hood open, it ripped out of my hands and flew toward the windshield while all I could do was watch and utter the obvious F-word. Fortunately, the hinges kept it from flying far enough to shatter the windshield and bash the crap out of both hood and roof. Unfortunately, the force was enough to dig the corners of the hood into the tops of each front fender, leaving two small little divots and shifting the hood rearwards on the hinge sufficient that when you tried to close it, the latches didn’t line up well, and I had to get all Kimbo Slice to get the hood latched back down.
But that’s the least of our troubles. The horrid stench of preposterous overheating had returned and though the radiator cap was still where it should be, gross brown rusty goo was exploding out around it and from orifices that shouldn’t contain water.
A quick look at the Google Maps app on the phone told me that there was a Flying J truck stop about 10 miles or so up the road, so after letting Rodney cool his jets for a few minutes while I came up with a game plan, I emptied one of those gallon jugs in the radiator and we were back on the road again, this time running as fast as we could with the hope that if he blew his top again, we would at least be going fast enough to coast into the truck stop. As the temp gauge once again began its rapid ascent, the exit and that big orange and white Flying J sign came into view.
With the geyser of brown death erupting from Rodney’s core, we completely ignored the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp, barely touching the marginal brakes as we drifted through the left-hand turn then screamed to the truck stop entrance, totally cutting off an oncoming car in an attempt to get the car stopped while doing as little further damage to the obviously wounded 2.8 as possible. Since it was a huge truck stop, I aimed for the far back corner of the vacant big rig overnight parking lot, coming to a stop finally with the knowledge that the next time Rodney was leaving this lot, it would be on a stretcher.
Feeling completely defeated, I snapped a few pics of my little buddy bleeding on the asphalt then made the long Walk of Shame into the Flying J to sort out my plans for the day. It was Tuesday morning and I HAD to be in Vegas for SEMA meetings that night. If not, I would be returning to Rodney as an unemployed automotive journalist. Again. Explaining my situation to the lady behind the counter, she handed me a slip of paper to fill out. It was for truckers who have to drop a trailer for a few days and asked for my company name (presumably so they knew who to sue later for damages caused by a car fire), my name, and when I abandoned said vehicle. Then she printed me a fake receipt for the truck stop address and phone number and I asked about a bus schedule, which she handed to me while saying, “I’m sure a truck driver at the pumps out there will give you a lift to Vegas.”
I walked the quarter of a mile to the corner of the lot where Rodney was sitting and dug my suitcase and camera bag from the hatch, then began Walk of Shame Two toward the diesel pumps. There were three big rigs fueling up, but closest was a 40-foot motorhome and the driver was just sliding behind the wheel. As I walked up to the window, he stared at me with a look that said, “Who’s this homeless loser approaching me?”
“Hi, my name’s Rob and my car over there,” pointing to poor little Rodney, sad trail of water leading away from him, “broke down. Are you heading toward Las Vegas, and if so would you be kind enough to give me a lift?”
He thought quietly, staring me up and down while probably wondering what weapon I would use to murder him and his wife, then glanced at his wife and begrudgingly acquiesced, “I guess we can.”
People can be dicks, but in my opinion, generally speaking, most people are inherently good as long as you’re not the initial dick. Dean and Beverly took me into their home-on-wheels, we exchanged pleasantries and I gave them the short story of the doomed adventure, then planted myself on the couch behind Dean as he drove us out of the Flying J and onto I-70, with about six hours ahead of us.
A few minutes of small talk revealed that Dean and Beverly (I never got their last names, another foreshadowing of troubles to come) aren’t really conversationalists, and the previous night’s drama had me mentally worn out, so I lay down on the couch to relax and quickly fell asleep. I awoke as Dean pulled the rig into a Wendy’s for lunch, which I bought for them as a tiny token of thanks, took a picture of them posing by the RV, then back on the road and my head back on the pillow we went.
My hotel room was at the Tropicana but I told Dean to just drop me somewhere in town and I could cab it to the hotel, so he chose a Fry’s Electronics store to save the hassle of navigating the big RV-towing-a-Jeep down the crowded Vegas Strip, and we said our goodbyes while I thanked them profusely for the lift. Waving as they pulled out of the Fry’s parking lot, I went inside to pee and checked my pockets to make sure I had my wallet, phone, and keys. The first two yes, the keys….NO! Sonofabitch!!!
I sprinted back outside hoping they hadn’t completely left the parking lot, but they were long gone. Apparently, when I lay down to sleep, Rodney’s keys slipped out of the pocket of the sweats I was wearing and fell down between the couch cushions. Of course, I was too damn stupid to get any contact information or even their last name, so feeling like the total moron that I am I wheeled my bags over to a cab stand at the outdoor mall next door and sat down, just wanting to check into my room, take a huge dump, whine a little, and get ready for an advertising dinner that night. And probably consume a tanker truck of grain alcohol.
“How could I be that stupid? WHY didn’t I at least get their last name? I’m such an IDIOT!”
Dean had mentioned that they lived in the Vegas area and I hoped they remembered the name of the hotel I was staying at. Maybe they’d find the keys and drop them off for “someone named Rob” at the hotel? One can hope, right? After a fruitless search of Google for anyone named Dean or Beverly in Nevada and several calls to the Trop’s Lost and Found department, I now had an abandoned car several hundred miles away, no keys to said car, and two long day’s worth of SEMA meetings ahead of me, with no clue how I was going to go back and save Rodney.
I was shocked to learn how many people were following the drama on Facebook—after exchanging pleasantries nearly every conversation was followed by, “So, you’re here. I take it that means you made it!”
“Me yes. The car no.”
I asked everyone I knew if they perhaps had a truck and empty trailer, and if so could I use it to go get Rodney on Friday morning early, and be back in time for them to load their stuff for their trip home, but came up empty. That’s when I saw former Muscle Mustang and Fast Fords staffer Agustine “Gusto” Jimenez. Knowing that he had a lifted Ford F350, I gave it a shot…
“Gusto, you didn’t by chance drive your truck here did you?”
He shot himself in the foot when he said, “Yes.”
After discussing it for a few minutes, he agreed to help me go get Rodney, and I could finally let out a sigh of relief. After partying hard for the night (his only night to party, so I wasn’t mad), he finally showed up at the hotel at 1:00 in the afternoon to pick me up along with Miles Cook (who rode along because he had nothing else to do). We rented a U-Haul car trailer, hooked it up to his monstrous 4x4, and set out East for the Flying J in Richfield, Utah.
Via the phone, I found a locksmith in the area who said he’d meet us there, and about six hours later we pulled into the Flying J and backed the trailer up to Rodney, poor thing looking like a mangy puppy that had been abandoned at the pound. I swear I detected a smile on the galloping horse in his grille as we backed up the trailer and waited for the locksmith. Because, remember, I’m stupid and lost the keys in the motorhome, but was aware enough to lock the doors before I left him.
With a glorified coat hanger, the locksmith pulled up the lock knob…but the door wouldn’t open. It was still locked.
The locksmith, Gusto, Miles, and I looked at each other and simultaneously yelled, “What the F!?” Using the same coat hanger, we pulled the door handle inside the car and that popped the door open. Mission accomplished!
A quick push onto the trailer and latching the tie-downs, we filled Gusto’s truck and headed off into the darkness, this time for the six-hour drive to Vegas, but also continuing on the four and a half hours to my driveway in Burbank. Where Rodney finally found home, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. At that point, Gusto dropped the trailer for me to take back to my local U-Haul and hit the road for yet another adventure—pre-running the Baja 1000. Road dog, that guy.
Once again Hunter S. Thompson’s words about Timothy Leary rattled around in my subconscious…
What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: The desperate assumption that somebody—or at least some force—is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
That generation of permanent cripples and failed seekers he refers to is relatable to car guys, a group that at times can be the definition of insanity in that we keep holding onto the same old addled ideas of “fun” in the hopes of a trouble-free outcome. But that person, or force, tending the light at the end of the tunnel, I think, is the relationship of a boy and his car and the legions of quality friends that we hopefully have and the kindness of strangers to bail us out of a sticky situation. And for that, I’m thankful.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Not really, but it sure makes for a good story.
Catch up on the rest of Project Rodney: