I was less than a half-hour away from school -- the first
of the three universities I attended -- when I pulled off the interstate
for fuel and a Coke. As I turned on to whatever surface street the exit led
me to, I let up off the gas pedal to slow down. My truck did the exact opposite
of what it was supposed to... The less pressure I put on the gas pedal, the
harder the engine appeared to be working.
I got my gas and my Coke and headed on to school. I ignored the problem for
a week or so until I could drive back home to have a mechanic check things
out. It almost didn't make it back. Twice on the four-hour trip home my 1987
Toyota 4-Runner overheated. Twice I stopped to let it cool down and to refill
the radiator. When it finally arrived at the shop, the verdict was that it
had a cracked head. Like owner like truck, I guess.
My mother and I did some quick truck shopping that weekend, but I had to
return to school before we found anything decent. I borrowed her car and
we planned to keep looking in our respective cities. She was the first to
find something. She called to tell me about it -- after she'd bought it for
My mom is not much on adequately describing
details. She explained that it was maroon with gray trim & interior.
She told me that the seats had little orange squares all over them.
What the hell?
What on Earth had she bought me?
The wait for the week to end and to finally see my new truck seemed endless.
Looking back more than seven years later, I'm not sure where the orange squares
came from. The seats did have small squares across them, but I don't really
think I would call them orange. Most of the very small "accent marks" were
actually gray. What I thought was going to be a disaster didn't even exist
in the end and I instantly fell in love with the truck.
It was a 1996 GMC Sonoma SLE regular
cab, maroon in color with light gray along the bottom of the exterior and
a light gray interior. It was the third truck I'd been fortunate enough to
possess, but the first of the three to be new. It's predecessors -- a 1989
Ford Ranger and the '98 4-Runner -- each had more than 100,000 miles on them
before they got to me. The Sonoma had 12 when my mom drove it off of the
The last gift my mom's mother ever bought me was the '89 Ranger. I'd gotten
it the month she died, January 1994. I totalled it July 31st of the same
year. The 4-Runner came in January of 1995 and lasted until the unfortunate
head incident in October 1996. When I got the Sonoma, my only real goal was
to keep it much longer than the others. I guess I succeeded many times over
as it was the Sonoma, with more than 104,000 miles, that I traded in three
months ago for my new truck.
The most recent round of truck buying was quite hectic. I was not only worried
that the Sonoma was approaching the end of her useful life, but I was also
buying my new truck all by myself. A tremendous amount of thought went into
the process, but I'll admit to getting caught up in the moment once or twice.
I think everything turned out okay, but it dawned on me the other day that
I hadn't reflected much on the Sonoma's life with me. Imagine that... Fletch
not reflecting. How does that happen?
In almost 10 years of driving legally,
I've gotten sideways of the police six times (if I remember correctly). Five
of those traffic stops came in the Sonoma. Nearly every subdivision of government
has had me on the side of the road in that truck -- the state police, city
police, a couple of sheriffs' offices and even a game warden. I've been
fortunate, however, and only had to "press hard to make three copies" once.
I joke that I miss being a young kid.
I mean... we 're all older now and we have apartments and houses and what
not. If there is some girl you like, one night she might come over and you
guys will climb into bed -- a real bed, with sheets and shit. How
easily we forget the old days when you were lucky to cop a feel in your vehicle
in the driveway of her parents' house.
Without saying too much, I'll admit that the Sonoma served several times
as a refuge for passion when proper facilities could not be found. If you
know anything at all about trucks, you know the Sonoma isn't defined by anyone
as being roomy... I only have to recall those nights to know that even a
chunky guy can get limber if he digs the girl enough.
Sometimes, it's not the stuff that fogs
up the windows that makes for good memories. After our first date together,
and I went looking at Christmas lights in the Sonoma. I went to drop her
off at her car and we didn't really want to say goodbye. So, we sat there
for a while talking about show tunes. This was clear evidence that I wanted
her to hang around as I know nothing about show tunes. Then, the time was
just right. Perhaps, it was the only time I've felt that the time was right...
And we kissed. So many things were never the same after that night.
I wish I had a ballpark number on how
many fires and accidents the Sonoma has carried me to. From 1998-2000, the
truck did it job so that I could take pictures on the fireground and either
sell them to the local paper or publish them to the web. After I became a
paid-per-call firefighter in 2000, we started going a little harder and bit
faster to those same calls. She only had four cylinders, but there were a
few times that I pushed her for all she had... and she always delivered.
Do you think anyone has ever had a truck
that was a he? I've never named any of my vehicles... but they were all slapped
with the feminine pronoun. Why do you think that is?
Only once in nearly seven years did
my truck leave me stranded. I'd left
late one Friday night on my way home. I was in one of those towns where they
roll up the sidewalks at dark just 30 minutes into my trip. All of a sudden,
everything seemed to shut down on my truck and I coasted into dark parking
lot. I'm no mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, but I did my best
to troubleshoot the situation. I couldn't figure anything out. I had some
juice, but it seemed as though there wasn't enough power for it to crank.
I called Jonathan and he drove up. We guessed that the problem might be the
battery. We walked into the the local Wal-Mart as they were shutting things
down for the night. The auto center had long been closed and so we had to
plead our case with the manager for him to go back and test my battery for
us. The battery failed the test, I produced the original receipt (the battery
was still under warranty) and we left with a new battery. That didn't solve
the problem. Several weeks and more than a thousand dollars later, I was
the owner of a new timing chain and machined parts to replace what the timing
chain damaged when it snapped apart.
In the truck's later years, it's check
engine light was the subject of some trouble... and sometimes, the only trouble
was the light itself.
Due to a problem with the engine, the head gasket cracked in December 2000.
As I drove it home after a few weeks in the shop, the check engine light
came on. I promptly drove it back to the shop where the mechanic did a computer
diagnostic. It seems that it needed an O2 sensor. He replaced it, the light
went off and all was well. Shortly after taking it home from the shop a second
time, the light came back on. I returned to the mechanic once again, he did
a diagnostic once again, it said it needed an O2 sensor once again and he
replaced it once again. The light came on a second time, stayed lit for a
few days and then went off. All was well.
My truck went trouble free for some time. Then,
& I were out riding one night and I commented about how I hadn't see
the check engine light in many moons. I complimented my truck on her good
behavior and tapped her on the dash. With the second tap... the check engine
light came on.
I moved home from college #1 in that
truck. I moved off to college #3 in it, too. Actually, I moved to and from
several times as I never managed to stay in the same dorm room for more than
two semesters. It helped move
once. It helped move me to Franklin. It's hauled it's share of fireworks
and gear, too.
I never wrecked the Sonoma, but certainly
came close a few times. I had to do some extreme offensive driving to avoid
a wreck one day near
and I lost control of it and skidded across an interstate on some ice near
Franklin last winter.
In the last few months I had it, I started worrying about wrecking it for
real. One night this summer, someone backed into it outside of
apartment and crushed part of the rear bumper. Then, one day, I wasn't paying
attention and ran into the back of some huge SUV. I didn't hurt the SUV and
only slightly dented my front bumper. The driver shook my hand, told me to
watch where I was going and let me go on my way. Finally, I pulled too close
to a guard rail at my apartment complex and pulled one end of the front bumper
off of my truck. I'm actually glad I got rid of it... I was starting to get
nervous about driving it.
If the cops were keeping an eye on my
truck, I tried my best to throw them off. Granted, the PRESS sticker on the
windshield and the
University at Oakdale sticker on the back glass were probably tell
tale signs. However, the license plates didn't stick around for long.
In seven years, I managed to have five tags on that truck. It started with
a personalized tag that lasted until January 1999, I think. I got tired of
paying the extra $25, so I went with the standard issue for a year. I only
wanted to be normal for a year , so I got a wildlife plate for the next year.
Then, I decided to get a firefighter plate. However, I had to have another
standard issue plate between the time my wildlife plate expired and the paperwork
was processed for my firefighter tag. That makes five, eh?
When I was in the midst of truck shopping,
I often commented that I wanted something that would make me happy... but
that I wasn't someone who was defined by a vehicle. I guess that's true.
Some people take vehicle ownership a bit overboard and I've never been a
member of that group. Yet, looking back, I can tell that it wasn't as cut
and dried as I believed it to be. The Sonoma was more than just a means to
get me from one place to another. I never got drunk and cried over it. I
didn't write long journal entries about it (until today). But it was there
through it all... nearly as much a character in some stories as the people
in those stories.
I'd like to say that I'm sad to see it go. But if I said that, I'd have to
get up, look out the window and take a look at it's much larger, faster and
newer replacement... and then I'd have to take those words back. Heh. My
only fear is that now that I find myself sinking deeper into "boring adulthood,"
that the new ride won't be around for as many adventures. Of course, considering
some of the adventures I survived in the Sonoma... that's probably for the