Friday, November 7, 2003
quote du jour:
"Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before." -- Heroditus

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 me.

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.

Orange squares?

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 lot.

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, Lindsay 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 Oakdale 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, Jessie & 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 Oakdale several times as I never managed to stay in the same dorm room for more than two semesters. It helped move Amanda once and Jessie 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 Oakdale 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 Jessie's 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 State 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 best.

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