Posts by: "Eric Giuliani"

“We are not on this earth to accumulate victories, things, and experiences… but to be whittled and sandpapered until what’s left is who we truly are.”-Arianna Huffington

Disclaimer: The chapters are meant to be read in order for better understanding, but with that said, each chapter can also be read on its own.

Early the next morning I’m back on Interstate 10 and barreling towards the San Moreno Valley like a man on a mission.

Through a somewhat ironic twist of fate I’m actually behind the wheel of another car already.   My mother had hip surgery a few weeks back, which means that she’ll be on her back and recovering over the next three months or so.  Because of the nature of her surgery she won’t be able to drive during that time, which as bad as it sounds has actually become my good fortune.  It means that my parents have kindly offered to let me borrow her car instead of having it just sit idle in their driveway all summer. 

I quickly gobbled up the chance at another car and was more than happy to kiss Greyhound goodbye for good in Denver (which is where my Dad had organized to have the car shipped to). 

The new plan moving forward is for me to use my Mom’s car to get across the country and then return it to her in Florida three months from now, which should line up perfectly with when she should be ready to begin driving again. 

The car’s a tiny two-seater SLK Mercedes though and it’s not that I’m complaining, but I don’t actually fit behind the wheel of it.  I’d only ever been in the passenger seat of the car and I didn’t realize how small the driver’s side was before it was way too late. 

When the car was dropped off to me in the hotel parking lot that I was working with in Denver, it was kind of embarrassing.  

I actually couldn’t fit inside the car and I had to take my sneakers off just so I could lose an inch of my length.  But even then my head was flush against the roof and my legs were pretzeled under the steering wheel.  The solution that I eventually came up with is that I extend my left leg all the way under the pedals and lean my torso across the center console and into the passenger seat.  Contorting my body like that gives me just enough room to get my right foot on the right side the gas pedal so I can press down on it.

Typically I’m only able to drive this awkwardly uncomfortable barefoot way for about an hour and a half or so.  After that my legs start cramping up and I’m forced to pull over and get out so I can untangle my legs and stretch for a few minutes.  Basically its a one-man clown car and you should see the look I get when someone passes me on the highway or when I peal myself out of it at gas stations along the way.  It’s so comical that someone actually took a selfie with me sitting like this once.  I was waiting at a stoplight and the person in the car next to me leaned out the window so she could snap a shot of me folded up in the background.  

Denver, Colorado.

And even though the car sounds plush because its a Mercedes, it’s seen better days.  It’s fifteen years old with a crumbling interior.  The dashboard’s held together with duct tape and when I went to start it that first time in Denver, the battery was completely dead.  I had to get it jumped by the truck driver who dropped it off and I only made it as far as Vail before I had to nervously stop at a garage and have the battery replaced.  It seems like I’m snake bitten with cars this summer, so as I pull into Yaseen’s auto body shop I say a quick prayer in hopes that all goes right today.

Carlos quickly comes out of the garage to greet me.  He gives me a greasy handshake and after I begrudgingly hand him two crisp one hundred-dollar bills he writes the address of the car’s location on the back of a cream colored business card.  I don’t stick around for small talk.  Instead I bolt into Yaseen’s shop so I can use the Wi-Fi to pull up the address up on my phone’s GPS. 

The margin for error today is too small to mess around with and I can’t afford to waste any time.  I feel like I’m racing the invisible man this morning.  I have no idea where Tom is, but ever since I woke up this morning I’ve been picturing him moving across southern California at a blistering pace while gripping the title tightly in his grimy little hands.  If he’s half as determined as I am today, then I’m in trouble.

After a quick glance at the time, I frantically dial the tow company that I spoke with late last night to have them meet me at the address Carlos just gave me.  I’m planning to follow the tow truck all the way to Anaheim because I want to make sure everything goes smoothly.  

While yes, this is about money and I do desperately want my two thousand dollars back, it’s also become about so much more than that. 

There’s this fire burning inside me that seems to only get stronger by the day.  Ever since the engine blew up and I had to walk off the highway with all my things in 120-degree heat, it’s like the lion inside me has been let loose.  I’m more focused, more determined and hungrier than ever to not just make it around the world, but to obliterate every obstacle thrown my way.    

I wind my Mom’s car through a few residential streets in San Moreno and eventually find the right address.  When I lock eyes with the car from hell it gets a sarcastic chuckle out of me.  I’d never thought in my wildest dreams or worst nightmares that I’d ever see this hunk of junk again, but yet there it is.  The sun’s beating down on it in the driveway of a two-bedroom townhouse and I decide to park alongside the curb while I wait.   

The tow truck company said they’d have someone here in about an hour, but I’m desperate for them to show up sooner.  Not only do I need to beat Tom to the auction house, but I cannot tell you how awkward it feels to be shoeless and crammed inside this clown car and waiting outside of some stranger’s home like this. 

It never dawned on me to ask Carlos whose house I’d actually be going to when picking up the car.  It didn’t seem to matter at the auto body shop, but now I wish I had at least asked.  I’m the only car on the street and to add to the awkwardness of the moment, the front door of the house is propped wide open.  It suddenly feels like I’m trespassing. 

I’d feel much better if I could introduce myself and explain that I’m here to have the car towed to Anaheim and that I’m not trying to peep through the windows of whoever’s home this is.  So after quickly weighing both awkward options I decide to get out and go ring the doorbell. 

I can hear people inside, their voices are at a low rumble, but when no one comes to answer my calls the whole thing begins to feel shadier than ever. 

Who leaves their front door wide open but then doesn’t answer when someone rings the doorbell? 

Something doesn’t feel right.  This whole thing is just a tad off so I start questioning Carlos.  Maybe he already sold the car to whoever lives here and he’s hustling me out of an extra two hundred bucks.  I start thinking that he’s set me up today and that I’m really here to unknowingly repossess the car instead of having properly bought it back like I thought I just did.  He knows that I still don’t have any proof of ownership after all.  The title is with Tom who’s probably pulling up to the auction house with it right now!

Anaheim bus station.

I anxiously climb back into my car to wait.  It’s another god awful 117-degree day in San Moreno, and it’s way too hot outside to stand in the sun.  I turn on the radio to pass the time, but when I go to turn up the air-conditioning it starts belting out wave after wave of hot air. 

No, no, no.  NO!  Not again!

I turn the car off and then back on and then try the air-conditioning a second time, but all I get is more waves of warm air.

Remember a few chapters back when I was trying to find my cargo ship in Sydney’s Port Botany and I wrote that nothing about traveling the world over land is easy?  Well, I’d like to just stop for a second and reconfirm that point.  Nothing, and I mean nothing about trying to travel around the world over land is easy, and anything that could go wrong has gone wrong.  Just to prove that point, think about how insane the odds have to be for my mother’s car, the one that she’s been driving every day for fifteen years, to break down directly in front of the car that I just bought for a second time, which is also broken down!

The odds of this scenario actually happening in real life must be staggering!  

I get out and pop the hood of my mom’s car open, but since I still have no knowledge of cars, I have no idea what to look for.  All I can do is quickly slam the hood shut in frustration and stuff my long limbs back inside it.  I drive it up and down the street a few times to make sure that the only thing that’s given out is the air conditioning.  The car seems to be running okay, but there’s this faint rattling sound that can’t be good.  After a few laps around the neighborhood I pull back into the same parking space.  Then I roll the windows down, turn the car off, and begin to sweat profusely while I wait.

Two absolutely agonizing hours go by before the tow truck appears.  I beg the driver Anthony to get this thing the hell out of here as quick as humanly possible.  The front door of the house is still wide open and I still haven’t been able to tell if anyone knows I’m here or not to remove a nearly two-ton car directly out of their driveway. 

I look over at Anthony as he hooks up a chain to the front of the car and I say, “I’m getting this car to Anaheim today even if it kills me.” 

Thirty minutes later I’m following Anthony across 215 west while keeping my eyes locked on my Mazda, which is bobbing back and forth on the back of his tow truck’s flatbed.  All the while I’ve got my fingers crossed (literally) in hopes that my mom’s car stops rattling and gets me all the way to Anaheim today. 

After we merge onto 91 south we drive through Riverside and then Corona, but right around Anaheim Hills we hit mid-afternoon traffic.  We slow to a standstill around 1:00PM and I begin to bake inside my Mom’s now air conditioner-less car.  The interior of the car is jet black and without a breeze or any movement I have no doubt that the hundred-plus degree day could easily fry an egg on its dashboard.

It’s taken so long just to get this far today that now not only am I worried that Tom’s already beaten me to the auction house with the title, but that even if he hasn’t that I might not even make the 3PM deadline set by the Manheim Auction House either. 

As I melt through my seat, my legs start twitching and cramping up because I’m long overdue for a stretch break. 

But since I can’t afford to lose site of the tow truck I’m tracking, I can’t allow myself to pull over.  From the stress of trying to keep my eyes locked on Anthony’s every lane change, to racing the invisible man Tom, to today’s heat advisory and to the fact that I don’t physically fit in the car I’m driving, the whole thing becomes a grueling affair.

Strangely enough, as we creep along the highway at a speed that I could walk at, I actually find a little pocket of pleasure in all this.  When I look back on all the really tough moments as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve found that it’s the times like this when I’m most uncomfortable and my back is up against a wall that I really seem to grow the most.  The thing about all those hard times is that it’s always been in hindsight.  I only really appreciate them when I’m looking back on them.  That’s when I see the lessons they taught me, but the difference with today is that I can appreciate it as it’s happening. 

This feels like a new level of growth for me and I feel a sense of pride in the moment.

With my legs tangled around the pedals and sweat cascading off my body, I embrace everything about the awful situation and realize that this is exactly what I need.  Without all the obstacles along the way I wouldn’t be digging down into the depths of who I really am and finding out what I’m truly made of.  That lion wouldn’t have been let loose had my car not exploded in the first place, so I actually begin to feel a swell of thankfulness for all this run through my body.

When I take it even one step further than that and I strip away the judgment of whether this moment on the 91 south is good or bad, all that matters is that I can feel something.  And I’ve grown to believe that feeling anything, even if it’s bad, is still a blessing.  That was the problem with my old life and my old job.  I never felt anything when I showed up to work; it was just kind of blah.  But sitting here on 91 south like I am is anything but blah.  

Every single inch and ounce of me is invested in the moment and whether Idan knowingly sold me a lemon or not doesn’t matter anymore.  As we finally start moving again I find this little pocket of highway Zen to be one of the best moments of my life.

One of the many auction house gates.

By the time we actually get outside the front gate of the Manheim Auction House I have less than twenty minutes to drop the car off and find Jessica inside the main office.  But the property is so big and so confusing that neither Anthony nor I have any idea where to actually drop off the car.  Plus, there are more security checkpoints here than at Fort Knocks. 

I decide to ditch my Mom’s car in the visitor parking lot and hop in with Anthony in hopes that that will expedite the process.  Even with my personal growth experience, having come this far today, I can unequivocally say that I do still desperately want my money back, if not even more so than before.

I mean I was only able to drive the car for forty total miles after all.   

The cabin of Anthony’s truck is cool and calm and he’s got a grape Gatorade in one of his cup holders.  As I watch the condensation run down the side of the bottle like the beads of sweat dripping down my arm, my parched thoughts beg for a sip, but I’m quick to tell myself to focus.  I’m about to run out of time and I can’t afford to be saddled with this broken-down beast for a second time. 

Every guy we drive past on our way to Gate A starts feeling like his name could be Tom.  There’s a guy with tan khaki pants on and a blue button down shirt that could be Tom.  There’s a guy wearing stonewashed jeans and an Anaheim Angles ball cap that could be Tom too.  Suddenly it feels like everyone I see is Tom.

This place is crawling with Tom’s!      

What if he beat me here? 

The risk that I’ve taken on today hits me as we pull up to the gate and I have a flashback to Yaseen telling Carlos to push my broken-down car out into the street. 

I can’t have that happen again today.  What am I going to do with this hunk of junk then?

The guard at Gate A immediately tells us that since the car isn’t running that we need to go to the Jefferson Gate, which is around back.  He pulls up a map of the property, which is one gigantic California suburban block, and shows us how to get there.  Of course it just so happens to be that the gate we need to find is all the way on the other side of the property. 

Anthony quickly drives us back the way we just came and then makes a left on Miraloma Ave.  As we wait at the light at in intersection of Miraloma and Jefferson, I can’t help but to anxiously tap my feet. 

I look over at Anthony and ask him, “Do you think we can make it in time?”

“I don’t know man.  I hope so for your sake.”

When we finally show up at the Jefferson Gate five minutes later, we are immediately told to go back around to gate A. 

I tell the guard that there is absolutely no chance of that and then I tell him that I was specifically told to drop the car off here because it isn’t running and I insist that he opens up the gate and lets us in.

That’s what my mouth said, but I have no idea what my eyes said.  The guard tells me to ease up and then shockingly, he listens to me.  He tells Anthony that he can pull in, but we’re going to have to make a space because there are no spaces left. 

He is right about that.  There are thousands of cars in the lot and there are literally no spots left in the entire junkyard.  Cars are nearly piled on top of one another from one side of the chain-linked perimeter to the other. Remember when I said that nothing about traveling around the world overland has been easy?  Yep, that’s right, even the junkyard is full!  How can that be?

With ten minutes left Anthony and I decide to try and wedge the car into half a space.  With its front half sticking out into the aisle, I wave over to the guard for approval.  It’s good enough for him so he slaps a bright orange sticker on the driver’s side window and then gives me a form to fill out. 

Anthony’s job is officially done, but I beg him to drive me back over to the main entrance of the auction house office so I can find Jessica because there’s no way I’ll make it if I have to walk that far. 

Thankfully he agrees and he distracts me from my jangling nerves during the ride back over by telling me about his life as a tow truck driver, which is a pretty morbid one.  He shares horrible stories about all times he’s seen dead bodies at the scene of accidents.  He used to work the graveyard shift for the tow company that had a contract with the San Moreno Police Department.  So anytime there was a bad accident on the highway they’d call him and he’d have to tow the totaled cars away. 

He says that sometimes he would get there so quickly that the police hadn’t had a chance to cover up the dead bodies yet.  He goes on to tell that it wasn’t a big deal though because he used to work in a morgue so he kind of liked that sort of stuff. 

When I say, “you liked seeing the dead bodies?”, he says with a gleam in his eye, “Well yeah, kind of.  It was interesting man.”

As he keeps talking, I can’t help but to think about all the unique people I’ve come across as I’ve tried to make it around the world.  I can now add Anthony, the dead-body liking graveyard-shift-working tow truck driver from Southern California, to the list. 

For as nice as Anthony is though I’m about ready to be done with his morbid stories by the time we get back to the front of the auction house.  The guard stops us at the main gate and won’t allow the tow truck inside the visitor’s parking area.  So, Anthony drops me off about a hundred yards shy of the building’s entrance. 

The clock on his dash reads 2:55PM.  I take off in a full sprint after thanking him for his help today.  On my way to the front doors I run past a guy who is leaving with a wide smile on his face.  That’s Tom!  Or at least I think that’s Tom and so I shoot him an evil look. 

When I push open the doors and clear security it’s exactly 3:00PM and it feels like I’ve blown my chance. Thankfully there’s still one person at the claims counter and as I’m wheezing for air and drenched in sweat I ask for Jessica.  I’ve sweat so much today that a thick film of perspiration is covering my skin.

The woman says, “I’m Jessica.  You must be Eric.  Kerri mentioned you might be coming by today.”

As I try to catch my breath I say, “Did Tom beat me here with the title?”

She smiles and says, “He didn’t show up today.  Looks like you’ll get the refund for your car.”

 

“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore.  If you want one, you must dive for it.”-Chinese Proverb

Disclaimer: The chapters are meant to be read in order for better understanding, but with that said, each chapter can also be read on its own.

Six weeks after the Dodgers game a mysterious email pops up in my inbox that simply reads, “Call me immediately with regards to the 2000 Mazda Millenia, Kerri.”

Who the hell is Kerri?

I don’t recognize the name, phone number or generic gmail account the message came from.

My heart sinks and I think what now?

I skeptically dial the number and brace for the worst as I wait for Kerri to pick up.

From Haifa or not, it turns out Idan was a sleazy used car salesman after all.  I must have called and emailed him a hundred times after my car blew up and I never once heard back.  Call me crazy, but I think that when you sell a car to someone and it blows up less than thirty miles from the dealership the least you can do is say sorry (even if you don’t mean it).

But this feels more like a reflection of United States lately than Idan.  It seems like the country is beginning to unravel at its seems this summer.  Every time I turn on the news I see something more horrifying than the last.  And that’s not to mention all the chaos that’s surrounding Donald Trump and his bid to become our next President. Between him officially running for office as the Republican nominee and all the ugly bickering back and forth from the other side, I feel embarrassed to call this country my own.

Plus, no one seems very happy here at the moment and everyone’s heads are buried so deep into their phones that I’ve felt more foreign here than almost anywhere else.  I don’t remember it being like this two years ago before I left, but maybe I’m just naïve and this whole shady used car situation has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

As Kerri’s phone rings and rings I can’t help but to wonder if anyone actually cares about anyone else anymore.

But as it turns out Kerri actually does.  In a strange twist of fate she’s decided to come to my rescue.  She’s in charge of pushing through all of Idan’s legal paperwork and she must have seen one of the ten billion emails I sent him where I was pleading my case to get some of my money back.  She decided to take it upon herself and replied to me on her own.

Her voice is soft and sweet and she tells me that through an incredible used car-buying loophole that I miraculously might be able to get my two thousand dollars back for the car.  She says that all I have to do is get the car to the Manheim Auction House in Anaheim (which is where Idan initially bought the car) by 3PM tomorrow.

This seems so odd, so far-fetched, that a used car company employee would go rogue and actually offer up a refund that I can’t help but wonder what the catch is.  With my phone pressed up against my ear with one hand I scratch my head in disbelief with the other.  This has got to be the first time in human history that anything like this has ever happened.  Trying to get money back from a used car company is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona.

Kerri goes on to explain that Idan never got the title from the Manheim Auction House because Tom, the guy who originally owned the car, never turned the title over to the auction house like he was supposed to.  This is why Idan still hasn’t gotten the title to me, which if you’ve been reading along, is the same title that I’m supposed to get to Carlos, the mechanic I sold the car to when it died six weeks back.

Apparently there’s some sort of time limit in California as to how long someone has to turn the title over once they’ve sold their car.  And Tom’s about to exceed that limit.  He has until tomorrow at 3PM to get the title to the auction house.

Here lies the catch: Kerri says that Tom’s been notified by the auction house that he needs to bring the title to them by tomorrow and that it’s now basically become a race between Tom and I.

If he can get the title to the auction house before I can get the car there, then he gets to keep the money he made from selling his car at the auction and I don’t get my refund.  But, if I can beat him there with the car and simultaneously beat the 3PM deadline, then I’ll be the one who gets the money in the form of an arbitration check.

My head starts spinning because of all the moving parts.  Not only do I know nothing about cars, but I also don’t have the slightest clue about anything banking or finance related.

Kerri then asks me the million-dollar question, which is, “where’s the car?”

I reply after a sigh that stretches on forever, “I have no idea.  I sold it to a mechanic named Carlos in San Moreno for fifty bucks the day the engine died.”

Kerri lets out an exasperated sigh of her own, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What did you want me to do?  The auto body shop pushed it out into the street and I had no choice.”

“Can you get it back from the mechanic you sold it to?”

“No clue, he told me he was going to take the engine out and try to fix it.  I know he wanted to sell the tires too.  Does it need to be running for me to get my money back?”

“No, but the engine needs to at least be in the car for God’s sake.  You just have to get it to the auction house and find a woman that works there named Jessica.  Just tell her that you bought it from Idan like that.”

Pasadena Inn, Pasadena.

Kerri then asks me where I am, which oddly enough happens to be Pasadena, which is just an hour outside of San Moreno and kind of close to the auction house in Anaheim.  I could have been anywhere in the United States when she emailed me, literally.  I’d made it as far east as Denver a few weeks ago but then I decided to backtrack and head back out west because I signed a month-long contract with GreenTree Hotels.

I’ve been traveling around to their four hotels in Arizona and California and creating films and photos for their website which they are revamping.  This is the last week of our deal and it just so happened to bring me back out to the Los Angeles area because they just bought and rebranded the Old Pasadena Inn.

So serendipitously enough, I just so happened to be back within sixty miles of where the whole fiasco started, which makes getting my money back just that much more possible.

Kerri gives me the address of the auction house in Anaheim and tells me that the decision is mine to make.  She ends the call by saying that she’s going to let Jessica know that I’m coming tomorrow just in case I happen to show up.

I hang up the phone and stare down at the piece of paper I scribbled the address on and quickly weigh my options.

Do I try to get the car back from Carlos and have it towed all the way to Anaheim without knowing if Tom’s going to beat me there with the title?  Or do I just bite the bullet and swallow the two thousand-dollar loss and move on with my life?

I quickly do the math.  It’s probably going to cost me a couple hundred bucks to hire a tow truck and then I’ll also have to buy the car back from Carlos, and that’s assuming he even still has it and is willing to sell it.  So it’s entirely possible that I could actually lose even more money on this hunk of junk if I decide to re-buy the car and tow it to Anaheim only to find out that Tom’s beat me there with the title.

I wish there was some way to know where Tom was and if he’s going to deliver the title before I can get the car there.  But there isn’t.

As I pace around my hotel room I think about one of my favorite quotes, it’s one of the ones that I always think about anytime I’m about to make a big decision.  Geena Davis once said, “If you risk nothing, you risk everything.”

She’s so right.  I didn’t quit my job and try to transform my life and come this far to now sit back and suddenly play it safe.  All the best moments of my journey are when I push all my chips to the center of the table and go all in. Because even the times I’ve failed when doing so, I’ve actually gained so much.

I crack an excited smile and call out to my empty room, “Tom, you better be one tough son of a bitch because the race is on!”

Enthusiasm shoots across my body.  There’s nothing like that initial rush of blood when you feel inspired by something.  But I’m quick to harness it and get down to business because I’ve got less than 24 hours until the 3PM deadline and who knows where Tom is right now.  For all I know he could already be on his way to the auction house.

The first thing on my to-do list is to track down Carlos, but I have no way to get in touch with him.  All I have is a photocopy of his driver’s license.  He has such a common last name that when I search the white pages online, over fifty matches come back and none of them match the address on his license so it’s impossible to know which is the Carlos I’m looking for.

It then dawns on me to call Moreno Valley Collision, which is where he works.  So after a quick search online for their phone number, I’m back speaking to the shop’s Jordanian owner, Yaseen.  I ask him if he can put Carlos on the phone, but he’s quick to tell me that Carlos isn’t working today.

“Of course he isn’t,” I say.

Before Yaseen hangs up on me I beg him to give me Carlos’s phone number, which after some convincing he finally does.

Of course Carlos doesn’t answer when I call him and of course the voice mail on his cell phone isn’t set up so I can’t even leave a message.  I start to anxiously pace around my hotel room while wondering if I’m making the right decision.

Do I really want to go through with this after all?

So many things have to go right in order for me to get my money back that it seems nearly impossible.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos has already taken the engine out of the car and sold all the tires anyway.  I simply can’t return a car without tires or an engine in it.

Phoenix, Arizona.

I try Carlos’s phone all night.  Again and again and again, but still no answer.

I decide to give it one final shot and I call him around midnight right before I go bed.  I flip the nightstand light off and let the phone ring and ring across the darkness of my room.

On the tenth ring someone picks up and says, “Hola.”

I sit up, flip the light on and leap out of bed, “Carlos, buddy, its me, Eric!” I gasp, “The tall guy from a few weeks back.  You bought my Mazda Millenia for 50 bucks.”

“Oh hey man.  I’m still waiting on that title you promised me.”

I then launch into the whole spiel about how I haven’t gotten the title yet and that I can get my money back for the car if I can somehow get it to an auction house in Anaheim before this guy named Tom gets there tomorrow with the title.

Nearly breathless by now I say, “Please tell me that you haven’t taken out the engine yet?”

“Yeah I’ve already taken it out, its sitting next to the car, but I haven’t started working on it yet.”

I nervously ask, “Well could you put it back in?”

“Yeah, but why?”

“Well I’d like to buy the car back from you?”

Carlos’s tone changes.  He immediately knows he has me up against a wall here.  I’m sure he can tell from the desperation in my voice how badly I want the car back and how much it’s worth to me.

“Well I’d have to put the engine back in tonight, which is a lot of work,” he says as he pretends to stress.  “So, if you pay me for the time and labor maybe we could come up with a deal.”

I sold the car to Carlos for $50 so I offer him double and he counters with double that.

I kick myself as I take the deal.  I can’t believe I just agreed to pay $200 for a car that’s been nothing but a headache since day one.

What am I thinking?

Carlos tells me to meet him at Yaseen’s auto body shop tomorrow morning and that once I give him the money then he’ll tell me where the car’s at.

After we hang up I call a tow truck company that’s based in San Moreno Valley and tell them that I’ll need a tow tomorrow morning, which the dispatcher estimates is going to run me around another two hundred bucks.  I feel like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit.  Between buying the car, all the repairs, the three tow tucks and now having to re-buy it back at an inflated price, I’m in well over $3,000 for this lemon.

But as I climb into bed and turn the lights off, it now becomes about the principal of the thing.  I’m going to get my money back come hell or high water.

“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.”-Eugene Fodor

Disclaimer: The chapters are meant to be read in order for better understanding, but with that said, each chapter can also be read on its own.

I don’t know anything about cars, but as I watch the little white needle fling itself into the temperature gauge’s red zone, it’s obvious that something terrible is happening.  The air conditioning gave out about a mile back then all the lights in the dashboard flickered and shut off about a half-mile after that.  I reach past the steering wheel and flick the gauge repeatedly, hoping that somehow that’s going to magically fix everything.

As smoke starts to pour through the air conditioning ducts I scream out, “no, no, no! This can’t be happening.”

I try to give the car a little gas, but it barely accelerates.  I’m all but coasting now.

“I never should have bought this f@cking thing!”

It’s been one headache after another in the three days I’ve owned it.  It died on me the morning after I bought it because Idan installed the car stereo wrong.  He forgot to connect a wire, which left it sucking juice from the battery all night and completely dead when I went to start it.  I had to wait four hours for a tow truck to come to my hotel and jump it, then I had to drive it to the nearest Pep Boys in Palm Springs to buy a new battery and then to a car stereo shop to have the stereo reinstalled properly.

Just because of that mishap I’m already out another two hundred and fifty bucks.  And then there is the door handle incident.  It snapped off in my hand yesterday and its jagged shards left a huge gash across the palm of my hand. Now anytime I have to open the door to let myself in I have to embarrassingly reach through the window to do so.  As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Idan still hasn’t turned over the title to me like he promised he would.  I guess there was some sort of glitch with the processing of it.  So technically even though I’ve paid for the car, I don’t actually have any proof that I even own it.

Oddly enough whenever I call Idan about the title or all the problems I’ve been having, he’s nowhere to been found. I’ve driven the car less than ten miles in Palm Springs and even though it’s a used car and I knew what I was getting myself into, I’d still like some answers.  Plus, I thought Idan and I were friends.

I reach for the blinker and flick it on.  Thankfully that still works and I slide over into the right lane.  Traffic on Interstate 10 is whizzing past me.  The hair on the back of my neck stands up and I go into fight or flight mode.  I’m officially scared.  Not just for the car breaking down on the highway, but also to be going so slow.  I’m now an immediate danger not just to myself, but also to other drivers.

Mountain range just outside of Palm Springs.

I’m right in the middle of the San Gorgonio Pass.  It’s a tiny two-lane stretch of the highway that cuts through the massive San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the slightly smaller San Jacinto Mountains to the south. There’s no shoulder to the road so I can’t pull over and I’m at the very top of the pass, which is well over 2,500 feet above the valley that’s down below.

This part of the pass has so many sharp twists and turns in it that a car could easy come flying around the bend behind me and have no idea that I’m creeping along so slowly before it’s too late.

I panic and push the gas pedal all the way down until it touches the floor mat but the car doesn’t notice and it fails to react at all.

Winding through the mountain pass on the bus to Palm Springs just last week was one of the most enjoyable things I’d ever done.  It was beautiful and majestic, but now it feels like a death trap.  This has literally got to be the worst place in the United States for any car to break down.  I can’t imagine a worse scenario if I tried.  If the car were to actually die in this very spot I don’t know what I’d do.  There isn’t an exit in site and it feels like I’m never going to come out on the other side of this deserted canyon.

To add to the terror, there’s another heat advisory today because it’s well over 115 degrees.  I’ve already sweat through my t-shirt and I didn’t think to pack any extra water because it was only supposed to be a two-hour trip to Los Angeles.  On top of all that, I don’t even have a cell phone so calling for help is completely out of the question.

About a mile down the road the lights on the dashboard flicker and shoot back to life.  I ease my foot down the throttle and eventually get the car moving close to 35 miles an hour.  My forward momentum pushes the smoke from the engine up and over the front windshield and I pull my shirt up and over my nose and mouth as it pours through every open vent the car has to offer.

Southern California.

There’s just enough juice to get me up and over the last hump in the San Gorgonio Pass and to the state interchange which puts me onto Route 60.  If I squint I can see what I think is an exit sign off in the distance and so I say a prayer as the inside of the car fills with thick smoke, “Dear God, if you get me to the exit ramp I’ll never ask you for anything again.”

While the car creeps towards the exit I wonder what will happen if the engine actually explodes.

I wasn’t into cars growing up and I couldn’t change a tire or the oil if you offered me all the money in the world.  So I literally have no idea what to do or how dangerous this situation actually is.

I read, Gilman Springs Road off of the exit sign to myself, but it’s just my luck that there’s absolutely nothing there, not a single building along either side of the road.  So even if I pulled over here there would still be absolutely no way to get help.  I would just be stranded at an exit in the desert as opposed to stranded on the side of the road in the desert.  So I decide to roll the dice and try and push onto the next exit because it looks as though I can see some buildings on the horizon.  I stab at the gas pedal one more time and the car shoots forward on her last breathe as smoke billows out of the engine like a 1930’s steam engine train is pulling out of the station.

Thirty seconds later, all the gauges inside the car go dead.  The speed odometer, temperature gauge, gas gauge and the one that measures RPM’s all fall to zero.

The pedals lock up too, but there’s just enough downward momentum from the backside of the pass that I’m able to get the car to stutter and sputter its way down into San Moreno Valley.

The car rolls to a complete and utter stop at the foot of the next exit ramp.  I was able to just barely steer it off the road and into the dead grass that runs alongside the highway.  With my heart pounding I rest my head on the steering wheel, thankful to still be alive, but having no clue where I am or what to do.

Sweat cascades down the sides of my face and lands on the floor mat beneath my feet as I think about my options.

Baseball Stadium Tour.

Today was supposed to be special.  Over the past 16 years my college buddy Jeff and I have been taking road trips across the country every summer in an effort to see a baseball game at every major league stadium.  It was a mutual dream we shared back when we were roommates at Binghamton University and this weekend was supposed to be our last road trip together; we only have two stadiums left to get to.

I was on my way to scoop him up at Union Station in Los Angeles.  He flew from the East Coast into San Francisco a few days ago then took the bus down to LA.  We need to make it to the Dodgers game tonight, which starts at 7:05PM and then to Anaheim tomorrow afternoon for the Angels game. But if I can’t get there tonight then this whole thing is ruined and who knows when we’d both be able to make it back to California again.

A big reason why I’ve chosen to go on this seemingly never-ending road trip around the world is because of how much fun all those long baseball road trips with Jeff and my other buddies have been over the past 16 years. Going to all the stadiums across the country has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life and it’s bittersweet that it’s finally coming to an end.

Every spring we’d pour over each team’s schedule together and then bust out the United Sates atlas that I kept in the glove box of my car so we could plan out how we were going to get to the stadiums of our choosing that summer.  Then we’d scrape our money together in hopes of having just enough.  I remember one year we even looked into donating plasma just because we heard we could get paid a pretty penny for it, which (at the time) sounded like a good way to get gas money.

I spent my 21st birthday in the right field stands at Fenway Park with Jeff and we went to the first New York Mets game played after the Sept 11th terrorist attack in Pittsburgh.  When Barry Bonds was at the plate in the Fall 2001 with a chance to break the all-time home run record, I was outside the stadium with one leg dangling over McCovey Cove and Jeff was strategically positioned in the right field bleachers.  We were both primed and ready to catch the million-dollar record-breaking homerun ball even if that meant I had to leap into the cove’s cold waters or he had to fight off someone in the stands for it.  But unfortunately, Bonds grounded out in his final at bat that day and we went back to our hotel room without the million-dollar baseball and remained as broke as a joke.  It didn’t matter. Whether you’re broke or rich there aren’t many things better than cramming into a car with your buddies and taking a long road trip to drink beers and see a ballgame in a city that you’ve never been to before.

We sung along to Jermaine Dupri’s classic hit “Welcome to Atlanta” when we cruised down 95 South and into Atlanta for a Braves game and sang sweet home Alabama anytime we drove across the south.  We wore these absurd matching hats that were made out of balloons when we were in the SkyDome in Toronto and we both polished off the famous one-pound hot dog when we went to see the Rangers play in Texas.

All of the long car rides, wrong turns, dumb jokes and late nights along the way have stoked the flames of the wanderlust fire that’s always burned in me and I’d have to say that this sixteen-year mission with Jeff has been one of the biggest catalysts for the journey I’m currently on.  Had we not rolled the dice and gone on all those road trips every summer since our college days, I’m not sure I’d even have thought of doing this, just for the simple fact that I wouldn’t have ever known that traveling, even when completely broke, could be so much fun.

Determined to not miss the game, I pick my head up off the steering wheel and survey my options.  I see a sign for Moss Brothers Honda.  It’s a car dealership about a mile away on the other side of the highway.  Since the door handle is broken and no longer locks properly I decide that I can’t risk leaving my things in the car.  I hitch my camera bag over my shoulders and then start wheeling my trusty duffel bag up the exit ramp.

Hard to believe my car died just days after buying it.

Its absolutely baking out.  It’s got to be the hottest day I’ve ever spent on earth.  People that live out here call it a dry heat and then add, “so it’s not so bad.”  I have no idea what they’re talking about and I curse the term dry heat until the air conditioning at Moss Brothers Honda engulfs me.  It feels as though I’ve just entered paradise as I swing open the doors to their showroom.  I run over to one of the vents and let the cool air shoot over my sweat soaked t-shirt until I’m chilled to the bone.

One of the Moss Brothers, a complete jerk by the way, only agrees to let me call a tow truck if I agree to bring the car there to get it fixed.  After standing by the water cooler and drinking as much water as I possibly can, I hike right back to the car and sit on the side of the highway while I wait for the tow truck.

Forty minutes goes by before Len shows up.  He’s a mountain of a man with a huge grease stain on his shirt and he tells me I’m crazy if I take the car to Moss Brothers Honda to get it fixed.  He says they will charge me triple the price of a normal garage and that he knows a better spot that’s just a few blocks away.  I watch in disbelief as he connects chains to the front of my car and pulls it up onto his flatbed truck and then I jump inside the truck with him.  The whole thing feels like a dream, like I’ll wake up soon and be back in my bed at The Monkey Tree Hotel.  I don’t think it’s fully hit me just yet that the car that I risked a small chunk of my precious savings for has only taken me a total of forty miles.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get the car fixed in time to get to LA. Maybe it’s just a small problem and I’ll be back on the road within the hour,” I tell him.

Len’s belly jiggles as he laughs, “Based on what you told me about the engine smoking it seems like a little more than a small problem, but hopefully you’re right.”

I check the time and it’s just past 4 o’clock, I have less than three hours before the first pitch at Dodger Stadium and I still haven’t been able to tell Jeff that my car died on the side of the highway.

He’ll probably be pulling into Union Station soon and be wondering where I am.

By 4:30, Yaseen, the owner of Moreno Valley Collision, walks into the waiting room of his shop.  I feel like a patient at the hospital, hoping that the diagnosis isn’t too bad and that the fix will be quick.  He’s from Amman, Jordan, which ironically was the stop I made before I reached Haifa, Israel.  While his mechanics were looking under the hood we talked about his life there and then he showed me pictures of his kids who are visiting his family this summer.

But all that goes out the window as Yaseen says as matter of fact as anyone has ever said anything in the history of mankind, “The engine is dead.”

My head drops, “Are you sure?”

“It’s going to cost more to fix the engine than what the car’s worth.”

“How on earth am I going to get to LA now?”

Before Yaseen can answer I just start babbling to him like he’s a therapist.  I tell him that this isn’t fair and that I’ve only driven the car about thirty total miles since I bought it.  I then go right into my spiel about how I’m trying to make it around the world and that I’ve got to get to LA to pick up a friend before the Dodgers game starts.

Yaseen cuts me off, “Well you could sell it for parts. That’s really your only option right now.  Maybe you can get a hundred bucks back.”

Yaseen gives me the password to his shop’s Wi-Fi and the number to the local salvage yard.  With no other choice I dial the number and ask how much I can get for a 2000 Mazda Millenia as soon as someone picks up.

“Is it running?”

“No it’s dead.”

“Hundred bucks,” says the voice.

I let out a deep sigh and say, “deal.”

I explain where the car is and just as I’m about to hang up the voice on the other end tells me leave the title and keys on the dash.  When I tell the voice that I still haven’t gotten the title from dealership that I bought it from, the voice says the deal’s off and quickly hangs up.

I look at Yaseen, and say, “I can’t believe this, but even the salvage yard won’t take it.”

His response is as unforgiving as any response I’ve ever gotten from anyone, “Well, you gotta get that car out of here if you don’t want us to fix it.”

I look at Yaseen and say, “How exactly do you want me to do that?”

He yells over to his mechanic Carols and tells him to push it out into the street.  I plead for Yaseen to let me leave it in his shop overnight until I can figure out a plan, but he won’t budge.

“The car’s dead, you don’t have the money to get it fixed, you’re not from around here and you don’t have the title. You could walk off this lot and I’d never see you again, no way I’m keeping this car here overnight for you.  An abandoned car fee is upwards of $500 in California and you’re not sticking me with that.”

I can’t drive it, I can’t sell it, I can’t scrap it and now I can’t even park it.  There are literally no options.

I watch in confused disbelief as Carlos pushes the car out of the shop’s parking lot and out into the middle of the cul-de-sac that the shop shares with a few other stores.  Just as he’s about to walk away I blurt out without thinking, “Hey Carlos, you want to buy it for parts?”

Carlos stops and looks up, sweat pouring off both our faces, “how much?”

“A hundred bucks.”

I’d abandon the car in the middle of the street right now if I could, but after Yaseen said there’s an abandon car fee I’m worried about what would happen to me.  I don’t know if the car could be traced back to me or not and I’m afraid that if I just leave it there then I’ll have a massive fine to pay one day down the road.

Somewhere in Southern California.

Carlos circles the car.  He actually kicks all four tires and then peaks in the driver’s side window and says, “looks like the stereo is new.”

“Yep, brand new,” I try to sell that one remaining nice feature of the car as best I can while thinking, please, please, please take this nightmare off my hands.

Carlos wipes a blue bandana across his forehead as he says, “I think I could rebuild the engine at home and sell the tires and stereo, I’ll give you fifty bucks for it.”

I jump at the deal, but he too wants the title.  I make the most sincere promise I’ve ever made anyone in my life when I say, “you have my word, if you buy this car I’ll mail you the title the second I get it from the dealership.”

Carlos runs inside the shop and comes back out with a photocopy of his driver’s license and a contract he’s handwritten on a piece of notebook paper for me to sign.

And here’s the ultimate kicker, the second Carlos gives me the fifty bucks for the car I have to walk inside and pass it over to Yaseen because that’s how much it cost for the diagnostic checkup in which he told me the engine was dead.

Down and dispirited, I sit on a folding chair in the waiting room.  I’m now out the two thousand I spent on the car and the three hundred it’s eaten up in repairs.  I text Jeff and tell him about the whole ordeal.  I go on to say that it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the game tonight and that our dream is dead, but that he should still go without me because he’s flown all the way across the country for it.

My shoulders slump forward and all I can think to do is to tell myself to think.

Think!

How can you get to LA?

It’s nearly five o’clock now and LA is known for many things, but one that’s high on its list is its notorious rush hour traffic.  Even if I had a car and was to leave right now, surely I’d get stuck in traffic and Jeff and I wouldn’t make it to the game anyway.  Plus I’m stuck at Yaseen’s shop and there are no bus or train stations within walking distance.

How can I get to LA?

F@cking think!

I check the bus and train schedules to LA but I was right, nothing’s close enough to make it worthwhile.  And even if I were to catch the next bus to LA nothing’s going to get me to Dodger Stadium by the first pitch because of all the stops it would have to make.

F@cking think!

I think about getting a hotel for the night and feeling defeated I decide to look up how much the cheapest one in Moreno Valley will cost. There’s a room at the Regency Inn and Suites that’s within walking distance for sixty-five bucks.

I text Jeff and tell him that it looks like I’ll be spending the night here, but before I book the hotel I put my head in my hands and I tell myself, There’s got to be a way, there’s always a way, you’ve been here before. F@cking think!

The words, “We’ll Pick You Up,” shoot across my brain like lightening.

Yes, that’s it!  Enterprise!  That’s their slogan!

I must have heard it a thousand times as a kid because that’s the line that would always end their commercials.  I never paid attention to it, but for some reason it’s popped in my head at this moment.  After a quick search online and a phone call, Gerald’s waiting outside Yaseen’s shop for me in a red Mitsubishi Mirage.  He’s 19 years old with bleached blue hair and he’s blasting Christian rock, but none of that matters.  He’s here to take me to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car that’s on the other side of town because well, that’s what they do.

Eighty dollars later, I’m behind the wheel of a beautiful and fully loaded 2017 Nissan Altima.  I’ve got the car for the next 24-hours and I text Jeff from Enterprise and tell him that we might have a shot of making it after all.  The only hurdle now is the dreaded rush hour traffic that clogs almost all of greater Los Angeles’s major arteries.

I hop back on route 60 and head west, which funnels me onto Interstate 10. I’m weaving in and out of lanes like I’m Dale Earnhardt in his prime.

The car drives like a dream and I can’t believe that within two hours of my car dying on the side of the highway I’m back racing across California again, but in an entirely different car.

I keep waiting for a traffic jam, for the famous Los Angeles break lights to show themselves and slow me down, but they never come and within forty-five minutes I’m miraculously just outside LA.

The only time I actually have to break is when I slow down to turn into Union Station.  And the only time I stop is to let Jeff in.

“After the day I’ve had I can’t believe I’m actually saying this you,” then I peal out and we scream, “Next stop, Dodger Stadium!”

Dodger Stadium.