Keith’s rides Part 5: Driving a Nissan pickup into the ground to end up with a Sidekick

[This is the fifth of seven eight or so blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven. It may or may not be of interest. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]

I was hired in February 1988 to be the editor of The Mendocino Beacon, a small weekly newspaper on the famed California North Coast. It was my first job after having graduated from California State University in Chico and I was pretty excited about it.

By the way, that month between graduating and being hired by publisher Joe Edwards is the longest I have ever been without a job up until this past year.

What I needed for the job was a set of dependable wheels. A college buddy drove me around to a couple of the used car lots in Chico and I finally settled on a white Nissan unibody pickup. I mention the unibody only because it was the first half-model year in which the unibody was featured, or so the salesman told me.

The pickup was a repo – there was a cigarette scar on a floorboard and the owner’s manual was missing – and there was no radio, air conditioning, or power steering. It also had manual transmission, but it would be perfect for getting around for the time being.

I used the pickup to make several trips between Chico and Fort Bragg, where I lived the first few months I worked at The Mendocino Beacon. There are some very winding roads between Interstate 5 and the coast and it required quite a bit of wrangling to get the pickup with no power steering between the two cities. My hands were swollen and my shoulders achy by the time I was done moving from Chico to Fort Bragg.

My tiny studio apartment was in an old former hospital on the hill east of the lumbering and tourist community of Fort Bragg. I could see the Pacific Ocean from my apartment, which was fantastic.

When I say The Mendocino Beacon was small, I mean small. I seem to recall that the weekly circulation was about 2,300 readers, mostly locals, former locals, tourists, and people considering a move to the North Coast. (The region, also called the Redwood Empire or the Redwood Coast, is generally made up of Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties. The marijuana-growing part of that area is known as the Emerald Triangle.)

And when I say I was the editor, what I really mean to say is that I did pretty much everything. I wrote news, sports and features stories, I wrote the editorials, took photos, wrote headlines and cutlines, I edited the copy coming in from a handful of columnists, designed and laid out the pages, everything. I even sold classified ads if I was the only one in the office.

But a very lovely perk of the job was that I could stand up at my desk and see the Mendocino Bay and beyond that the Pacific Ocean. Perfection.

I used the pickup to commute from Fort Bragg to Mendocino for a while, but eventually moved into a studio apartment in Mendocino above the barn/garage of an elderly couple from France. They had the same last name as mine, but with a slightly different spelling. He had been in a concentration camp during World War II.

The yard was lovely with apple trees, flowers, and a fish pond. I did yard work to work off some of the rent and I sometimes used the pickup for that work.

[Fun story not related to one of Keith’s rides: I worked at The Mendocino Beacon when the Rev. Jesse Jackson was running for president, and some local Democratic Party leaders somehow had been able to arrange for Jackson to be at a rally on the Mendocino Headlands. As I recall, Jackson was quite a bit behind the frontrunners and I think the rally was to help gain support among environmentalists and the gay community. Anyway, I had the story that Jackson was coming on the front page on the third week from the week of the rally and the second week from the rally, but put the story on Page 3 the week before the rally. The story had not changed and there was other news happening. So, on the day of the rally, one of the local Democratic Party leaders leads the 3,000 to 5,000 people at the rally in booing me and The Mendocino Beacon because I had put the story on Page 3 the week before the rally. That was pretty humiliating for me given this was my first experience with that sort of thing. That was tempered a bit, however, because fog kept Jackson from landing at the Little River Airport. And by the time they had come up with a plan to bus him in, it was too late. Jackson never made the rally. Well, not until some months later when the rally could be rescheduled. And when he arrived, I stood within 50 feet of him … with heavy armed Secret Service agents between me and him, of course. Say what you will about Jesse Jackson, he is a moving orator.]

I stayed at The Mendocino Beacon for less than a year. The 70-hour weeks were taking their toil and I felt it was time to move onto something else. I was hired at The Daily Journal in Ukiah, Calif., where I covered crime, police and fire departments, county government, courts, the wine industry, and some environmental news. The pickup was great for moving from Fort Bragg to Ukiah, where I stayed for a couple of years.

On one day off I was driving into nearby Anderson Valley to pick up mill ends – the pieces trimmed off at sawmills to make various board lengths – for my then girlfriend to use in her fireplace. I was driving too fast, I admit it, when I came to a bridge. It was winter and the bridge was slicker than the regular pavement and I lost control.

The pickup skidded a bit – I recall that the pickup nearly hit a station wagon going in the opposition direction – and spun out of control. The pickup ended up perched on the edge of a stream bed with a sapling the only thing holding it – and me – from tumbling in to stream. I was able to climb out and the woman driving the station wagon was nice enough to stop, check on my wellbeing, and offer to call for a tow truck. I thanked her.

I also thanked that sapling for holding on long enough for the AAA tow truck to arrive and pull the pickup back on to the road shoulder.

I was driving the pickup on a rough city street in Ukiah just as the Loma Prieta quake Oct. 17, 1989. I was on my way home to watch the World Series on TV, but the earthquake put a hold on that. Many people in Ukiah felt the quake, but I didn’t. The pickup was a rough ride no matter what and on a rough city street I didn’t feel a little bit of shaking.

The pickup was used in moving to jobs in Woodland – where I lived and work when I paid off the pickup – and later Vacaville. Trust me when I say this – the summer heat of Ukiah, Woodland and Vacaville make you regret not having air conditioning. There were more than a few times when I thought I would melt into the pickup seat.

The pickup also help me stretched my incredibly limited mechanic skills. Apparently, Nissan at the time was known for having crappy starter motors. The first one I traded out took me about three hours. I got that down to about 20 or 30 minutes by the time I traded out my last starter motor on the pickup.

One other notable event with the Nissan happened while I was covering crime in Vacaville. I went out to a TC – traffic collision – and was gathering information about the crash and the person hurt in the crash. The victim was loaded into the ambulance and the ambulance driver – a fire captain for the Vacaville city department – promptly backed the city ambulance into the pickup, crushing the fender and flattening a tire.

The city of Vacaville paid to have that fixed.

It wasn’t too much later that I noticed that the pickup was not as peppy as it once was – I had driven it pretty hard for the time that I had it – and, besides, I started yearning for a new ride.

Of course, the problem was finances. A person does not get rich working for a newspaper.

Several friends in the newspaper’s advertising department knew that I was looking for a new vehicle. That’s how I ended up at a used car tent sale at the parking lot of the Nut Tree Restaurant. Vacaville and Interstate 80 landmark had been closed for a year or so, if I recall correctly. That’s how I ended up with the Suzuki Sidekick.

Rides of My Life … so far

Part 1: Jeep Commando

Part 2: VW Bug

Part 3: Dodge Duster

Part 4: Chevrolet Caprice Classic

Part 5: Nissan pickup

Part 6: Suzuki Sidekick

Part 7: Isuzu Rodeo

Part 8: Honda CRV

7 responses to “Keith’s rides Part 5: Driving a Nissan pickup into the ground to end up with a Sidekick

  1. Pingback: Keith’s rides, Part 6: Riding a golf cart and being splattered by pig doo « Letters From Away

  2. Pingback: Keith’s rides, Part 1: My first ‘status symbol’ was a Jeep Commando « Letters From Away

  3. Pingback: Keith’s rides Part 2: Um, there’s water splashing through the floorboards « Letters From Away

  4. Pingback: Keith’s rides Part 3: Getting stuck in the Duster while getting a box of sand « Letters From Away

  5. Pingback: Keith’s rides, Part 4: Cross-country trip in a Caprice Classic, lunch in Wichita Falls and breaking down in New Mexico « Letters From Away

  6. Pingback: Keith’s ride, Part 7: V-6 under the hood and ready to ride « Letters From Away

  7. Pingback: Keith’s ride, Part 8: So far, the road ends with a Honda CRV « Letters From Away

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