Tag Archives: Keith’s rides

Keith’s rides, Part 6: Riding a golf cart and being splattered by pig doo

[This is the sixth of 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]

Working at smaller newspapers usually means – besides not making a lot of money – that you mingle with people in other departments and you develop relationships throughout the newspaper building. Reporters and editors become friends – and more – with photographers, advertising representatives, graphic artists, circulation workers, and the press crew.

That was the case when I worked at The Reporter in Vacaville. Some of my best friends were from outside the newsroom, especially the ad department.

And knowing that my Nissan was on its last legs, several advertising representatives were on the lookout on my behalf for a vehicle. One day I received a call and on the other end of the line was an ad rep telling me that I should get down to a nearby auto tent sale, which I did. That is where I picked up my Suzuki Sidekick.

A Sidekick was a poor-guy’s option for a sport utility vehicle. It was red, small, boxy, somewhat under-built, and very underpowered – I seem to recall that the horsepower was at sub-100, which is not very much. It was fine on the flatlands, but was no fun to drive into the Sierra Nevada. I joked that it was so small and underpowered that it was much like driving a golf cart, which my friends readily – too readily in some cases – accepted as the true name of my ride.

The Suzuki built the Sidekick as part of a joint venture with Geo – remember Geo? – and later Chevrolet. The Sidekick was the same as the Geo Tracker – later, Chevrolet Tracker – except for different emblems used by the carmakers.

I don’t hear about carmakers working jointly with competitors like that anymore, but it is a bit ironic that my next vehicle, a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo, was a joint-venture vehicle. The Rodeo is the same as the Honda Passport. More on that later.

As I think back on the Sidekick, I don’t recall very many stunning moments with the vehicle. It was an OK vehicle and I suffered a bit of buyers’ remorse, but it eventually passed.

I was having dinner at friends Rick and Michele’s home in Vacaville about two weeks after purchasing the Sidekick. Our friend and co-worker Cliff was there, too. Cliff’s vehicle – I think he was in the red Dodge pickup by then – was parked near mine. A lovely evening was marred by the fact someone had keyed both our vehicles, which we discovered later. I hate that! Why does anyone have to do something like that? (It’s a rhetorical question. I don’t really expect an answer.)

The Sidekick was convenient for when I house- and dog-sat for Rick and Michele and Cliff. The backseats folded down and Lucy, a German shorthaired hound, and Lexe, a Springer spaniel, fit nicely in the back. The dogs – collectively known as Da Girls, Goombahs, and other assorted names – did not seem to mind the low horsepower of the Sidekick. All they wanted to do was be along for a ride and to plaster the inside of my car windows with dog slobber.

The other animal-related thing I recall about the Sidekick is that I was driving back to the office one day after lunch and I was following too closely a cattle trailer carrying pigs. Um, yeah, it was a mistake and required plenty of quarters at the local self-serve car wash.

And I changed out a starter motor on the Sidekick, just as I had a couple of times in the Nissan pickup. But in the Sidekick, the engine compartment was so much smaller and the starter motor jammed in so very tight that it took me several hours and several scuffed knuckles to complete the task. It was a miserable experience and it may have contributed to me developing the urge for a new ride, which turned out to be the Rodeo.

 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

Keith’s rides, Part 4: Cross-country trip in a Caprice Classic, lunch in Wichita Falls and breaking down in New Mexico

[This is the fourth of several 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 at Chico State for a couple of years and always was able to make due without a car, either walking to where I needed to be, riding a bicycle or hitching a ride with friends.

 I was nearing graduation when my mother decided to replace her Chevrolet Caprice Classic. For the time, it was a fairly stylish car with quite a bit under the hood. In other words, in today’s climate it would be considered a grandma gas-guzzler.

My girlfriend at the time and I flew out to meet my family in Portland, Maine, to pick up the Caprice Classic with the idea of driving back to California where I would use the car. My father had hired a local teen to give the car a once-over; unfortunately, the kid failed to clean out the air filter and the car died in a dusty town in New Mexico. Several years later, while helping a friend move from Indiana to California, we broke down in the very same town. Go figure!

Except for breaking down and some long days driving, motoring across the country was an exceptional experience and I recommend it highly. We headed down the East Coast for a time and cut through Virginia and Tennessee, both incredibly beautiful states. We then cut down to meet up with friends in the Dallas suburb of Denton where we spent a few days.

We did all the touristy things in Dallas – clubs, rotating restaurant, parks, Book Depository.

We then left Denton and stopped for lunch in Wichita Falls, Texas. Wichita Falls is the kind of place where everyone wears a Stetson or a cap carrying the name of a farm machinery manufacturer. We went into the restaurant, me wearing typical California wear – a tank top T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops – and my girlfriend wearing something equally inappropriate.

Well, inappropriate for that particular diner in that particular Texas town, apparently. I quickly grew uncomfortable when the good ol’ boys at the counter turned in their vinyl-cover stools too peer at us – in an unapproving way – from under the brims of their Stetsons and John Deere caps.

I told my girlfriend we would be eating and leaving as quickly as possible.

And we did.

And we were doing fine moving westward until we broke down. I had to call home for help on that one since the mechanic found about an inch of Maine dust around the air filter and it took a couple of hundred dollars to fix the problem.

Out of New Mexico and into Arizona. We stopped off at Meteor Crater and then spent the night in Flagstaff before continuing on to the Grand Canyon. Awesome! Simply awesome! If you haven’t been, go before they pave it and put in a parking lot!

We then made it to Fresno, California, to visit briefly with my girlfriend’s sister and brother-in-law and we were off to Chico. We might have taken a detour to Napa where her parents lived, but I don’t recall that.

Tip: Every American should take at least one cross-country trip in their lives. Eat Maine lobster, see Boston Commons and take in a Red Sox game, see New York, drive the Jersey Turnpike, see the lush, lush green of states like Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, drive the interstate in an Arkansas hailstorm, see old windmills in the vastness of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, see the Grand Canyon, marvel at the Rocky Mountains, be impressed by the productivity of California’s Central Valley, and dip a toe in the Pacific Ocean. Say what you will about the people in politics or on Wall Street, this is one impressive country, from sea to shining sea.

Once back in California I drove the Caprice Classic for a while, until I was pulled over in Chico for having expired tags on Maine plates in California.

Knowing that it wouldn’t pass California emissions tests – my father years earlier had removed the catalytic converter – I sold the car for junk and moved onto the first vehicle that I personally purchased for myself, a Nissan pickup.

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

Keith’s rides Part 3: Getting stuck in the Duster while getting a box of sand

[This is the third of several 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 went off to the University of Southern Maine in fall 1980 to begin college and spent the first two years there pretty much dependant on friends with wheels and the university’s bus service between the Gorham campus and the one in Portland.

It was an OK situation, I suppose, since I had plenty of friends willing to give me a ride and the bus stopped near the Maine Mall in South Portland where I had a part-time job at Olympic Sporting Goods selling athletic footwear and other assorted athletic gear.

But my sister was to attend USM, too, and my parents felt it was time for a more dependable vehicle to carry the two of us back and forth between Gorham and Aroostook County, typically a six-hour drive with a meal stop midway in Bangor.

If I didn’t make it clear enough, let me do so now: The Bug, in its physical condition, wasn’t particularly safe for the roads, especially wet and winter Maine roads.

My parents got rid of the Bug and purchased a used Dodge Duster. It was plain and brown, brown and plain. And plain. And brown. But it worked fine enough for a while.

I don’t even remember how or when we got rid of that car. It may have happened after I went to California via the National Student Exchange where I attended California State University, Chico. If I couldn’t walk, I usually was able to wrangle a ride from one of my floor-mates and later house-mates, much as I had done the first two years at USM.

I suppose the only road-trip story I have about the Duster involves getting stuck at a beach in the middle of winter.

You see, I was an activity assistant at Robie-Andrews Hall, one of the residential halls on the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham. (USM also had a campus in Portland, Maine, and I believe it now also has a campus or satellite campus in Lewiston, Maine.) The winters in Maine can be demoralizing – long, dark and cold. So I suggested we have a beach party.

An assistant decorated some butcher paper with a beach scene, but I wanted to add to the scene. I jumped in the Duster and drove to a beach about 30 or 45 minutes away. I pulled into the parking lot. Cold, cold wind was cutting through my coat and snow blowing about, stinging any exposed skin.

I took a shovel and a box, trudged to the beach, dug up some of the beach sand, trudged back to the parking lot, and threw the shovel and box of beach sand in the trunk. I climbed into the Duster, started it up and nearly immediately found that the car was stuck in the blowing snow. Ugh!

Fortunately, a town snowplow drove by before too long and the driver offered to use the snowplow to pull out the car. I’m sure the driver, a Mainer through and through, had plenty to say to his buddies back at the plow barn about the college kid he helped out of a snowbank.

I got the sand back to Robie-Andrews and put it on the floor under the beach scene and changed into a tropical shirt for the party.

Here’s a tip: Never schedule a wintertime beach party on St. Patrick’s Day. College students tend to follow the green beer before they follow the box of beach sand.

 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

Keith’s rides Part 2: Um, there’s water splashing through the floorboards

[This is the second of several 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]

A cousin and his wife moved into the log cabin next to my childhood home and one of the vehicles they owned was an orange Volkswagen Bug. I don’t recall the year. I just recall that the heater in the VW Bug my father owned years before wasn’t much of a heater, a necessity in the cold, dark North Woods of Maine.

Anyway, it came time for Phil to buy a new vehicle and my family bought the Bug.

My father painted it a grayish color and made repairs, including tacking up the floorboards that had corroded over the years under the onslaught of salt and sand distributed on the winter roads to make them passable.

I drove that Bug for a while, when the weather was not too cold or too wet – despite my father’s welding job, water would splash into the passenger compartment when I drove through puddles or streams.

It was a rough ride for the frost-heave-formed Maine roads, but it was mine.

Childhood friends Jeff and Todd came along with me for a ride one summer day. We loaded the Bug with snacks, fishing gear and beer – we were all 18, the drinking age in Maine at the time. Jeff or Todd brought along a battery-powered 8-track player – yes, I am old enough to have listened to music on an 8-track player – and some tapes. We rolled through the North Woods in that Bug, splashing through puddles and streams, fishing for brook trout, listening to the Steve Miller Band on 8-track, and sipping American lager.

We made it all seem a bit classier by pretending the Bug was a Porche and the player was a Jensen.

That Bug didn’t have much of a heater either. And every so often I had to crack open the hood – yep, at the rear of the car – to gap the points in order to start the car.

I don’t recall to whom my parents sold the car, but it may have gone directly to the Portage Hills Country Club to be used as a tractor. Yep, a golf course tractor.

 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