Canto CCCLV: Burn Rubber!!!

Or: Drive the damn thing

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At least the hubcaps are good-ish…but the tires aren’t!

Gentle cabrones:

Have I written about our VW Bus?

I must’ve at some point. How could I have not, especially given I’ve done articles for the L.A. Times and Alta Journal about it?

‘68. Aqua blue and white. Bay window. Stick shift.

Nickname: The Jam Van, from back when my wife used to sell her award-winning jams out of it for craft fairs. The second of third Kombis we’ve owned (the first one was a ‘74 automatic nicknamed the M2 after our late Terrier X, Marge; the third one was a ‘71 named Joe that I bought off a friend after someone crashed into it. I sold them both, and I only regret the third one).

The Jam Van! My wife used to drive it regularly to Culver City. We once took it to the Hollywood Bowl, and then the camper top nearly blew up while we were “speeding” up the 101 because the latch broke. Then I THINK we blew out the engine some time later (you’re not a VW Bus owner if you haven’t blown out an engine, No True Scotsman fallacy notwithstanding). Something happened, because I ended up getting a new engine for it, which wasn’t cheap but worth it — and necessary because of my neglect.

That was 2019, just before I wrote a Columna One about VW buses. By then, I was driving regularly to the Times’ El Segundo office, so needed a daily driver with air conditioning and that could go faster than 60 miles per hour.

So, we parked it in front of our house, moving it only for the street sweeper.

Then 2020 happened.

2021.

2022.

About last year, I start to notice that it was getting hard to move.

Early this year, I’d have to pop it out of first gear. Then I’d screech out tire marks before it popped out.

I love classic cars, but I’m no gearhead, so I figured it was the clutch going. I called who I thought was my guy, but he blew me off three times, so I got another guy.

Great guy! I took the Jam Van to the shop him and his pals use to work on projects. “Look at your hubcaps, Gus” he said when I pulled in.

Smoke.

“It’s not the clutch, it’s the brakes seizing up.”

I left him the Jam Van.

The following day, he showed me the Jam Van up on a lift, the undercarriage filled with spiderwebs. The rubber and ball bearings and brake drums and everything, corroded.

The fix wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it — and necessary because of my neglect.

Afterward, we started to talk. And he told me something no one had ever told me before in all my years of owning old cars:

If you’re going to keep them outside, you gotta run them regularly. If not, everything corrodes.

NOW someone tells me.


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It’s interesting what people teach you in life, ¿qué no?

PK-doctorate curricula. Ethics and/or religion. How to drive or take public transportation — or both. Romance. Culture.

Who teaches you about classic cars if you’re in a world where they don’t exist?

As California follows through on its extermination program against the combustible engine, and technology renders it obsolete, owning one (or three, in my case, because I’m a cholo nerd) puts you in a grease-and-chrome Eleusinian Mysteries.

That steering box? They don’t make them new anymore, so you’re going to have to get it rebuilt. Convertibles? There’s probably one shop left in all of Southern California that still works on them (columna to come…). Parts? Out in the Antelope Valley. It’s a shrinking network of mostly men, almost all immigrants — Armenians, Russians, Mexicans — who value tradition, shininess, payment in cash…and driving.

A classic car is meant to be driven, not parked. If you don’t run the engine, the gas and oil will go bad, and you’ll have to take it to a professional to start up (unless you have that ether spray that brings back engines from the dead and is straight-up Lazarus shit. Or my ‘74 Eldorado convertible, which I didn’t run for three years and which started up like nothing after my future brother-in-law cleaned the air filter. But the brakes had to be replaced — UGH).

If you don’t use what you have, it starts to corrode.

You’re too great to be a shut-in. You haven’t talked to that good friend of yours in too long. What about that thing you were great at but haven’t done in a while?

Don’t let the rubber in your life disintegrate. If it does, the fix ain’t cheap, but it’s worth it — and necessary because of your neglect.

Get on the freeway of life, and zoooom. Unless it’s the 110 through Highland Park. That strip is SCARY.

**

Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

The no-one-reading-me jabs were expected; the Remierda one? FUUUUUCK…

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Me suggesting some dishes to U.S. Senator Alex Padilla to try at my wifey’s Alta Baja Market (whom you should follow on Instagram already). El hijo de Pacoima went with the blue corn chile cheese cakes, cafe de olla, and blue cornbread. Nice guy, great chat!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “”Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” — Book of Ecclesiastes

LISTENING: Never Can Say Goodbye,” Gloria Gaynor. “I Will Survive” is her torch song, but this one is a better scorcher: the rushing strings, the soaring chorus, the ceaseless hi-hat, but especially Gaynor’s voice that somehow rises above it all. Turns the morose beauty of the Jackson 5 original into a defiant cry.

READING: “The Words of the Week – June 7”: I’m almost certain I recommended Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” podcast back when I used to recommend podcasts (remember when I used to host a podcast? What a damn shame). They also have a daily newsletter version of it. They ALSO have original listicles — but, since it’s a dictionary, you always learn new stuff. The one regular feature is them looking at their analytics and trotting out some of their most-searched words, explaining why it is (almost always because a word was uttered in the course of a big news story), citing its recent and historical usage, and sometimes getting into the etymology of it all. Learn a word or 40!

BUY MY NEW CO-BOOK! People’s Guide to Orange County tells an alternative history of OC through the scholarship and reporting of myself, Elaine Lewinnek, and Thuy Vo Dang. There’ll be signings all year — in meanwhile, buy your copy TODAY. And, yes: I’ll autograph it!

Gustavo Events

June 13, 6 p.m.: I’ll be the emcee of the awards portion of the Orange County Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Gala at the Anaheim Hills Golf Course, 6501 E. Nohl Ranch Road in Anaheim. Tickets are $50 for non-journalists, and all the proceeds go to journalism scholarships. Show up and see me do my best Dean Martin!

Gustavo in the News

Gustavo Stories

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here by clicking on their logos down below. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! You can’t get me tacos anymore, but you sure as hell can give them — and more — to the O.C. Catholic Worker!