Thirty-one Days

Next month, I leave Austin for a three-part thirty-one day adventure.

The West-Coast Roadtrip: A while back, Evan and George, two friends from Tulsa, introduced me to a little BBC television program called Top Gear. Periodically, these three would be sent by “the Producers” on special adventures: buy used cars sight-unseen over the Internet for a pittance, then drive them over a long distance (meandering routes preferred) while being hilariously abusive to each other and competing to see who made the best purchase (by no measure in particular). I do not recall the quantity of grownup drinks required to believe recreating this enterprise would be wise, but, sufficiently imbibed, an idea emerged!


Courtesy of my globetrotting grandmother, I have a First Class ticket to San Diego for the evening of August 27th. I expect that to be my last comfortable or spacious moment for a solid month. (Thank you, Mimi!)

We’ll spend a long weekend on a quest to acquire and fix-up some “previously loved” wheels. Victorious, we’ll day-trip down to Tijuana, then head north along SH 1 and US 101 hitting Los Angeles, Paso Robles (in wine country), Big Sur, San Francisco, Phillipsville (near the Redwoods), Coos Bay, Portland, Olympia, Indianola (on the Puget Sound), and finally Vancouver (by way of at least one ferry, maybe three) before backtracking down to Seattle. We’ll be staying in condos, beach houses, roadside motels, even two nights on a yacht, and couch-surfing with friends in between.

The Great Roadtrip officially ends on Sunday, September 13th. Having wished our battered automobiles well on their new lives in the Northwest, the boys will fly home and I’ll get back to work from Seattle. Tuesday morning starts heinously early at SeaTac.

Germany and DrupalCon Barcelona: I travel a bit for work and have made a tremendous discovery: glue vacations to business travel for partially-reimbursable adventures! Four Kitchens will be attending DrupalCon Barcelona 2015 where Chris Ruppel and I will be co-presenting a full-day frontend performance class. Naturally, he and I need ample time to prepare our session before the conference starts. He lives in Freiburg, Germany.

You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?


I’ll fly from Seattle to Frankfurt by way of Houston Intercontinental (again) to hop on one of the new 787s for the transatlantic red-eye. After a solo day working from Frankfurter Flughafen (Airport), coworkers Matt and Patrick join me that evening for the train to Freiburg. We’ll spend the remainder of week #3 there with Chris, preparing for our sessions. If we finagle a reprieve, he has promised to show us “lots of great German stuff like castles and beer.” I’ll keep you posted.

Treacherously early on Sunday the 20th, week #4 will begin with a bus to Basel, Switzerland (the nearest airport) for a flight on “EasyJet” (sounds ominous…) to Barcelona. We’ve booked a swanky four-bedroom apartment downtown and will be at the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona all week. A long journey back to Austin ends the junket on Sunday the 27th, in preparation for the oppressive business hours of Central Daylight Time the following morning. Coffee can be donated by the gallon.

I’ll be documenting the whole journey here. Welcome to my first blog. Thank you for joining.

Window Shopping

With about three weeks remaining, we’ve started to kick some digital tires. It’s a wild world out there on Craigslist, but determination has rewarded us with these shining examples of the best and brightest from the bottom of the barrel:


Dark and dramatic, almost mysterious, but I have to admit, I might love it. I wonder what damage is hiding behind such a generously applied Instagram filter…


Apparently, George has bumblebee aspirations.


Evan found Volkswagon’s answer to the Erector Set: the VW Thing. Some reassembly required, I’m sure.


High marks for color and how the hood almost meets up with the rest of the fender.


Behold: the Premium “Ladder Rack” trim package! I envision myself parked on a cliff high over the ocean, lounging in a hammock strung from the rack, with beer. I must accomplish this.


Evan has his heart set on a Miget. And even I have to admit that this would be an incredible way to drive up a thousand miles of beaches.


What in pluperfect hell is this? Abhorrent, but in budget.


A luxurious limousine that might even pay for itself ferrying similarly low-budget tourists up the PCH.


George had an intriguing proposition: this, he insisted at me, is similar to a pickup, but could be used to tow whatever he breaks. I wonder if he’ll split gas.


Cheating the budget does have certain advantages.


Lo, this rare gem comes standard with its own bewildered mechanic! A right solid investment, this station-wagon.

A Tear to My Eye

Tonight, a development. Nay, a breakthrough.

Everything I know about finances, I learned from my father. This gentleman is also he who forced me to surrender my first vehicle because he feared for its reliability. I waved goodbye to the glorious 1999 Suburban of a mere 150,000 miles before I left for college. In fairness, I note that he did replace it with a 2005 Nissan Xterra, which I still drive to this day (surely not his original vision). So when I explained the premise of our venture: to buy three archaic vehicles with unknown service histories — for the smallest outlay possible — from potentially disreputable Internet users in California, he was… notably concerned. As our departure approaches, I have attempted to show the vast wisdom of our financial considerations and precautions for the potential pitfalls of this adventure. My guess is not very convincingly, though he has demonstrated an agreeable amount of cautious optimism.

This evening, as I yet again spoke eagerly of my quest for a pickup, I started talking about about various sightings on Craigslist. I’d seen the usual assortment of Silverados, F150s, and Tacomas, but also the more modest Ford Ranger, Chevy S10, and suddenly — in unison — “a Mazda B2000!” — “in Red,” he added, a sparkle of nostalgia in his eye.

Don’t misread. I liked my Ford Pinto (his first vehicle; the model that had a tendency to explode). I liked our 1989 Suburban. And I like the 2011 Tahoe. But. I loved my Mazda B2000. During those long, miserable nights on-call at the VA in Galveston, I liked to walk by the window and look out at where I’d parked it.

I had no idea.

Mom emerged with a photo album.

That is not me. Meet my aunt Jennifer with cousins Ben and Peter. Uncle Billy, a preacher who hails from South Carolina, is not pictured, because, as my mother quoted (in an admirable impersonation of Billy’s impeccable Carolinian drawl), “I will visit you in Texas, but I will not ride in a ‘pick-up-truck.’” His disdain evident through her recitation of those three very separated syllables — “pick” “up” “truck”.

I was enthused. and Dad, elated, speaking with a reverence usually reserved for the dog (God rest his soul).

It would be rude to blame the dismissal of his beloved truck on Mom while we were supposed to be celebrating her birthday, but he did. “Well, she made me get rid of it — because of you!,” he exclaimed, pointing at me.

Tonight, I learned that my father owned a red 1984 Mazda B2000. He got rid of it because a family of three could not move cross-country in a two-seater.

I wonder if I can get it back.

Oh, if you buy a Mazda B2000, it’ll just bring a tear to my eye.
Cherry red, it has to be cherry red.

I oscillate between ‘This is going to be awesome’ and ‘I’ll never find a car and I will die sad and alone, in a Buick LeSabre.’

Evan. Nine days to departure.

Mackay-Louthan-Smith Abridged Phrase Dictionary of Craigslist English

“Fun to drive”
Short distances only.

“Runs great”
Vehicle has electrical issues.

“Runs grate”
Vehicle stalls frequently.

“May need new thermostat”
Blown head.

“Needs minor body work”
The frame is bent.

“Needs tune up”
No maintenance since the Reagan administration.

“Needs work”
Buyer should bring a tow-truck to the point of sale.

“Needs TLC”
Vehicle most recently used as a hen house.

“A little TLC would make it even better!”
Antifreeze leaks into the passenger footwell.

“Priced fairly”
Price is an order of magnitude higher than Blue Book suggested value.

“The breaks are good”
The brakes are not good.

“Recently Serviced”
Overheats after twenty minutes in traffic.

“Won’t Last!”
Vehicle failed to sell last time it was listed.

What Comes Standard

I’ve noticed a few common trends among used cars in our target budget and age range. Dented fenders, missing radios or air conditioners, monstrous upholstery choices, and the like, but many also carry a curious extra pedal… I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t know how to drive standard. I decided it was high time I learned. 

So I tried something new today:


It’s good to have friends in high places. Meet Bo of the Harris Hill Raceway in San Marcos. Excited by the lunacy of our upcoming adventures, he took me out in a Mazda 2.


Once I proved adequate at making stop-and-go circles in the parking lot, I got to go out on the track! The closest thing to a track I’ve ever been on is RR 2222. Driving is a lot more fun without a parade of soccer moms in Suburbans.


Track Facts:
1.82 Mile Long
11 Turns
36’ Wide
150’ Elevation Change
Track Record (4 wheels) is 1:16.376 in a 1995 Porsche RSR 993

Thankfully, my lap time was not recorded because I was fighting an instinct honed through years of driving SUVs: anything I did today should have tumped me over into a ditch. But I learned a lot, and I had a blast!

Just five more days until I put my lessons into practice.

Well, looking at today’s forecast in each city shows that I should pack for hot, not as hot, mildly chilly at night, with heavy scattered wetness, lots of dryness, and occasional patches of crazy fog. Think that’ll hold through all of September?

Taylor. 24 hours to departure. Hasn’t packed.

Just had to get my brain through a last round of meetings at work. Guess I should start car shopping now?

Taylor. 3 hours to departure.

Ladies and gentlemen: a failure to launch. Apparently Mesa Airlines can’t fix a flat, so my vacation starts a little earlier than expected with an exciting evening in familiar stomping grounds. Here’s hoping for a higher altitude morning.