The Reunion that Hasn’t Been. Yet.


We knew 2020 was the five year anniversary of the Pacific Coast Highway and had been mulling over the possibility of a reunion drive. Then something called “COVID-19” happened and things got very weird. We shelved the idea of a trip, but kept thinking about what we might be able to do. Meanwhile, except the big Coronaroadtrip, I haven’t been driving much. I haven’t even started the truck in maybe six months. I feel bad.

But Google Photos popped up yesterday with an “On This Day 5 Years Ago” notification, with this photo from the day I brought the Pickup home from the shipping terminal. Parked behind Xterra the Elder, for extra nostalgia. So I’m taking Evan and George up on a generous offer: what if the reunion was a week or two of wrenching on the truck over Halloween?

Because it so desperately needs attention.

I tried to start it last night. I knew it’d need a jump and that sometimes after sitting a while, it coughs itself to life over a little cloud of smoke. But I looked back and it was spewing chunks of rusted tailpipe or muffler along with the smoke. Watching solids fly out of the tailpipe was alarming. I need to be a better person, I owe a lot to this truck.

Ultimately, I think the truck can clear its throat and start if given another push, but if I’m going to emit that much carbon, I’d rather do it discreetly. For that and because the apartment asked everyone to vacate the lot so it can be repainted, I rolled the truck out of my spot, did a three-point turn, pushed it down the driveway, and out onto the street and parallel parked it, Flintstone-style. Disgraceful.

The Pacific Coast Reunion PunchWrenchlist

It’s not a short list. That just means we get to pick and choose.

  • Major
    • Coolant and clutch leaks — because they both leak
    • Muffler and/or tailpipe damage — from whatever that was
    • Fluids flushes
    • Rear drum brakes are near EOL
    • Tires may be near EOL
  • Minor
    • Weather stripping on the driver’s side finally cracked — parts on order
    • Passenger door handle is broken — I have had this part for a while…
    • FM antenna needs to be replaced and rewired — parts on order
    • Rust spots need to be treated
    • After replacing a blinker lightbulb, I’ve had some trouble with lights working intermittently. This should not be huge, but it would block state inspection, which expires in :checks watch: today days.
  • Nice-to-haves
    • Radio swap for a Bluetooth receiver and new speakers with covers

Jumpstarting the Dead

After yesterday’s display, I was in a hurry to figure out if I could even get the truck started. I rolled it further down the street to get the Xterra in front of it for another jumpstart attempt. Seems I left the door slightly ajar last night, so the battery was entirely knackered.

For a while, no signs of life. I was worried I’d killed him. Then in desperation, I did a direct battery-to-battery connection (do not do this) and tried once more. Success! An exhausted rumble, one more covid-cough of smoke, and the sound of a running engine if somewhat wobbly.

I went for a resurrection drive — first along my running route through the neighborhood, then five laps of I35’s frontage u-turns between Airport and 290 — about fifteen miles total. Once I was satisfied that I’d gathered enough electricity and nothing more had spewed out of the tailpipe or engine bay, I wandered over to a wash.

Good as new. More or less. Once back home, I did an inspection of the tires and a little fiddling with the lights, to remind myself what was broken about them.

For their age, the tires look surprisingly good, but they’ve only got 13,000 miles on them. The light situation is weird, because of course it is. Since I swapped out that front-right blinker, the blinkers work fine if the headlights are off. If I turn the headlights on, the right-turn signals (front and back) turn on and stay on.

Faith restored. But much is still needed.

And another thing

I had grand plans to take the truck climbing today. The crag is about an hour from here, and is also the site of the longest test drive I took in the Celica before leaving for Albuquerque.

And one inflated tire later, the fuse for the power outlet let go.

In another episode of “we get by with a little help from our friends…”

And once I wasn’t teetering between differently inflated tires, I ran to AutoZone to swap out that fuse.

15A circut with a 10A fuse…

Oh, that’s why that blew out as soon as I asked it to do something more than charge a speedometer phone. At least it’s an easy fix.

Mail Call

While I was back in St. Louis for that wedding I mentioned on the Coronaroadtrip, my folks received a giant pile of stuff. In exchange for hauling it away, I was rewarded with dinner and a small loaf of homemade pumpkin bread. I’ll call that a win.

Good stuff. I think this is everything but I should do a proper inventory tomorrow to make sure. I also found an extra bit of joy on eBay:

A Matchbox Nissan D21 — to go with Xterra the Mini that Evan gave me in Arkansas.

Getting a Head Start

Since i’m not headed to Tulsa this weekend, I thought I’d at least match up orders to the pile of boxes I’ve collected, clean out the toolbox, and maybe get a jump on an easy item or two.

Between RockAuto and eBay, looks like everything did arrive as expected.

I figured the FM antenna assembly and a long-shot quick-fix for the blinker would be easy to knock out. I was almost right about both.

Unfortunately, after I got the antenna cable routed and the radio reinstalled, I realized I have nothing to screw the antenna assembly into. The broken factory antenna clipped in; there wasn’t anything inside the fender under that hole. So I’ll see if I can snag a makeshift fastener from AutoZone tomorrow.

My blinker problems started when I swapped out the right-front turn signal — now both right side blinkers remain on solid when the headlights are on. I thought maybe replacing the left-front was worth a shot, since they’re sold in pairs. That did not fix the issue, but I’ll take a win from not having made it any worse…

Then my sunglesses broke. You know the same sunglasses I’ve had since before that very first fisheye selfie at Dana point? The ones that have come in extra handy lately as a a way to keep my covid-hair out of my face? Yeah those. Great sadness.

A Small Win

Since there was no backing plate or bracket to screw the antenna into, I went to Home Depot for a longer bolt, a couple washers, and a few nuts to try and rig something from the inside. I built my metal shish kabob by threading my arm up inside the fender and feeding parts to my fingertips through the antenna channel using a leatherman. It’ll do. And now I won’t arrive into Tulsa with such a visible hole in my truck, and that’s a win.

Hitching up the Wagon Train

After work, I ran by the carwash to get the latest round of tree sap and bug guts off the Xterra and then dropped down to Uhaul to pick up the dolly. The first dolly they gave me had a short in its wiring harness that only reared its head after I had passed inspection — always check the gear yourself. Luckily they had one more left and swapped it out.

Back at the apartment, driving the truck up onto the dolly wasn’t too bad, but then I had to drop out the driveshaft because the truck is rear-wheel drive. The trusty Haynes manual suggested that this would be easy. And in truth, it wasn’t too bad, even if some of the bolts back there are super old and difficult to get a wrench around.

After freeing the driveshaft from the rear diff flange, what I’d wanted to do was disconnect the center u-joint, but that’s not what it says in the manual. So I removed the bracket that holds the joint in place, which was all that was needed to release the front of the driveshaft from the transmission output. The manual offered a vague warning worded something like, “if the shaft is removed from the differential or transmission, keep them covered.” What it did not say was, “the second you pull on this thing, the entire liquid contents of your transmission will spew out onto the street. Also, it will be sticky and slimy and it will get all over you.”

So I called up Evan.

Evan: Uh oh, what happened?

Me: Why do you assume something bad happened?!

Evan: In the long history of our friendship, I don’t think you’ve called me on the telephone.

Me: Oh. Well something bad happened.

We decided that the “bad” had already happened and was not going to get much worse. But “finish the transmission flush I started on accident” is now the top to-do list item.

So I wrapped up the diff flange and the transmission output with plastic and zipties, took a shower, noticed that the daylight I was counting on had left without me, and departed.

The drive was slow and a little tense, but ultimately not too bad. I pulled into Ardmore, just north of the Red River, a little after midnight and decided to shelter from the incoming cold front at a hotel here. Thankfully this makes tomorrow’s drive fairly short, assuming my caravan of rattles holds together through Oklahoma City’s rush hour.

I have arrived!

After a long day at the Ardmore Best Western office, we three got back on the road. I threw on my Team Xterra shirt as a goodwill gesture; Xterra the Younger is putting up with a lot. This trailer is miserable and having four axles has given me a whole new appreciation of how bumpy some of I-35 is in Oklahoma. I pulled into Tulsa just in time to catch “back yard covid-safe movie night” with the whole group to watch Hocus Pocus. It was great to see everyone for the first time in a really long time, and whoah boy it got a lot colder here over night.