Monday, February 1, 2010

My Friend's Cheap Car

St. Louis is a lot of things. It's a beer town and a baseball town. The museums are free. We get all four seasons. Gas stations sell beer. It's got history. It's affordable. It's got potential galore.

There are beautiful buildings like The Cathedral Basilica and The Central Branch of the Public Library. Our Symphony kicks ass. We have our own kind of pizza, and our own cut of ribs. We invented an entirely new kind of cheese. Not to mention toasted ravioli.

But, there are a lot of things that St. Louis is not. St. Louis is not Progressive. It is Authentic, and multi-faceted, and Real. But not progressive. In progressive cities round the world intelligent, well-read, locavores, ride their bicycles to work. And they stop on the way for an Organic Fair Trade Cafe Latte at their friendly, neighborhood, coffee roaster and brunch spot/general store. Then they finish their brisk and invigorating ride to work. They lock up their bike and swipe in to their totally modern, LEED Platinum Certified, Architecturally significant building. Before hopping into the office's unisex shower room with adjoining steam and sauna, and doing some brief and totally spontaneous bikram yoga with young Ms. Rose Sherpa, the new Nepalese intern from the famous Sherpa family of mountain guides. The very same Sherpa family that is renowned for being on every single successful ascent of Mt. Everest of all time! And then these progressive people do some meaningful, engrossing and totally admirable work before calling it a day and going home to spend time with their beautiful and unconditionally loving families.

St. Louisans aren't progressive in the same way as those people. In St. Louis, we drive to work. And a lot of us do it in cheap used cars.

My Friend's Cheap Car will be a recurring series on One Guy's Guide to St. Louis, in which I will examine My friends' Cheap Cars.

Shall we begin?

Cole's 1990 2wd Toyota Pick Up

This is Cole's truck, Travis. In the interest of full disclosure let me explain right off the bat, that in addition to being one of my very best friends, Cole is also my younger brother, and one of the coolest people I know. So it's possible that my love for my brother is influencing the way I feel about his truck. You'll have to be the judge of that.

I love Cole's truck.

I've always had a close relationship with Cole's vehicles. My first car was his first car too. And my second car was really his car that he let me use. Even though it was my mom's hand me down station wagon, and it never really belonged to me, Cole and I loved his wagon so completely that we named it the Death Wagon. And we had our talented buddy One Shot a hood mural.

Does the idea of a 1996 purplish gray Ford Taurus station wagon with skull on the hood do anything for you? Well what if I told you the skull was wearing an eye patch, and Pirate's hat? and that there were crossed swords beneath him. And a cut noose around where his neck would have been. And that on top of all that was a top rocker that read DEATH. And a bottom rocker that read WAGON.

The Death Wagon Hood

As we all know nothin lasts for ever, even Ford Taurus station wagons. And after a few years Cole bought a Crown Vic and we started scouring the bowels of St. Louis for under utilized non-purpose built skid pads, which we sessioned heavily upon the arrival of the very first snow flake. The crown vic is gone now too, but we still remember its 4.6l engine and rear wheel drive whenever a fellow motorist skirts the tires.

The story of Travis the truck begins on a very very hot summer day in St. Louis. Cole has been looking for a used car for several weeks.

"There's a Brat for $800 in Belleville," he says stomping down the back steps in partially unlaced high tops.

"Oh Yeah?" I say looking up from scanning the grass for any nuts, bolts, springs, washers, raspberries, buds, or quarters that might have rolled off the picnic table. "Does it have the jump seats?" I ask.

The jump seats in a Subaru Brat were a pair of color matched plastic racing seats that got bolted down facing backwards in the bed of the little Japanese car truck. Cole and I have discussed the brat's rear facing jump seats on many occasions. often while playing the 'what cars would you buy with unlimited money' game. During which Cole would usually call me lame for maintaining that I would only buy one car. A 1984 Toyota Starlet rear wheel drive hatchback with a 5-speed. I would shoehorn in a bigger more powerful, corolla motor and then have it painted in some deep Easter egg faux-livery and thrash the living shit out of it around town.

Cole on the other hand could always come up with at least 25 different cars he wanted. And would tell me why he wanted them, and what they represented to him personally and to the greater car world without hesitating a second.

"Not Sure," Cole answers, "The ad is pretty vague. It was an old man's car but he's dead, or can't drive or something. I talked to his daughter who said we could come out now... So are you coming?"
"Can we stop at a gas station?"

So I got up from the picnic table in Cole's backyard and we drove to Belleville on a hot ass summer day in the Crown Vic. The one with dark blue vinyl seats and no air conditioning.

As you might have guessed, since this post is about a Toyota pick-up, we didn't buy the Brat. It didn't have the jump seats, or most of the bed, or some of the frame, or most of several rear suspension pieces.

So we turned around in Belleville and drove back home. With the sun in our eyes.

Back at Cole's, drinking a glass of water, I decided that it couldn't be that hard to find a decent car or truck, or car truck. One thing to lead to another, craigslist to cell phone to google maps, and we were on our way to St. Peters.

With us on the drive to St. Peters we had the $660 we had planed on giving for the Brat. Visions of cherries danced in our minds.

The truck was parked on the street in a subdivision where every road ends in a Cul-de-Sac. It was red. With the perfectly uniform loss of clear coat that old Toyotas are known for. An overweight man in his 60s answered the door to his home, inside the thermostat was set in the 60s.

We're here about the truck. We talked to your wife.

He introduces himself.

I'll spare you the description of the truck.

After we test drive and look the truck over, Cole tells me he wants to buy it. We devise a plan. The fat man who has been outside for 5 minutes is dripping sweat. The Craigslist ad was asking $1000 for the truck.

"Well... Between us we have 660 bucks," we say.
"Well I'd have to get at least 800..."

Is all he can say before I blurt out,
"You got a deal!" and vigorously shake his soggy hand.

Then we adjourned to the air conditioned kitchen to attend to the paperwork. The story of the truck unfolds as signatures are laid to paper. The truck belonged to their daughter, but she's pregnant now, under less than ideal circumstances, maybe in the military, and she needs a bigger car.

Just as we seemingly wrap everything up and the Title nears Cole's hand, the wife remembers that they need to get the license plates off the truck.

The license plates are fastened to the bumpers by whatever rusty and half stripped hardware was within arms length of the vice grips that proud day in 1990 when the plates for the new truck showed up in the mail. The old man hands Cole a flat-head screwdriver. Cole looks at him quizzically then kneels down on the scorching hot pavement.

A few minutes pass. "Do you have any other tools?"

A trip to the garage and another few minutes. The old man is leaning over Cole offering thin advice and a light showering of sweat.

After a few more minutes of laying full long on his side on the pavement, with the little pebbles pressed and clinging to the perspiration on his left forearm, and some grunting, the second plate comes off.

Cole hands the man his tools and reaches for the title.

The fat man says one last thing. "And by the way... the truck's name is Travis."


Ben said...

This blog is GOLD.

Jeff P said...

Nice to see the Death Wagon hood getting some screen time.

Pancake Master said...

I love that the name is inherited. It was so important to the fat man that you kept it intact!

COLE said...

Travis Bickle: All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem. I don't care. Don't make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won't even take spooks. Don't make no difference to me.

Jeff said...

My Dad had a Brat when I was in school. It's the car I learned to drive in. It had the seats. I also fondly remember riding around in it during the huge snow storm of 82. my dad driving through peoples yards under the pretense that you couldn't tell where the streets were,

DoeHands said...

COLE! ew, skunk pussies. I'm so glad this is going to be a regular feature.

Maureen Grady said...

i wanna know more about provel cheese!
3, 2, 1, go!

(great story by the way. keep em coming please and thanks!)

Maureen Grady said...

oh and by the way...

mo.grady (at)

Tim A said...

The only thing you need to know about Provel cheese, is that it's not actually cheese.

mom said...

Never eat any "food" pretending to be another kind of food.

(This quote seemed appropriate)