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Take a Walk: Broken Cars Don’t Have to Lead to Broken Dreams

Broken Cars Don’t Have to Lead to Broken Dreams

I was driving to work in my 2009 Ford Crown Victoria, preparing to be greeted by a screaming Yorkie with issues and the innocent-sounding name of Peanut. The journey had just begun and I still had an hour drive ahead of me. The windows were rolled down and the music was turned up. As I hit the gas pedal, the car made a gurgling lull and didn’t accelerate. I managed to get it safely off the road to check under the hood hoping something obvious would show itself. Nope. I called my insurance to take advantage of the roadside assistance. My options were to a local mechanic for free, or $160 to get it to my usual mechanics at Norm’s. I couldn’t afford it, so I went with the locals. Nothing to do now but wait.

After scouring Craigslist, Autotrader, and Facebook to find a cheap reliable vehicle, I had finally found what I was looking for, a 2009 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. I paid cash, got the title, and started driving. It was a good car for about six months, then it shut down and left me stranded.

I got comfy on the hood of the white Crown Vic to enjoy the weather instead of sulking inside my vehicle. I was out in the country on a sunny weekday afternoon in front of an empty church. Traffic was minimal. Birds chirped and insects hummed. A truck pulling a trailer of metal scrap had circled around from the dirt road. They asked if I knew of a street I’d never heard of. I said, “No.” A man with tattoos running up his neck asked, “Where are all the ladies at?”

“They’re all hiding behind the cows.” I said. “It’s slim pickings, and the good ones are taken. It’s about thirty minutes into the city. Maybe you’ll have better luck there.”

He laughed, bummed me a smoke, and was on his way.

I searched my car for a lighter before remembering there was always one in my emergency kit in the trunk. My hands fumbled through the bag blindly as I felt my way through it: cheap and tattered rain gear, burnt mess kit, gloves, Nalgene, large trash bag to act as an extra poncho aaaaannnnnnd…lighter.

Cigarettes were just as disgusting as the last time I got stressed out and reached for them again. I put it out and stashed the stub. This was going to be a long day and I knew I’d have to ration if I was going to make it through.  

The tow truck driver arrived an hour later and started hooking up my car. He looked familiar and said the same about me. That’s when we realized he was the same driver who came for my Chevrolet Cavalier when it went down with engine problems seven months prior. He asked what my car was doing and I told him. He turned the ignition, “sounds like the flywheel.”

I got in and buckled up. We had a good conversation for the fifteen-minute drive to the mechanic. The driver dropped my car and I got out. I said, “It was nice running into you again, but it would be better under different circumstances.”

He laughed, waved goodbye, and wished me luck.

I talked to the lady at the front desk and left the key. She said they would get to it as soon as they could and asked how I was getting home. I shrugged and said, “walking.”

“How far is it?”

“About a fifteen minute drive,” I said.

She left and got the mechanic who gave me a ride home. It was time to weigh my options and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Lots of pacing later, I checked the local bus routes. I commute an hour each way and there were no bus routes for at least a thirty-minute drive from my location.

 

The local mechanic notified me a week later that the flywheel was cracked (also called a flex plate) and needed to be replaced. It was going to cost over $500 and that was all I had.

A friend thought he could fix it for cheaper and we had a location nearby to do the work. With the help of a tow chain, a Jeep, and an interesting drive down the road with hazard lights on and waving people to go around, we got it there.

Two days later, on the way to fix my car, my buddy got pulled over for expired tags and was arrested for a hot check from years ago he didn’t even know about. He made it back a few days later with a ride from his girlfriend and got to work on my vehicle.

 

Without the right equipment, we couldn’t get the car raised enough to drop the transmission to get to the flywheel. I sincerely appreciate the attempt. Towing my car had also jacked up my other friend’s transmission. It would seem my bad luck was spreading to those around me. Unable to tow it back for free by chain, I had to call in a tow truck just to get a block down the road. $75 was the going rate to go one block since I was too far from the city.  

I called around and got a tow truck driver dealing with a car wreck across state lines in Missouri. He quickly said he would come for my car as soon as he was done and hung up. No actual time frame was given and I finally had to call back to request a quote. He was the cheapest by far at $65.

Nine hours later I was waiting in dense fog at midnight.

You could barely see the lines in the road, much less an address on a mailbox or a person waving on the side of the road. The driver texted and said he was on his way. I got one more call to the driver before my phone died and told him to look for someone waving down anything that resembled a tow truck through the fog. I was sitting in a driveway at a friend’s house, after telling him not to wait up and go to sleep. Throwing reflective gravel into the road, hoping it might act as a marker, helped pass the time. The streets were empty. On the rare occasion that a car passed by I stood up and prepared to flail my arms about if it looked like a tow-truck. After three failed attempts waving down random big trucks that just drove by, he finally showed. One block later we dropped off the car back at the mechanic and he gave me a ride home.    

Another week passed. The car was finally ready at the mechanic with a new flexplate (flywheel). After getting a ride into town I paid the $500, drove it to the gas station a few hundred feet away, and noticed the speedometer wasn’t working.

Back to the shop.

They thought they fixed the problem a few days later and I found a ride into town just before they closed down for the day. I got in my car, happy to be done with this. The Crown Vic wouldn’t automatically shift after third gear and just revved high. I turned on my hazard lights since I was unable to maintain the speed limit. I should have just turned around and found a ride, but I didn’t. I just wanted to get home and worry about the rest later. The Crown Victoria overheated by the time I got home, but I made it. I barely got it back to the mechanic the next day.

Back in the shop.

Then I get the call. It turns out the transmission needed to be fixed as well. I couldn’t afford it. I was out $565 and without a vehicle. My positivity went with it. The Crown Victoria was done. All this time I was unable to commute to work. Work has slowed in the dental technician industry with 3-D printing and CAD machines taking over the business. The work was dying out anyway and it was time for things to change whether I was ready or not.

I was able to get a decent price for the 2009 Ford Crown Victoria. 62 Salvage offered more than double what any other salvage yard did so long as I paid the towing. I started walking into town on a hot humid day with my backpack. An hour down the road someone slowed down and asked where I was headed. I told him and he gave me a ride. Thank you! I waited for the tow truck driver at the shop.

The lady behind the counter asked what we were going to do about the cable they had to order to fix the speedometer. I had been very nice and polite through all of this, and continued to be, but my tone changed, “Quite frankly, I just paid over five hundred dollars for nothing and still don’t have a car.” She agreed to waive further charges. I got out to the tow truck and realized I left the title at home. The driver offered to drive me back home, thirty minutes out of the way there and back, for a nominal fee. It was the only option. I got the title and we headed into town. 

When we made it to the salvage yard I signed over the title and received a check. I cleaned out the car in the wasteland of the scrapyard with cars up on blocks and stacks of them crushed together. The Crown Victoria had a short time in my life, but at a very definitive point. It was soon to be gutted and tossed in with the rest of the forgotten and empty vessels. I grabbed my emergency kit bag, stuffed it with a few shirts and books left in the trunk, and said goodbye. 

A backpack and bus routes have become the new norm as I bounce around the Northwestern Arkansas Metropolis to whatever work I can get. I sold my first painting to Club Frisco to make rent and had another month to figure things out. I sold my Kona Hei Hei mountain bike on Craigslist for some extra cash to a nice gentleman who kindly gave me a ride home from Bentonville to check it out and bought it for his son. It gave me another month.   

I have been able to find work here and there with odd jobs to pay the bills and have enough food to live. Month to month I have found enough work to get by. My backup plan has always been to thru-hike the Ozark Highlands Trail. If I could get enough money for food and supplies to hike over 200 miles then I’ll figure out the rest later. Originally it was my backup plan only if everything fell apart, but I was always excited by the idea. Then everything fell apart.

I miss the feeling of freedom in a vehicle. Rolling the windows down and cranking up the tunes for a country drive. My backpack has become an important part of my existence. Making sure I have enough water and calories for the journey to save money. Ramen, eggs, and potatoes have become the staples of my diet.

Having to bum rides and be at the mercy of others aside, there was a sense of freedom to it. Something I wanted to do, was forced on me, and I was glad for it. Saying things ‘fell apart’ is quite dramatic compared to what many people are going through and I am grateful to still have a roof over my head, good friends to help me through, and a new path to pursue. I have wonderful neighbors at Terra who have given me rides to the grocery store and into town while I figure things out. I am being led in the right direction to achieve my goals. You can only appreciate the dark places once you’ve crawled out of them.  

Little by little I have accumulated enough supplies and food for the journey across the Ozark Highlands Trail. Training has consisted of studying maps and survival manuals, running three miles nearly all uphill, then walking back down, and adding weight with each run. I have gotten rid of or sold most of my belongings and will be leaving on October 5th. In the meantime, it’s time to get other areas of my life going.

I have been writing novels for some time, learning the craft, improving, and endless editing. I have a completed novel, and have nothing to lose. A kickstarter has been launched to raise funds to self-publish my debut novel, “The Blood of Winter” by John Ozmore, a gritty dark fantasy for adults and horror fans.

I want to give you nightmares, and I want them to be beautiful. If I can raise enough funds the novel will be set to release in October before I leave. You can find out more information on my website at . You’ll find a link to the on my home page and, genuinely, anything helps. If the kickstarter fails I will publish only as an ebook. Either way, I will be on the Ozark Highlands Trail soon. The rest I’ll figure out along the journey.

Happy trails to you all, and here’s to hoping for the best.

-John Ozmore  

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