The Chum Bucket

I learned to drive stick shift almost two years ago. I was about twenty-two when I crashed my automatic sedan into a motor home. I was left on the shoelace express for about seven months, then one day I was done with walking everywhere and waiting for a bus. Out of the blue I decided to grab a set of keys to the family bucket. It was a one of a kind beat up 91 Ford Ranger that looked like was ravaged through the middle of the Vietnam War, but today it looked like a Ford Raptor. I never really cared to drive it until I needed to, life huh? No one ever showed me the correct process to driving a manual transmission, but I had an idea of it through dirt bikes, so I devilishly dared to just wing it. What was the worst that could happen? A whole new experience to me and right away very different. I had to be more aware of everything right off the bat, and to deal with a third pedal was a little more confusing to my feet. I never knew how connected a driver is with the engine in a manuel car. You can really feel the torque coming off an engine in gear compared to rubber band transmissions like I was used to. Using the clutch precisely to shift into gears correctly was the most nerve wrecking but not at all hard with practice. It was going to be my daily means of transportation, so it was imperative that I learn to operate it correctly. But what I didn’t know is that it would teach me so much more than just driving in the year to come.

The truck was old and dingy I don’t know anyone who would want to drive it. Although when it was new it belonged to my grandfather, he drove it for years back in the day. I can recall being driven around in it or watching him turn the corner to visit us. I would’ve definitely driven it back then, it was so much nicer. After many years of having it my grandpa eventually gave it to my uncle, whom at the time needed a truck. Although it was his all our family members would always borrow it when needed, keeping it for weeks sometimes. It bounced around from aunts and uncles to cousins around my family for years. Then when my uncle bought a new car, he thought to let my cousin keep the truck. My cousin Jorge has always been adventurous, so it was no surprise to anyone really that he crashed it into a ditch off-roading in it. The whole front end was wrecked into the engine block, but it didn’t die there. It may have taken a while, but the bucket eventually ran again. He drove it right up until he got his newer car. He had no need for it so my father then decided he wanted the truck, he really had no use for it and despite it getting uglier by the day my family always appreciated what it meant. It was never really moved unless needed, I figured I would drive it as I had no better options at this point. And it would be pretty cool to ride around in my grandfathers truck like he did.

 It was nowhere near the nicest truck I had seen, but the engine worked so that was good enough for me. It turns on the third time you crank the ignition, ritualistically every time without fail. It did have a radio although it only worked on the third Wednesday of every month for an hour, if it wanted to. There was no working air condition so no ac for the heat and no heat for the winter. Whatever season it was you were guaranteed uncomfortable conditions. The windshield was broken from the time the hood popped open while I was driving on the freeway. Fun times. Old dirty white paint with rusting and peeling occurring in patches throughout the body. Pop the hood and you find a V6 2.9-liter engine. Years and years of dust and grease built up all over the engine top to bottom so thick you can’t tell which parts are what. It wasn’t even four-wheel drive just the basic rear wheel drive. It was the oldest engine I had come across, it was 26 years old and still running it was even older than me by two years. For some reason I was always humbled by that. And found odd comfort in knowing that the metal tank like cabin of the ranger could survive a demolition derby if needed, I’d be safe. It was decently fast but anything above eighty-five miles per hour and you feel shaking like it’s an airplane taking off. It only had room for two but that’s all that was needed. Surprisingly the seats were in excellent condition and comfortable. That was the only upside. The dash was cracked filled with dust. The steering wheel leather had come off, so I replaced it with a customized retro cover from Walmart for the low. The foot pedals were uncomfortable bare metal. The door locks on the passenger ceased to work from the constant theft attempts and the parking break stopped working back in 99’. But there I was Driving stick for the first time in a moving death trap. Sputtering to take off from first at every stop as I was still mastering the clutch. It was easier than I anticipated by far, besides a minor second gear grind I wasn’t too shabby. Although very different from dirt bikes the clutch experience was still an immense help. Here I was driving around the city and to work again in a long time. I was a little more content with life and the chum bucket, so you know karma had to come get me asap.

Some weeks go by the truck is ok for the twenty-six years it has, then one day I hop in ready to get to work at five am and it does not start. Suddenly I’m thinking “damn right before work” what luck. I decide the most practical solution would be the battery. There I was no idea what it could really be I had everything riding on this one theory to work. So I pulled out some old jumper cables and borrowed a car. By blind luck the truck started up, but I felt accomplished on my guess anyways. Thinking it was a one time issue I left to work without second thought. It was nearing summer and one sweltering day it was time to go home, I had just finished eight hours of daily torture. Annoyed and tired I get to the truck crank her up and on the third try, no dice. The truck was dead once again. I really didn’t want to deal with it, but I wanted to go home. That’s life so I jumpstarted her right up with some help and I went my way. This would happen several times a week, but I managed and dealt with it because it was still better than walking. Now this truck only has 22,000 miles but it’s on the fifth lap at least of an odometer that only runs 999,000 miles. Maintenance schedule is unknown to me, at this point non-existent. And it didn’t help that I knew almost next to nothing mechanically speaking. Driving home one day the engine starts making a funny noise. Nothing too major but still concerning especially with an older car, so I continue my way. But arriving home the engine knocking is obnoxiously loud and meanwhile vibrating almost the entire cabin. This time I can’t ignore it anymore. I popped the hood and think “what can it be now?”. Through little stress and research, I find the engine needs oil. That’s when I also learn these older trucks don’t need an oil change or filter change. It just needs filling as its burned off accordingly. Which was bizarre because everyone knows that all cars need oil changes. So fifteen dollars spent on engine oil fixed the knocking, but while I’m at it I learn to check and fill the various fluids also associated with the engine. Just as precaution to not cause more damage to the truck.

Going anywhere in this old timer I still had the confidence in it to not leave me stranded. Boy was I going to be wrong. It was normal for me to crank it up three times, but today it took an odd nine or ten tries. It started up eventually so I’m content as I leave to my destination I couldn’t really ask for more of the old thing. Heavy traffic in all directions today and the bridge with the only access to the freeway was horded by commuters. Scorching heat with no air conditioning in the metal oven I sat as traffic was inched away green light by green light. Sweating perception clean off my forehead as I was so bored and distraught. I was finally at the light after much heat soaking when the light turned green and my truck stalled. “Piece of shit” goes through my mind. Right away I’m turning the key for it to start, but the engine was a no go. Again, and again I sat there trying to get it to work. Nothing. The engine was not budging. Siting there in complete halt sweating and stress hand in hand while traffic is now redirecting around me. Further contributing to the slow commute, I was stressed out of my mind! “What was wrong now? What could it be?” I now knew it wasn’t the battery. It was something else I didn’t know of. After what felt like hours the engine by some miraculous force turns on. “What an annoyance” I utter to myself as I’m finally able to drive on. I get home and I start to research on another problem yet again. Then conclude that it can be the alternator or the starter as the engine would crank but not start which was odd. I figured out if I held screwdriver to the starter and turned the key it would turn on right away. Screw to start as I referred to it. Before I get to fix it, I’m driving my happy ass down the road when again the truck decided to take a nap in the middle of the road, “here we go again” I painfully came to terms with it. Stranded for actual hours this time, I was a little more optimistic because I was fairly certain the alternator was the problem now. But still the timing and getting stranded is never a pleasant experience. This time I Pushed to start it and clutch kicked it on after many attempts to fix. In the next few days I changed the alternator and the starter just to avoid any more mishaps. It was good, but no way in hell was I having the confidence in it to work the way it should. Let alone venture out far from home as I really like to. A few weeks later I was right, I had blown a tire on the freeway going to work. Luckily this wasn’t too bad of a fix at all. I just had to change my spare onto it and that would be that. Took a long time due to me not having proper tools but that was that and I went on my way. The truck continued to teach me constantly and that was the first time I was really noticing a change in my knowledge and skill.

This was almost happening to me on the daily for the truck to be unresponsive. Which was frustrating and annoying more than anything because of the time dedicated for simple fixes that took forever. On top of that the brakes were always questionable, not the pads but the brake line system itself. I could feel it was starting to go out as time went on. One day trying to come home from a job interview, someone helped me start it. I was on my way and as I pull up to a stop I notice the brakes a little weird than usual. I keep going just to be on my way, I now reach the main street to make my way to the freeway. A block from the next light I noticed my brakes had disappeared into the void. Completely gone I would push on the pedal and no response at all. Full speed ahead the truck insisted. I thought about panicking real hard when I was coming up on a light and I had nothing to stop with, but it would not help at all. It was something straight out of a movie and the upcoming light was still red! All three lanes filled with cars I wasn’t going to stop at all, not safely anyways. I swerve into the empty left turn lane, suddenly I find myself racing through an intersection honking like a mad man while cars are passing through oblivious of me until I’m inches from their windows. My heart was racing I suddenly found myself in the fast and furious. Nervously wrecking on what was I going to do? I asked myself constantly as I had seen the next coming light was also a blood stopping red. Again, I Would have to cross a second busy intersection hoping not to raise my insurance rates. I barely avoided collision with a car making a left on the intersection. I had to stop no matter what and so having to I decide to slam up against the nearest curb, without any cars near I closed my eyes slammed against the curb. I had not crashed into anything major thank god, just a couple damaged hedges and plants next to a building. I managed to stop right on the sidewalk. Damn what a rush! For the second time in my life I feel like I beat death. But also, in the back of my mind was the thought of “No way in hell would I drive this death trap again”.

In the next coming days I bought myself a new car. Man do I appreciate the heck out of my car. Been driving it for almost a year now. If it weren’t for the truck I would not know how important safety is compared to when you don’t have it and need it. More importantly it sponsored me to know how to control an engine. I drive my engine so well and have the smoothest downshifts and it even came with a gnarly parking brake. To maintain a car’s engine is the last best thing I have learned to do. From driving stick to oil changes and exhaust manifolds. All the various fluids like transmission and power steering as well. Additionally, it sparked a curiosity to further explore the engineering of vehicles and how to better a car depending the goal. Whether to simply conserve for years or to augment it with performance. If it wasn’t for the headaches and frustrations the chum bucket gave me I would not be knowledgeable about cars today. I can comfortably say that my car is going to run for years just with the knowledge I learned from fixing the Ranger. Also it Doesn’t hurt to know how to avoid cars well in a stressful situation. This series of unfortunate events forced me to think for myself and really explore my own determination and will which is another critical practice to bettering my mind. The chum bucket really sponsored me to have more mental and physical knowledge. I’m sure it taught my other family members a few things as well, I can’t be the only one. I just wanted to get around by driving stick. The simplest things always seem to hide so much more.