Our Prius has 235,000 miles on it.
And I’m giving our 13-year-old Subaru (nicknamed “The Mothership”) to our son, who we’ll call “Chance” in Colorado. Not only because all Subarus belong in either Colorado or Montana when they are let out to pasture, but because my son actually needs a car with a sun roof and a retractable moonroof to shoot movies…or control his filmmaker buddy’s drone through.
But as I’m wont, I digress.
I found a used pickup truck on Craigslist last year and after my mechanic dutifully troubleshot it full of holes, I talked the shiny-shoed owner down a couple K and relearned how to drive a stick.
Now I’m preparing for another Grand Canyon float trip, this one on my very own luck-induced permit, so I’m thinking maybe I should drive to the put-in. The last time I drove across the country, in August, I found that no number of straps could prevent the flapping of stuff… and the threat of rain, dew, snow, and theft … well, this is how dorkiness begins.
Yes, my husband, who we’ll call “Lars,” suggested it first. Maybe I should get a lid for the pickup.
So this week, while Lars, who travels overseas a lot, NOT for the CIA, was in Argentina, I tried different search terms on Craigslist. “Camper top,” “pickup lid” and variations thereof produced lots of mattress accessories and RV parts.
The key words (make a note of it) are “camper shell.”
Sure it’s obvious — now that I’ve said it.
It seems that Chevys are the best at shedding their lids; they clutter the search results. Bottom of the list are Nissans. Below that, to the point that they become “Wanted: Camper shell for Toyota Pickup” are what I was looking for.
But today, having caught a cold and having dried out my mouth by breathing through it all night because my nose is clogged up, I arose early enough to be able to respond to an ad for a camper shell that had come off a truck very much like mine. And rise early enough to get it I did.
Despite a slight color difference (the shell is silver, my truck is white) I agreed to drive a half hour to the suburbs to an address without knowing the name, religion, race, size, weight, gender or name of the seller. But I told my kid where I was going. Just in case.
When I arrived, I found myself in a circle of townhouses in rural Manassas, Virginia. A woman was smoking on a porch, some guys in neon vests were messing with a fire hydrant. And a very young Latino guy in a “Nabisco” shirt was washing a lowrider pickup truck. But it was a color I know as “shiny dust,” not silver.
He was watching me.
I glanced at the address number above his garage. He was my man.
“Hola,” I guessed.
We spoke Spanish until he had taken me around back and I had forgotten the name for “string” which was keeping the tarp on the camper shell. Actually, it was dental floss.
“Do you work for Nabisco?” I asked.
“Today was my last day,” he said.
“Are you looking for a job?” I couldn’t help but follow…
“I have plans,” he said, shaking his head.
I wondered if his plans were to import marijuana from Colorado, where, I had noticed on my last trip, it seemed in plentiful supply.
The lid was pristine.
In rapid-fire Spanish, Ernesto explained to me how I could paint it to match my truck, ‘no problema.’
Maybe his new job was selling cars.
I told him in Spanglish that I liked the mismatch, it meant my truck was less likely to be broken into.
He found this hilarious.
Soon I was in front of an ATM machine.
I called him and he gleefully accepted my offer of about 90 percent of his asking price (and 55 percent of a new one.)
When I returned to the circle of townhouses, the fire hydrant was surrounded by neon vests and a sense of tension was in the air.
Ernesto was on the phone.
I had a wad of cash. A wad.
I left it in my purse on the front seat and resting my forearms on the bed of my truck, I checked my email.
Ernesto was deep in conversation with someone who was questioning him. It was serious.
I deduced that it was an exit interview. Why had he quit his job?
I troubleshot the situation.
If the lid fit on the truck but he didn’t have the clampy things to attach it, I couldn’t drive off with it.
I would leave the money in the truck.
Ernesto apparently heard my thoughts and as he answered questions about a truck, a citation, an accident, he produced some clamps, placed them in the bed of my truck and without looking at me, started unscrewing them to attach them to the rail mounted on the inside of my truck bed.
I tried to figure out how the clamps worked and grabbed another clamp, imitating on the left side, what he was doing on the right.
By the time we had them all mounted he was off the phone and apologizing.
“No worries,” I said, figuring that a conversation that was worth more than $650 cash was probably pretty important to this guy.
“It was an accident I was involved in months ago and finally the insurance is calling. Right now of course.”
Ernesto said we would have to hurry because we would need his wife’s help to get the camper around from the back and she had to go to work.
I counted the money and handed it to him, telling him to count it. “You counted it,” he said, tucking it away in a pocket somewhere.
A beautiful woman in pink scrubs appeared at the back door when we got through the back gate.
Together, Ernesto lifted one side and I the other. It soon became apparent that I was stronger than the much smaller Ernesto. His wife tried to help, but soon, seeing that she was in the way, she stepped back.
I asked if she were a nurse, in Spanish. She didn’t understand so I repeated in English. She suddenly understood all and smiled a big beautiful smile.
“No, dental hygienist,” she said. I smiled, glancing at the floss on the ground.
Ernesto asked me three times as we walked the shell around the bank of townhouses, whether I needed a rest.
I did not.
I thought we’d just place the camper on my truck, clamp it down and I’d go.
How wrong I was.
The fire hydrant was now spewing water across the street away from us and the large gringoes in neon vests were leaning back on their haunches, watching it as though expecting an alligator to emerge.
It was two full hours before Ernesto had cleaned the windows, glued the rubber gasket in place, enlisted the help of a neighbor, a gringo named TJ who happened to have clear caulking (I’m terribly sorry, all I have is white,) to finish the edges.
I asked Ernesto what part of Mexico his family was from, enjoying the opportunity to practice my rusty Spanish.
“El Salvador,” he said.
I laughed. “Oh, that is a part of Mexico now?”
I guess maybe that wasn’t funny. I apologized.
Our conversation continued. He has lived his whole life in Virginia, he owns his home, he and his wife have a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old.
“You are not looking for a job?”
He smiled a special smile, “no, gracias, no.”
In his excitement, he ruined the threads on one of the clamps and he tried to redrill the threads using a DeWalt impact driver. Finally, with a bright look of glee, he remembered he had the clamps from his first truck somewhere in his garage.
After a few minutes, Ernesto had successfully clamped the shell on my truck using half of an aluminum clamp from the prior rig.
I was good to go.
After I shook his hand, he noticed the back window had not been cleaned. He looked for his Windex and cleaning rag.
But I put up my palm. “That’s enough, Ernesto,” I had to say. “Relax.”
I drove home, wondering if he thought I was crazy to put a silver cap on a white truck. And how could I have possibly for one instant thought he was turning to the drug trade? I was embarrassed enough in my own sole presence to feel my face flush.
It is now seven hours later and my phone vibrates.
“I think I didn’t tight up the left front bolt on the camper. Try double checking them if you can.”