Rolling 125,000 Miles On The Old Speedometer

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Today I rolled 125,000 miles on the speedometer for my 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix. Not that I had driven all those miles. My Dad bought this car from a little old lady 12 years ago when the speedometer had 50,000 miles. (Why a little old lady would drive the descendant of a classic American muscle car  still baffles me after all these years.) When he abandoned the car in my carport three years ago as a birthday present (he told my brother that the car was worth $1,000, but not the way he meant: the Blue Book value was $400 and it cost me $600 in insurance, registration and smog), the speedometer had 13,000 miles. I drove 7,000 miles since then, half in the last year from driving to and from Sacramento where Dad lives. Since he got out of the hospital and stayed with me for two months before going back home, the social worker required that someone from the family pays him regular visits to help him stay out of the hospital. I was in Sacramento when the speedometer turned over.

Since I started working as a disconnect/reconnect PC technician for a moving company on the weekends, I been driving all over San Mateo county (north-west of Silicon Valley). I started my day at 7:30AM in Palo Alto for six hours of work at Facebook. (Several weeks ago I actually walked past Mark Zuckerberg as I arrived for and he was leaving work; seldom do I walk pass Silicon Valley royalty, much less a bona fide billionaire.) When I drive to Sacramento from my apartment, I take the 680 up the east bay, the 580 into Stockton and the I-5 to Sacramento to avoid paying the $5 bridge toll at Benicia. On the way back I take the 80 to the 680 since there is no bridge toll going south. Going from the west bay to the east bay over the bay was something I never done as a driver, although I did drive over the Golden Gate bridge for a Cheech & Chong show in Roseville.

I took Page Mill Road out to the 101. There are no tolls for going east on the bridges. I could have taken the Dumbarton bridge but that wasn’t the most direct route to where I was going, and the rain storm passing through the region flooded out the connecting road. I drove over the San Mateo bridge into Hayward. The bridge itself goes up and over  from this side to allow small ships to enter the south bay. At one point in the 1920s, San Jose was supposed to be a seaport that would rival San Francisco, Oakland and Stockton. Never did happen because dredging the deeper channels for larger ships became too expensive. Once you’re over the bridge, a man-made road cuts across the bay. Being surrounded by water on both sides and pouring rain coming straight down made me wonder when a tsunami wave or sea creature would come over the road to wash everyone way.

Dad told me that I could take the 92 out to Jackson to drive through Oakland into the 580, but he haven’t driven in the area for over 20 years. The 92/880 interchange is currently being rebuilt and the Jackson exit no longer exist. I ended up on the 880. Fortunately, the 238 to the 580 was the very next exit and my stay on the 880 was brief. Traffic was horrible since a soccer game was scheduled to play at the Oakland Coliseum. The 880 is probably the most miserable stretch of freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I used to take Amtrak to visit my parents in Sacramento, I always dreaded taking the train that ended in Oakland and continued on bus to San Jose. Those buses had unpadded seats and I had felt every vibration driving through pothole paradise.

Wasn’t long before I drove through Castro Valley for the first time, a place that I had heard frequently about from the radio traffic reports but never quite knew where it was, crossing over the 680 to take my regular route to Sacramento. There was no fog going through Altamont Pass, which can be eerily experience seeing a solid wall of fog and knowing that there was a cliff face on the other side of the guardrail. I would have preferred the fog over driving through every variation of rain. It got worst on the I-5. One moment it would be a light sprinkle, the next moment a near zero visibility downpour. When I got to Dad’s place in Sacramento, he told me it has been raining like that for the last two weeks.

Dad is doing quite well. He finds new ways to keep himself busy while helping out the neighbors. One neighbor works for a vending machine company, where he has to take old vending machines to the county dump that cost $30 each. Dad strips down the vending machine to salvage all the wood and metals, keeping the $10 he gets from taking everything down to the recyclable center. He takes the unused wooden pallets from another neighbor, pulls out the old nails for the recycling center, and gives the lumber to a recently retired neighbor who started building birdhouses and chicken coops as a part time job to keep himself busy as his wife continues to work. Everyone in the neighborhood is happy.

When he was still doing construction work, Dad was the ultimate road warrior. He had a one-ton flatbed truck that he drove for ten years before he and the truck both retired, criss-crossing the San Francisco Bay Area to turn the speedometer over after one million miles. Every year Dad and I would crawl underneath the truck to replace the throwout bearing in the transmission. One year, after the engine blew up from going over the Santa Cruz mountains on the 17 and was rebuilt at the repair shop, he was in a screaming fit because the mechanics had replaced all the American-sized nuts and bots with metric-sized nuts and bolts. We spent one miserable weekend replacing every single one of them since he didn’t want metric nuts and bolts in his American made truck. He eventually sold the truck to another construction company that had salvage the engine from a similar truck  that was totaled in a rollover.

My 17-year-old car is still running fine after fixing nearly every major problem that Dad had trouble with but forgot to tell me about. An oil change is three months overdue, the shocks needs to be replace, and a tune up is badly needed since the last one was ten years ago. Expensive repairs that need to be done as I soon as a get a regular full time job. The 1984 model year was a very good year for the Pontiac Grand Prix (although my car is half 1993 and half 1994 when it comes to finding parts). If properly maintained, my car could last another 125,000 miles. At $320 per year for car insurance, I just might drive it into the ground.


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