I was the proud owner of a 1982 Datsun 280zx Turbo for about half an hour. It died 20 miles outside of Los Angeles on I-5 North headed back to Oakland. The ink on the paperwork had not yet dried when white smoke started pouring out of the right side of the car. I felt the transmission downshift hard, and the car dropped from 80 mph to 55 mph in about five seconds. I killed the engine and coasted into a sort of gravel rest stop where several tractor trailers were congregated. I got out and popped the hood and listened to some unknown liquid sizzle from deep inside some dark nowhere, way the hell down there. Standing there beneath those overcast skies, I tried to figure out what I had ever done to deserve all the car troubles that I’ve had in my life. I got back in the car where it was warmer and quieter than the highway. I wondered about the thousands of dollars I had given to a stranger not even an hour before, and how I’d probably never see any of it again. I wondered what the hell I was going to do with my worthless car. I wondered how I would get back to Oakland. I was sick and breathing out sick fumes. The windows fogged up and I sat there in silence.
When you buy a used car from a private seller, you are more often than not buying a car “as-is”, even if it explodes into a fireball three blocks away from where you bought it. So of course in that moment it seemed like I had just blown all my money on a thing, and that there was no way I was going to reverse what had seemed like a sound decision. I didn’t know what else to do so I called the previous owner. I told him the radiator was angry as hell, and that the engine had been very close to overheating.
He was silent for a moment, and then he said: “Oh my . . . o-oh my. . . .”
“What the hell do I do, man? I’m out here on the highway. This thing is busted.”
“Let me call you right back.”
“Is there any way I can get my money back?”
“I—I’m going to see what I can do.” He hung up.
See: This guy, who really was a hell of a guy, all things considered, was selling the Datsun on behalf of his entire family. His father-in-law had died and left to the car to his (the previous owner’s) wife, and she didn’t want anything to do with it, and nobody else did either, and so there it sat for some time. I had been under the impression that they drove it around here and there, but as the engine overheated 20 minutes into a five and a half hour drive, I realized that no one had really driven it in probably a decade. The farthest it ever went, I imagined, was from one end of the yard to the other when dad had to cut the grass. What a fucking sadness. It was so beautiful too.
A California Highway Patrol car pulled up behind me when I was wheezing and wondering inside the car. He tapped on the window and I got out and talked to him. He asked if I needed a tow. He was a real asshole about it too. I told him I’d just bought insurance a few minutes before, and would summon a tow truck from my insurance company. He shrugged and chomped hard on a tiny piece of pink gum and then drove away.
I called a tow truck. He was some cool old-ass Russian dude who had no patience for anything. He was huffing and snorting on the phone. I loved it. I told him I was by some shitty paintball course and a few miles away from Castaic Lake. “I know where you are,” he said, and he hung up on me.
Dude went to work immediately, lowering the bed and driving my dying Datsun up onto the back. He ratcheted down the tires and said some quiet vulgar thing to himself.
We got in the cab and didn’t speak a single word to each other on the way to the place. I thought that was cool.
BACK AT THE SHOP: An old-ass Armenian dude named Raffi popped the hood and took a look inside. “Junk!” he said. He showed me that all the hoses were dry-rotted and likely over 30 years old. “Here,” he said, and he touched an old-ass hose. Gasoline came dribbling out of some cracks on the top of the hose. It all made sense now: why I had burned through a quarter of a tank in 20 miles. Damn! This thing was a total piece of shit on the inside. “Beautiful car, but—it’s junk. Go home and get an Accord.”
The original owner called me. He said he was going to wire me my money back—wire it because he knew I had to get on a plane or a train or a bus and head back to Oakland ASAP, being that I worked on Monday morning! For some reason I trusted him. Honestly it is absolutely insane that I took him for his word instead of insisting we meet up and he give me my cold hard cash back in person, but I was exhausted, and he was a dad and owned a small business and had adult children my age, and on and on, and I thought, hell, if this son of a bitch is trying to grift me I’ll be real surprised. He could have easily kept my money and the car as well, but I trusted him not to do that. Sometimes you’ve got to just trust a guy I reckon. That would have been some pull, though, I’ll tell you what. Guy would have had balls the size of Jupiter to snow me like that.
My friend Amissa, who I last saw in a cocaine-dusted Korean karaoke bar in January, rescued me from the godforsaken nowhere called Castaic. She got there right quick. That is maybe the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. I told her I was gonna get us dinner, the two of us now completely covered in dog hair on the seats that had been shed by her French bulldog Peach, bless her heart, and Amissa said all right man, and we got to going. She drove us all the way to a Midwestern-looking pizzaria occupied entirely by families of SIX or MORE. There were old-ass arcade cabinets and a scratch-off lottery machine by the door. I told her, you know, it really doesn’t get any more honest than that. I got us a medium vegetarian pizza. We drank water out of plastic Coca-Cola cups.
Afterwards we walked over to this place called Casey’s Tavern, which was full of boozy septuagenarians. It ruled. I had confirmed with Amissa beforehand that the place was “dark as hell”, and sure enough it was. Amissa said a little band would play after a while, and so I got a shot and a beer and she got a vodka soda and we sat down in a booth near the stage, which was really just a clearing in the back of the bar. On the walls were old pictures of old people, all of them hanging out at Casey’s. There were little diamonds over some of the people’s heads. Amissa told me that meant those people had died. I guess it was some sort of silent tribute. I said, you know, a good ‘Twilight Zone’ plot twist would be that we see a picture of ourselves on the wall, and there are diamonds over our heads, which meant that we were dead too, and that the afterlife was just an alternate dimension of Casey’s, layered right over top of the one on Earth, and we were just hanging out there forever. That didn’t sound so bad just then!
But it would of course be spooky, just like this:
We left after the band played, and drove over to some pool party that was going on, but it was winding down and looked lamer than hell anyway. We stood outside the gate and watched it for a little while and somehow nobody noticed us, I guess because we were hidden in the shadows. One guy did notice us, he was a friend of Amissa’s, and rather than say hello to him we took off running and crossed a lane of traffic avoiding cars and drove the hell back to her house. There we watched two lil’ documentaries on Filmstruck about octopi:
In the morning I took a bus from Union Station all the way back to Oakland. It was gloomy as hell outside:
The bus ride was pretty much horrible. I got in around 6 p.m. and felt real bad about my really bad weekend. Though, hell, I guess it all worked out in the end, because the LA guy wired me my money, and I got this today for way less:
The other day I sent Amissa a year supply of toilet paper for bailing my ass out of that disaster (Datsaster??). It was a good gift, I think, because she had told me she had had no choice but to steal toilet paper from Casey’s. Desperate times and all that. Thanks Amissa!!
And thanks for reading!!!!! Good-night y’all!~