Monday, June 20, 2011

One big Thank You

To my family, for the support and love that have taken me way beyond the ocean.

To Bree, for brightening my life with her knowledge, idealism and kindness. And for starting the best two-people party... in the world. You are exceptional in every aspect, my dear Lucille Ball! I am certain life shall only give to you from now on.

To Alex Finis, for –despite your usual jackass attitude– thinking of me and getting my friends together to buy that monumental case of AriZona tea, my favourite.

To Bryan Papciak and Amy Kravitz, for their infinite patience and invaluable guidance at RISD, as well as their blessings to start the road trip early.

To Roy and Phil, for the tedious task of starting, maintaining and improving the PeachParts shop forum –without you two, this adventure could not be possible.

To Eddie Oates, one of the single most influential people in my life. Not because of what he did, but because of the way he irradiated happiness doing his own thing.

To Jim Grundy, for your father-like friendship and guidance, not only with my Mercedes, but with my future decisions. You are fondly remembered; one day I will return, put the RyanSTK together and put it to fly once again.

To Roger Robitaille, for inspiring me to buy my wagon and almost three years of great moments together. When the bees get to sleep in the winter and there is nothing else to do, come over to San Francisco!

To Billybob, for the great conversation we had at that sandwich joint and the trailer hitch that really forged the personality and attitude of this trip.

To Randy Hart, professional trailer restorer, who, from the ashes he forged the tiny little weird vessel for this spiritual journey in the depths of Eastern Pennsylvania.

To droponosky, for giving me faith that there is life after RISD and extreme life changes are compatible with an art education. And for that driver's window switch that replaced the one that had gone bad on my car the day before!

To Ziming Shen, not only for the best views of Manhattan, but for the great times trying to dodge the Yellow Sharks and Papaya dogs. One day you shall find the perfect Pagoda 280SL, my friend.

To Hattie, Fulcrum, SolidSnake and dbtk for a fantastic start for the road trip, and amazing me with your knowledge of guns. Wow. And also wow for that pristine 300SDL with French Euro lights... worth drooling over. Solidsnake, that bottle of hydraulic fluid has been very much appreciated!

To SwampYankee; first, for having me drive into the tucked-away secret that Wethersfield is, and showing me one of the coolest seed shops I have ever witnessed. Now, I know who I am going to buy from when I grow a garden!

To Jgranzier, even though I could not stop by, I am very thankful that you offered me to stay! Someday, and the same applies to you here in SF!

To Chad300TD, his wife and kids; for hosting me, for the alien with bear ears, and for one of the best conversations in the entire trip. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

To Jim-Meredith (ramonajim), her father and the in-house zoo, for the fantastic drive into Frederick in Gustav, and almost convincing me to end the trip right there; for hosting me and allowing me to adjust my suspension, and for the best vegetarian food ever!

To Dee8go and Mistress, for a fantastic time and burguer in Arlington, seasoned with spicy conversation. I really wish I could have stayed a little longer!

To BenHogan, for his tales of land-mowers, showing me his 190D Turbo (never, never, never sell it!) and some ridiculously good BBQ pork.

To engatwork, for showing me that it's never to late to choose happiness in life by doing one's favourite work; for dinner and showing me around the property... good luck with the shop and the camper site, it's a perfect location!

To Sharon, who is the first living example I have met who demonstrated that it is perfectly feasible to live life on the go.

To AquaticEdge, for everything from the junkyard dive to the meditative conversation by the lake. Man, your neighborhood is THE place for a GTG!!

To GatorBlue92, even though we could not meet. Good luck with the newborns, the day they come!

To TX6513, for being an utter, absolute gentleman. For the Jackaroo, the license plate, dinner and proving me wrong in that the fastest drawer always wins out West.

To H-townbenzoboy, along with my most profuse apologies for forgetting my phone and not being able to meet. Yikes!

To Halman2228, for hosting me, and some of the best TX BBQ ever at the tune of the CatDog theme!

To R_Leo, I cannot thank you enough. For the tour around the farm, for showing me the rarest 240D I have ever seen, and letting me try the best brisket of my life.

To Gear-Head, for showing up at the DFW meetup while in Texas. It was a pleasure meeting you... and hope your hydraulics are better now!

To Panzzer, for everything, really. For letting me camp around the neighborhood and showing me your collection, taking me on a junkyard tour for a decent Euro bumper and recommending me that place in Decatur... it was truly stunning!

To Doublejody and his family, for your impressive hospitality. Your actions speak very well of yourself and Decatur; if everyone in town is just as kind as you, businesses will flock in such large numbers that you will have to put them on a waiting list! And yes, you were right about that alternator!

To David (NRS Ranch), for letting me stay while Newport was sick. I would love to return to see a real roping tournament!

To ROLLGUY and his wife, for letting me stay in one of the coolest houses ever conceived, showing me the marvels of player grand pianos, for introducing me to your friends, taking me to that wonderful church and the few things we had to do to Newport to get to SF safely.

To Jim_B, for being one of the most loyal PP members along this trip, going all the way to the Valley to introduce me to Enrique and driving all the way North to commemorate the trip's end. We shall meet again, my friend.

To VWNate, for how insanely cool you are. And for that burguer. Man, if I lived in LA I would be most honored to learn from you.

To dieselchatter, for showing up to the meetup and presenting us with the cleanest 190D Turbo I have ever seen, period.

To the Cohens, for scaring them with a suspicious mini-Scotty in their driveway.

To the Moonies, for hosting me in this big moment of uncertainty, and the great times together, full of jokes and miscellaneous animals.

To Prez808, 240_Benz, Gregs210, DieselKraut and Lawrence, for welcoming me to the Bay Area in the shop. We shall see each other soon!

To Shawn at The Workshop MB, for hosting us, diesel nuts... I hope business gets better as the economy recovers! With your passion, that should not be a problem.

To Chris at West Coast Auto Craft, for letting me give your shop a try and have a great time amongst a sea of Yank Tanks.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Epilogue: Grow Some

There is a sixth sense in every human being, a sense of intuition that no rules of physics can fathom. It is the innate conception of one's own life path, of one's own direction. This is the big lesson I derived from this trip, which I had the opportunity to apply in a dark, twisted instant of panic.

The decision of quitting the instability of my current shop was inevitable, so I soon started a search for automobile restorers in the San Francisco area. Phone call after phone call, I got denial after denial. No one is hiring anyone, some are even downsizing; from big muscle car shops to air-cooled Volkswagen specialists, not to mention every old Mercedes diesel shop I could find on Google maps in the East, West, North and South sides of the Bay.

Almost at the verge of giving up and moving to a decision between doing media work exclusively or moving down to Los Angeles (Bodie Stroud Hot Rods had a secretary position available), I scratched my eyes in discomfort, and, as soon as I focused my vision back to my computer, I found a modest, understated offer on the CraigsList directory I had been browsing. It was a shop in Cloverdale, specializing in 60's and 70's cars, with an impressive array of equipment and techniques. Their name was West Coast Auto Craft.

Escaping boredom, curious about the Northern part of Sonoma county, I drove up for about one hour to visit the shop. Unfortunately, Garmin did not identify the street, given that the industrial complex was relatively new. I asked in the local NAPA store, where they very kindly gave me a map. Now, with clear directions on where it was, I had lunch in a local burger drive-in, Pick's; rather mediocre, run-down and overpriced. A very talkative lady sat next to me.

Her: "How are we doing today, sir?"
Me: "Not bad... how are you?"
Her: "Meh, trying not to kill myself"

The conversation that followed got even stranger. I started thinking that Cloverdale could be one of those strange little towns in Meth territory.

Her: "How's the burguer?"
Me: "It's okay. Bacon is quite good, actually"
Her: "Ah. I do not like meat. I am very picky"
Me: "Really? How so?"
Her: "When I was in jail I could barely eat anything!"
Me: (Gosh, why me? Please do not kill me)
Her: "I was so picky, I lost ten pounds in ten days!"
Me: "I guess no magazine diet can beat that!"

The conversation kept rolling, but, despite her awkwardness and my garbled accent, I managed to understand that she had high-functioning autism and was very, very lonely. Looking meditative at the 10-year old behind the counter, she murmured to herself how she would like to make someone happy. We kept chatting about life, about travel and society, and then went out on our respective ways.

The shop was small, but full of talent and machinery. Lots of gorgeous cars, mostly American. Chris, the owner, gave me a short tour and invited me to start the internship as soon as I pleased. I would be hired in a matter of two months or so, after this trial period. Fine by me, as long as the US government is cool with me doing film there!

The next day I woke up, and put on the T-Shirt that Hogweed had made. I drove to Cloverdale once again, and slowly met each of the members of the shop. We pushed a few cars out of the way and got to work. That day I stripped some paint our of an old Camaro SS, and learned to thread glass, which –with all modesty– I nailed in a '39 Chevy. Pretty cool, but still missing the Metric system and the three-pointed star. At that point I had nothing to lose, so I decided to skip Friday to keep looking for Mercedes shops. In the 190SL forum I found an obscure one that seemed to have very good reviews in Yelp. The choice would be between that one, or WCAC in Cloverdale. So be it.

The next day I crossed the Golden Gate. Something magical happens every time I go through; all the dreams of the Promised Land swell and push in my chest. I was there, San Francisco: the Victorians, the trolleys, Harvey Milk, the Pacific Ocean, the steep hills, Chinatown, the heritage of the sixties... in short, a beautiful city where people speak up for what they believe in. Now it was time to see if I could really work on a job I could love in its entirety, every day, every week, every year.

I pulled behind a gas station and started seeing Mercedes. They had diesels! Good points on my book. I kept moving towards the main door, little by little. A W108 280SE sedan. A run-down 190SL. Pretty cool. And then, next to it, I find a shiny, pristine Mercedes SLR transporter, one of the very few to leave Stuttgart, right there, in sunny California, in front of me, in the open air. Now, these are major words.

I walk through the door. Bada-bing! A 300SL gullwing, with shelves of 190SL's and a 600 SWB Limousine in the background. Four men in uniforms were ceremonially huddled in the center of the shop.

"Excuse me"
"Uh... Um... To make a long story short, I love Mercedes. I can tinker on them, but I really want to know them inside out, how to... work on them. Could I talk to your manager?"

The shortest in the crowd pointed at a man of solemn expression.

"What can you do?"
"Not much. But I am eager to learn. I have other skills I can offer the shop, like video and website building!"
"What would you expect for pay?"
"I do not know. I am fresh off school"

Yes, big mistake to be so honest. But somehow, he pointed back at the shorter man. He was born in Chile, so we discussed the terms in Spanish. The shop's apprentice was going to go to school in August, leaving a vacant position. I was told I should not have high expectations on doing great jobs, because I just did not have the skill; and that I should be perfectly complacent with the smallest of tasks, but still eager to learn.

And boy, I was.

"Wanna start on July 1st? You can stop by the shop earlier if you want"
"Thank you very much!"
"Are you new in the area?"
"I came here a week ago. Currently I am staying in Petaluma"
"Avoid Half Moon Bay and La Honda, too far, and much traffic. San Mateo is cheaper than Burlingame. Stay away from the railroad tracks, but if it is at the side of the mountain, you are fine."

We shook hands a couple times, and I left with the widest, most beaming grin I have had in my entire life. My dreams of learning from a true European immigrant (not quite German, my solemn boss is Swiss) who owned a Mercedes restoration shop in the Bay Area was now a reality. And it happened because I had the relentless faith and perseverance in finding it, no giving up to hopelessness or content; always fueled by the passion for doing what I love for a profession, to the thought of waking every morning to a day I will enjoy in its entirety.

If you have read this far, this is the lesson that –at least– I would like to leave in print, hovering over the net. Do what you like! Do what you are passionate about, what you can provide more to than your time –your soul, yourself–; make it into an art, make it your life, find something that gives meaning to your efforts. Fashion yourself into your greatest masterpiece, because you are your best accomplishment. And do not be afraid of change. I am a filmmaker... but I would have never felt complete if I did not start learning about how things are put together, especially the vehicles for my travels. Be the modern Renaissance Man/Woman, be well rounded. Carry other people's legacy and knowledge with pride, do not let ancient skills die, and, most importantly, make sure to walk happy out of this world when the day comes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 20: End of trip

A few photos from the end-of-trip celebration!

I found this on my luggage!

Looking at a potential home in Vallejo, CA.

The Richmond Bridge.

And in you go!

It all started with a few people...

We had Jim come! Hooray!

And more people showed up!

Talking about Leipzig!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 19: So Close I can Touch It

(listen to today's theme)
All I can remember about the San Simeon National Park was the cool air in the trailer that morning. I was in California already, halfway through; in the middle of Highway One, the road I had traveled up and down so many times before for the two past years, accompanied with friends, with the dream of great Summer internships. This time, however, was life-changing.

Highway 101 is strangely paved. For many miles, one of the two middle lanes has a crease that causes the car to handle funny; nothing a slight tilt of the steering wheel would not solve. Bit by bit, landscape after landscape, tree after tree, fruit post after fruit post. San José, Daly City, Southern San Francisco. The ships in the distance, the condominiums in the hills.

Soon enough I was somewhere in the Western part of the Peninsula, crammed with tiny townhouses of various styles: Victorian, neo-French, Spanish, Art Déco, even Magrebi; all painted in pastel colors. I had to keep going to stay at my friends' for the remainder of the week until I find a place to stay more or less permanently.

A couple Summers ago, I thought it would be a pretty cool idea to feed Garmin Sandiego with "The Best Bridge View Ever" placeholder, which I saved in My Favorites. Such spot is a narrow tract of land, a small parking lot overlooking the Golden Gate, place to stay for hours on end. Unlike the last time I had been there, the fog was not covering the top of the bridge. This time, the Golden Gate was shown fully in its exuberant proportions, standing tall above the Pacific, bright red, bathed by the sun; just there, proudly, with pose, like a showman who, after shrugging his shoulders, opens his arms to welcome you to a small cabinet of wonders.

On to Petaluma, hometown of the Good Ol' Moonies. Mr. Mooney, dubbed Moonbear, is a former Wall Street broker who currently designs websites. His loving wife is a Textile Conservator and excellent cook, always with a good joke on her sleeve. One of their daughters, a hyperactive, six-foot-two heap of excitement, had gone to RISD, and introduced me to the family a couple years ago.

The first thing we did was to start up Moonbear's old Ford Galaxie for the first time in two months, and wait for it to warm up while his wife finished a couple errands. Then, with the top down, we rolled through Sonoma county and had one of the top five hamburguers of my life at Mike's Mean Burguer. Excellent, just as I remember.

At this point I start realizing that this is the area I will be living at, and that the Bay Area will be the cradle for my madness for many years. It is both a wonderful and strange feeling, with the occasional shivers of fear, to meet a life-changing decision face-to-face; to steer one's life with an equal amount of confidence and uncertainty.

That night I proposed myself to look out for some cottages to rent.

Not for me!

A must: Highway One beauty shot.

When you see things like this, you know this is the State to stay at.

Little boxes, little boxes, made of ticky-tacky...

San Francisco is just a cavalcade of piled-up wonders.

Emailed this picture to my parents. I only wrote: "I arrived".

The final shot in one of my films, and beginning of a new life.

On my way to Petaluma.

Kicking butt, as it happens daily at the Mooney State.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 18: Bath of Gold

(listen to today's theme)
Currently leeching from the free wi-fi of Starbucks, I realize how close to the end of this trip I am. So many landscapes, so many peoples, so many skies. And I mention skies very consciously, because the quality of the light in each part of the country seems to be different. Watch a Pixar movie, for example: the sky will be the color blue of the California sky; while the one I left behind in Providence seemed to be more subdued, mild.

The colors of California are bright and saturated. Everything is very alive in the Golden State, except for rust –Newport is very thankful about this.

The day started in my friend's beautiful suburban neighborhood, where the streets are names after trees that were not there. Complete peace. I had to joing Jim_B in San Fernando Valley, to meet Enrique, a fellow Spaniard and globetrotter, so I put up with 405 traffic. Bleh.

Enrique (Mr. MB Motors) moved out of Spain –for financial reasons– in 1961 and, after a short stay in Brazil and realizing how little their money was worth, moved on to South Africa, where he would work in several shops for the next 16 years. In 1984 he moved to the US and soon started his own shop, where he currently works. He loves what he does, and could very well retire in complete comfort. However, his profession as become his life, as I hope mine to be, and does it out of sheer pleasure. He has nothing to lose, so he dedicated himself to provide the best, most honest service he could possibly give, out of pure kindness, not hunger for money. He is a truly admirable figure I (now) look up to.

At this point I have realized how much of a hassle it is to drive amongst aggressive Californians with a trailer that limits one's visibility, so I decided to unhook it and leave it at my friend's driveway back in Santa Monica.

Most of the day I spent in Malibu, being a jackass and cruising slowly ion Highway One, then flooring the throttle as soon as a hill comes up, feeling one with the car, enjoying such bliss, such peace, that I almost forgot I was driving, or what I was driving. At that point everything I understood was the sheer joy of motion, and its most perceptual aspects: the sound of the engine (a throaty hum), ahead of me; the air circulating through the car, brushing my forearms; the sun playing with the hood star.

Then, I stopped at Zuma Beach. I thought of running into the ocean like I had done in Florida, but something changed. I had stopped. I really did not like the thought of getting out of the car, despite having one of California's most beautiful beaches in front of me. I wanted more of Newport, I wanted more of this Communion with Motion. So I headed back to Santa Monica. My gosh, I am an addict now.

Halfway to the city I get a phone call. "My parents got a call from the neighbor, they say there is a U-Haul or something in the driveway. Do you know anything about this?". Whoops. I rather hurry before they think it is a nuclear artifact and call the police, or a tow company.

Once in Santa Monica, I sat down to reflect. My friend's family is in Rhode Island for his graduation ceremony; my other friend is in Georgia; my idol, Peter Hannan, was in a New York; and my fellow comic strip artist in Orange County did not answer the phone. Everybody I knew was away!

I had already visited the Mercedes Classic Center, and if I did it again, I'd like to be with fellow MB fans. So, again, and much like in Arizona, I sped up the trip and resolved to drive up scenic Highway 1.

Today's entry is named after the hills after Lompoc, a sight worthy to mention. It was sunset, so the hills (smooth as the bodies of sleeping goddesses, laying, colossal, next to the road) were bathed in a golden haze, as if all the fireflies in the world had decided to sneeze at the same time. The brightness of all was so intense I could not manage to take a decent picture of it, so, dear members, I leave it up to you to visit this place and check it for yourselves. Now I know why they call it the Golden State, my own, very personal El Dorado.

Much to my disadvantage, overnight parking was forbidden in all seaside stops. Not only that, Highway 1 was closed about 26 miles past Hearst Castle. Luckily, I found the San Simeon National Park, where I parked as effortlessly and disdainfully as the Dukes of Hazzard. Just across three parking spots, that would be my home for the night.

Before going to bed, I stared up. And, upon this magnificent, humbling sight, I laid on top of Newport and kept looking up. The sky was clear, sprinkles with such starry beauty, it seemed as if, before going to bed, God himself had stroked the fibers in his toothbrush all over the heavens.

Shortly after, I joined the night.

Santa Monica rest.

Welcome to the genuine Los Angeles experience! Sit back and relax!

There is no possible way I can be suddle with this.

How many Spaniards can you count?

Heading back to the Ocean; traffic is better now.

Occasionally, your mind will be blow by local beauty –without notice.

Isn't this screaming CALIFORNIA?

Old Art Deco theater in Wilshire Boulevard.

It's beautiful and refreshing, but I AM NOT DRIVING!

Down the hill, heading towards Malibu for the second time.

Lots of crops, and bright colors.

There's a bright golden haze in the meadow...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 17: California is the Dream

(listen to today's theme)
The morning started under a geodesic ceiling, with a good bowl of oatmeal and a scenic cruise to church. I might have spoken a lot about Rich, but I swear, his wife is just as incredible. Today, I went to church with her, given my curiosity about American Catholicism (I am a Catholic myself) and the opportunity to see her singing in the chorus... not to be missed!

We drove up to a modest construction next to the church, where we soon were greeted by a smiling man who looked like Steven Spielberg. I am terrible for names, but all I can say is that the room where we all gathered soon filled quickly with energetic personalities, ready to propel into the heavens through the sheer power of their voices.

After some practice (nailing down the hymns, working on enunciation), we went to the church itself, a wonderfully simple building surrounded by wall-to-ceiling stained glass panels detailing the Seven Sacraments, using water (its flow, its life-giving powers) as a continuous theme throughout the congregation room. I had some wonderful conversation with a professional Master Theologist whose name I do not remember (d'oh) on life, choices, skills, travel, pride, selfishness and evil. Then, Mass followed.

The first thing I noticed about the Catholic ceremony, compared to its Spanish counterpart, is the lack of fear. The American God is an accepting God, just as American culture itself, with its many waves of immigrants. He is there NOT to smite you, not to burn you alive, or to make you repent your own existence on a daily basis. There were also a few very concrete ceremonial differences (holding hands, go to the altar anyway to receive a blessing if not fully confessed, sprinkling with Holy Water...), but the fact that one did not feel miserable after the service was the greatest. For a change, I was inundated with optimism and joy.

After lunch, Rich and I arrived to the conclusion that the bouncing was my driver's side tire. Phew! He had to change a tire in his 280E, so we killed two birds with one shot and got an Klondike ice cream taco afterward. And it was all good. Tacos seem to have that power, for some reason.

We changed the tires, looked for some clean door rubber strips to replace one of mine, tightened the fuel filter with a new aluminum washer, and we were all set. We played a little with an outdoor cat, a rather lazy one, before Rich's friends arrived in a W123 300D and a W116 300SD. We had a good few Blues Brothers reference moments, and soon enough I was invited to take a look at a mint 1980 wagon, a gorgeous gold-on-brown, 100k-mile example with the strangest bundt hubcaps I have ever seen.

We spent so much time drooling on that loop upholstery Rich became worried. A quick repacking of luggage and a turn of the ignition, and we were on a roller coaster of countryside curves towards the highway, ready to eat at the big diner for our Los Angeles area GTG.

Sometimes coincidences happen, many a time in beautiful, magical ways. Today evening we arrived to a vintage car show to host our... own car show. Corvettes of all eras, 1960s Mustangs, a 1939 Chevy sedan, and many other beauties full of muscle and (occasionally) tackiness.

A dim clatter in the distance announced Nate's arrival, who was soon followed by Jim's 560SEC, a W123 300D and a 190D 2.5T. We talked, and shot photos, and kept talking about benzes, geography, and travel. Many people started gathering around the Scotty, curious about such oddball trailer in that parking lot. I was honored, but not as honored as when I received a voltage regulator from Nate; "a welcome to America gift", in his own words. I must say, he really made me think about the meaning of my experience in the context of this country, and really made me realize that, in the broader context of history, a 22-year-old with an old Benz and a lot of creative ideas still has a lot to give to this country.

The burger (thank you, Nate!) was fantastic. I lost count of how many I have eaten, but surely I would get a stomachache if I saw them all on a table. I participated in two simultaneous conversations, one of which carried on in the parking lot (on alternative fuels).

I was in Route 66. And I was headed for Santa Monica. And where does Route 66 end? In the Santa Monica pier! That would be the end of my western travels, leaving only about 500 miles north of that precise point. Much like in Florida, I had reached the water at the other side of the country. So I kept going on 66, passing through sketchy downtown.

I parked in front of my friend's house, who happened to be with his family for his graduation. I knew the neighborhood well, a perfect place to park the Scotty and take a deep sleep.

Fat cat who refuses to move.

It won't do anything!

The Benz collection, with the little oddball sticking out.

Am I in a dealership? Oh, it is just California.

100k mile wagon. With the brown third seat!

Rich's friends in Hesperia. Not sure if they are on PeachParts.

Does this look like a $200 car to you? Well, it was.

Rich and his wife. What you see behind is the reason he's ROLLGUY.

Outskirts of Hesperia, ready for the roller coaster.

And then we drove towards the heavens.

This was the car show to precede our show.

Oye, guey, no pongas el Chevy 350! Pongale un diesel, amigo!

This... is too much... for an engine bay.

Let the GTG be started!

Dear Bree: I confess I have seen a lot of nice asses today.

The wild bunch.

How cute! This jerrycan will fit in your spare wheel hole!

Putting things in perspective.

Jim_B, me, WVNate, ROLLGUY, his brother and (do not remember!)

I got on the road to make the night mine.

End of 66. Now, I will head North soon.