The Chevy truck looked like it had been painted by a team of monkeys on acid. Its front was bright green, the rear a muddy brown and the camper stuck on its back sported daubs of pink and yellow in no apparent pattern.
“Bought it from a hippie,” Ray yelled as he passed the kitchen window. We still said things like that in 1982.
I left the dishes in the sink and bolted out the back door in time to see the truck struggle around the corner into what passes for our backyard but looks more like a car cemetery. The thing looked even worse standing still. The passenger door was hanging on one hinge with a single strand of rope preventing it from peeling off entirely. The windshield was cracked from what looked like a bullet hole. It had no front fender and one headlight. When Ray shut off the motor, it kept running for about a minute. I thought it whimpered a couple of times too, but that might have been me. Ray said that he’d gotten it for “almost nothing” which seemed about right.
Ray doesn’t get enough auto repairing to suit him at his job at the Ford dealer downtown, so it’s not unusual for him to show up with stray vehicles that he fixes up to sell. It brought in extra money that we needed to survive in San Francisco, even though we lived in a rundown flat in the fog belt a block from Ocean Beach, so close to the zoo you we heard the lions roaring at night. I didn’t mind him working on his vehicles on the weekends, but when I saw that truck, I thought he had gone too far. If you’d told me then I was going to set out across the western plains in that heap and be chased by a skeleton to boot, I would have called you crazy.
“The engine isn’t bad,” Ray said. “Transmission seems okay. All it needs is a muffler, brakes, maybe a new carburetor and a little body work.”
“More than a little. That’s the sorriest-looking vehicle I’ve ever seen.”
He gave me a hug, crushing me against his chest. “I know it looks bad, Franny, but the engine’s sound. And I can fix up the camper so it’ll be just like home. You’ll see.”
I didn’t say anything.
“So, are you mad?”
“No. But don’t get too busy on it today. We’re having dinner with Rita and Jake. Six sharp.”
“Aw, Franny. Why don’t you let me barbecue up something right here?”
“Because we promised we’d come.”
“Aw, Franny,” he said again, but a smile was threatening to break out on his solemn face as he went into the shed to look for the right tool to start working on the truck.