part one: Like New, Lo Miles by Russ Walling

Like New, Lo Miles
part I
© by Russ Walling

	Here I am in the Yosemite "Mountain Room Bar", trying to swing a last deal of
the season.  It's getting to be late in October, and so far the weather has
been holding.  Good weather, this late in the season, is the best sign I know
of to head out to Joshua Tree, or maybe Hueco.  Not if, but when, the first big
storm comes, it could trap me here for weeks, or a lifetime, if I let it.   
	It seems that some German rock climbers are leaving for their return flight
back to the Fatherland early in the morning, and have to sell their car
tonight.  I could use a new car to get out of here in.  I might even take it
all the way through the great Southwest on a winter cragging tour as disposable
transport. If the beater blows up in Demming, New Mexico, or somewhere similar,
I can just walk away from it.  Rack on one arm, thumb out on the end of the
other.  No strings and no problem.   Opportunity was about to knock, and I
figured I should answer. 
	"Hey Huntz, how's it going," I say, as I pull up a chair to a round table,
near the fireplace, occupied by Huntz and four of his traveling companions. 
	"How much for that beater you guys are trying to sell?" I ask, while pouring a
beer from a near full pitcher sitting on the table.   
	"200 dollars, no less.  It's a good car, and perhaps a classic," said Huntz, a
fellow I had met a few times over the course of the summer.   
	"Come on, that thing is a pile"  I say, trying to look basically
un-interested.  "And besides, there's nothing classic about a 1962 Oldsmobile
that has forgotten how to run." 
	"Aw, rubbish, it runs, it just needs some work.  Minor repairs at best,"  says
one of the Germans, wearing his "honest salesman" grin. 
	I had heard of this "minor repairs" stuff before.   My idea of minor repairs
was filling it with gas, but usually it went along the lines of "buffing the
crankshaft" or something just as ludicrous.  A ten minute job they say, encased
in 18 hours of greasy toil, or 800 bucks --my choice.  No thanks.   
	I figure that the later it gets, the better my chances of bagging this relic
with minimal expense.  A few more drinks should loosen up the price, and 200
dollars had a lot of room to get loose, so I ordered another pitcher of beer
from the passing barmaid.   
	"Let me get this straight," I ask huntz, the apparent owner of this auto for
sale, "what appears to be the problem with the car anyway?" 
	" It doesn't want to start on cold mornings,  and I think the battery is dead,
you know--kaput,"  he says while moving his index finger across his
throat in a sawing motion.  Nothing could get lost in that translation. 
	"It doesn't want to start on warm mornings either,"  adds a now slightly tipsy
comrade, laughing. 
	He is quickly hushed and given a small talk in German by the other part
	"Don't listen to him, he can't even drive a car," offers one of the others,
and then lands a stern look on the gabby offender.   
	"Look fellas, a busted down car, beached in Yosemite Valley with winter
coming, is hardly worth 200 bucks American.  Hell, truth be known you should be
paying me to take it off your hands.  We have laws over here preventing guys
like you from littering the landscape with abandoned wrecks." 
	A look of concern now comes over their faces, thinking that maybe the law
could be involved.  "What will they do to us if we can't sell it, and have to
leave it here?" asks the tipsy fellow, now with real worry on his face. 
	"Probably some "big guys" will meet you at the airport, and chuck you into the
slammer."  Hoping to drive down the price, I add, "for life!" 
	"Der slammer?  vas is das?" queries one of them. 
	"You know, the hoosegow, clink, cooler, gulag,"  I say, as I hold both hands
in front of my face, clenching mock bars. 
	This last comment got another round of beers out of the fellas in a heartbeat.
It seems that talk of the "slammer" makes just about everybody thirsty.  
	I sat without talking, enjoying my beer, while the Germans discussed this
latest development in their native tongue, wearing concern on their brows.
funny thing about the flat tap beer the Mountain Room offers, it always seems
to taste just fine when someone else is buying it.  A few more sips and I was
beginning to enjoy myself.   
	"You are right, we cannot leave the car here and go to the "slammer" as you
put it.  We will drop the price to 175 dollars,  American,  right now only,"
said Huntz.  After this offer, he put out his lower lip and looked across the
table at me.  
	"Well?," he says, waiting for me to reply. 
	I leaned forward in my chair, and focused on Huntz directly across the table
from me.  "Buddy boy, you're living in a fantasy world.  In about 40 minutes
this bar will close and you'll be out of luck.  If you think you can find a
buyer, in the middle of the night, in "Camp 4" no less, go at it." I said,
motioning towards the general direction of camp with my beer, only allowing a
little to slosh over the rim.  I sat back in my chair and continued to hit my
beer, looking around the room at nothing in particular, seemingly losing
interest in this whole affair. 
	"Ok, 150 dollars American, and the car is yours,"  he said, now showing some
	I sat quietly and let this offer go unanswered. 
	A barmaid floated up to our table and informed us that this was last call.
The threat of last call quickly brought me around. 
	"What'll it be?" she asked. 
	"Yeah--yeah--," I said in a long drawn out drawl, tracing the line of stubble
on my jawbone a few times with my hand before answering, "land a double round
of "Stoli" on us, with a Budweiser chaser, and make that "Stoli hun'erd", too
boot."  I was motioning with my finger that all the boys were in on this one.
"And--oh yeah," I added, "hang a sidecar of Cuervo 1800 on mine if you could."
     She looked at me kinda funny because in the last four months, I had yet to
order a single "real drink" in this bar, even though I was in here every night,
till closing. 
	"And can you plop a few olives into those "Stoli" bombs?" I asked, now really
getting the hang of ordering drinks. 
	She nodded, quickly wrote down our order, and headed back to the bar under
full swish. 
	"Ok fellas, start coughing up some dough for the drinks," I said, while
leaning back in my chair, chest out.  "Local custom, guys selling cars have to
buy the prospective buyer drinks.  House rules." 
	The Germans looked at me as if i was insane.  I kept a straight face and acted
as if this went every night here in Yosemite.  No big deal, a few drinks, some
house rules, a little mumbo jumbo, standard operating procedure. 
	The barmaid soon returned with a full tray of drinks and started collecting a
wad of wrinkled bills from the slightly disbelieving Germans.  She smoothed and
counted the green, then stood there, tray in one hand, the other resting on her
hip.  Her eyes scanned the germans and her face was terse. I had seen this look
before,  the look that said "you bums ain't thinking of stiffing me, are
	"Now fellas, how about a tip for the lady?" I said sternly, and gave her a
quick wink. 
	Haltingly they all pulled out assorted change and a few token bills from their
pockets and offered it up to our server.  She collected the cash, sorted it
from the lint, and said, "thanks boys, and drink up.  We're gonna' close in
about 20 minutes." 
	Satisfied with her tip, she sauntered away, swinging her hips side to side, in
perfect time with the tray held head high, seemingly glued to her left hand.  A
table full of German eyes followed this action all the way to the bar, perhaps
trying to get a little more than just drinks for the $65.00 they were just
separated from. 
	"Salut," I said, while raising my glass and moving it side to side in front of
my hosts, duplicating the motion of an out of control crane.  I quaffed the
first shot of "Stoli", chucked the olive over my left shoulder for luck, and in
dramatic style, slammed the empty shot glass to the table.   
	All the Germans quickly followed suit and downed the first shot, chucked the
olive, and slammed the empty glasses on the table.  And then to my surprise,
did the same with the second, right away, no chaser.  Pretty impressive. 
	"Ok, back to business.  How much will you pay for the car?," asked Huntz, now
fully revitalized. 
	"25 bucks, no more," I said,  and toasted the Germans with my second shot,
downing it quickly and making that post shot face you sometimes see on a
lightweight when he is in over his head with that demon "alcohol". 
	"25 bucks!  you are crazy!"  Huntz said in a loud voice, thick with accent
from anger and disbelief. 
	"Ok, 25 bucks, and I'll throw in an updated topo of the Zodiac.  Whaddya say
Huntzy?" I said with a smile, now starting to feel the liquor. 
	"Oh, a Yosemite funny boy," said Huntz, obviously quite upset with this last
remark.  " The topo might help me next time, so I wont have to be rescued from
three pitches up.  Is this what you mean, funny boy?" he said, leaning over the
table, chin jutting, eyes wild and red.    
	My latest offer didn't go over real big.  in fact it didn't go over at all,
but how was I to know they had just been plucked off the Zodiac and weren't too
happy about it.  Well, i guess I did know, owing to the fact I was in on the
rescue and all, but--anyway.  
	"Look, huntz--babe--I'm sorry about that Zodiac stuff, but I'm going to stand
pat on that offer of 25 bucks." 
	Huntz pushed his chair back from the table, stood up, and scanned the bar,
looking for a better guy to try his sales pitch on.  As was standard this late
in the season, given the hour and such, the bar was a ghost town.  Huntz sat
down, let out a sigh, and decided to try his pitch on me again.  He bellied up
to the table and gave it one more try.   
	"150 dollars, and I'll even take a check," said Huntz, now clasping his
forehead, hair leaking over his hand. 
	I sat there nursing my Cuervo 1800 and looked at Huntz just long enough to say
"nah," then I went right back to my drink, studying it.  Again the Germans
huddled and talked it over while I sat quietly and began to work my chaser.   
	"Look, we need to get out of here tomorrow.  That car must be sold tonight,
but not for less than 150 dollars," said Huntz as the others nodded in
	I sat there and thought about it for a moment, and hit my Cuervo to the
	"Here's what I can do," I said.  "I'll give you the hundred dollars you guys
want for the car, if you can make it run, tonight, even for a minute.
If not, I'll take it for free, and keep you boys out of the slammer."  I now
leaned back in my chair and gave my Budweiser chaser a little kiss on the
business end. 
	"It was 150 dollars we wanted," Huntz added quickly, "not 100." 
	"Yeah," I said, plopping my chair back down to all fours.  "150 bucks, minus
the fifty that new battery is going to cost me.  You guys said it was dead, and
that's an "implied defecto habeas delecti".  Looks like you'll have to take
that 50 bucks right off the top of the purchase price.  That's the law here in
California," I delivered the last line the way Roy Coffee, the bonanza sheriff
might do it--for added effect. 
	Huntz tried to explain this last part to the rest of his party, with limited
results.  I guess some of it didn't have a direct translation.  Huntz now
breaks from his buddies and asks, "100 bucks if it runs?" 
	"Yup, 100 bucks if it runs, tonight," I said.  "Got the C-note right
here," and I tapped at one of my empty pockets. 
	After another short huddle by the Germans this offer seemed to hit its mark,
especially with the "out of the slammer" trump card thrown in, and that
"delecti" crap for icing.  
	One more huddle by the Germans sealed the deal, and after finishing off our
drinks, we all headed out to the parking lot to make it happen.   
	It's hard to realize the complexity of a modern car engine, well, relatively
modern anyway, until you see one at night, bordering on drunk, and trying to
fix it with no flashlight, in the camp four parking lot.  the hood was now up
and would-be german mechanics were crawling all over the engine compartment
fiddling with components they knew nothing about.  Somehow the Germans had
found a willing fool to try and jump start the long dead battery in the Olds.
With cables leaking in and out of the hood of each car, Huntz was behind the
wheel of the borrowed car, gunning the engine to about 8000 rpm, and barking
commands out the window in German to his cohorts.  All the very worried tourist
and myself could do was stand back and watch.  The Olds was turning over in
slow, mournful, cycles.  The car donating the jump was literally having the
life sucked out of it.  Huntz was doing "the leadfoot" in the borrowed car as
its headlights dimmed to about 1 candle power.  The Olds was still laboring
heavy for each revolution and small flashes of white-hot light were appearing
from inside the engine compartment.  The lights of the donor car continued
getting dimmer, but were still bright enough for me to see true solicitude on
the owners face.  I was starting to think he didn't enjoy this late night jump
start business very much.  The olds continued to cycle laboriously with the
juice provided from the tourists' family wagon.   
	"See, it runs.  Now pay us so we can go to bed,"  said one of the Germans,
thrusting his hand out, palm up. 
	"Now, wait a minute!....pull it off the life support pal, and let it run
without those jumper cables," I said, pointing at the life giving cords snaking
under the hood. 
	I looked on as one of the guys tugged at the jumper cables.  As quickly as the
cable came off, the Olds stopped. 
	"Well fellas, it appears the car has stopped," I said, absolutely
	"Just wait, we can make it go.  Can you get us a flashlight? Maybe it will
help," Huntz shouted, as he hopped out of the tourists car. 
	"Sorry pal, don't have one," I said, knowing exactly where one was, but it
wasn't worth a C-note to go and get it. 
	The jump start donor, wanting nothing more to do with it, had now slipped away
from these maniacs, got into his family wagon, and drove off...with its own
lights noticeably dimmer after the bout with the Olds.   
	It was now truly getting late.  At least two of the Germans were flaked out in
the plush reclines of the Olds, and one was in the nearby bushes, down on his
knees, losing a little weight, fast.  Maybe he got a bad olive or something,
was my guess.  Huntz continued to fiddle with stuff under the hood, and kept
trying to turn it over with the precious little juice left in the battery.
With every minute that passed that "hunski", supposedly in my pocket, felt more
and more secure. 
	"If you get it going be sure to come and get me, I'm gonna' to call it for the
night," I said. 
	"Jah, jah," was the muffled reply from under the hood.  
	I headed back into camp knowing that by morning I would be the proud new owner
of a free 1962 Olds Cutlass,  a "classic" crag car, at least by my standards. 
	I was awakened near dawn by Huntz and the rest of the Germans banging on my
tent wall.   
	"Yeah, yeah, what's the scoop," I asked. 
	"That car, that damn car, it is now yours." Huntz said.  "Here's the key," and
he tossed a screwdriver into the open door of my tent.  "We have left the
papers in the box for gloves.  Good luck and good bye." 
	"Thanks boys and have a nice trip home, hasta la veeta zin--or
whatever,"  I said, and slumped back down in my sleeping bag.  I heard the
troupe plodding off toward the parking lot and decided to get a few more winks
in before I checked out my new ride. 
	After getting up and downing a few cups a java in camp, I moseyed out to the
parking lot to eyeball my new rig.  Looking it over a little more closely in
the light of day, I decided it was, in fact, a pile.  The rear end was almost
dragging the turf, last sign of no shocks.  The tires were devoid of tread and
had spots of hemp showing through.  A close inspection of the muffler showed it
was suspended to the undercarriage with a tube chock, a #1 wired,and a Gibbs
ascender.  It seemed like a good place to keep those, so i left them alone.  Oh
well, you get what you pay for I figured.   
	First things first.  I popped the hood, removed the battery, and took it to
the filling station for a quick charge.  While waiting on the battery I checked
out rest of the engine.  Not knowing exactly what I was looking for I just
wiggled some stuff around and took off the air cleaner, the part I'd seen in
the movies.  Wow!  A squirrel had been hoarding nuts for the winter in the
carburetor.  This would definitely not be helping matters when it came down to
the miracle of internal combustion.  I cleaned out the detritus from the carb,
checked the oil, the water, and waited for the battery to be filled with new
life so I could give it a go. 
	Rushing things a bit, I picked up the battery at the garage and handed the
mech a five spot for the trouble.  Returning to the Olds, I popped the hood and
lashed the battery back into it's place with some webbing and re-connected the
wires, red goes on--uhh, positive, black--goes on, who?  I assumed that it was
fifty-fifty with that wiring stuff, and feeling lucky, hopped into the drivers
seat.  I fitted the screwdriver, that was now the key, into the slot and and
cranked it over.  No luck.  Again I turned the "key", feathered the
accelerator, and still nothing happened, save a deep electrical hum. 
	I get out of my new rig and stand there with my hands on both hips, appearing
to be deep in thought, when in actuality my mind is a total blank.  It's at
times like this when I wished I'd taken "auto mechanics 1a" in school, instead
of playing hooky out at the Stoney Point boulders.  I walk my eyes over the
entire length of the car as if a cue card might be pasted on a quarter panel
somewhere saying, "do this and it will run like a dream."  A second pass
confirmed it.  No card.  Looking around for help I see a friend of mine and
yell over, "yo buddy, give me a hand over here,"  index finger in the air,
motioning him over.  He shuffles over asks with a yawn, "what d'ya want."  
	"I need you sit in here and turn this baby over when I give you the word." 
	"No problem," he says as he slides in behind the wheel, looking at the
screwdriver kinda sideways.   
"Is this the key?" he asks while pointing at the hole in the dash with the
screwdriver hanging out of it. 
	"Yeah, just turn it when I give you the word," I said. 
	"Hey, if your stealing this thing, the sentence is the same for pinching a
nice one ya know," he offered with a snicker from behind the wheel. 
	Ignoring this last remark I duck under the hood and give it a quick look, not
knowing what to look for, take a step back, and give my buddy the sign to "hit
it."  Again nothing but the big hum and then a bunch of white sparks crackling
to life down by the chassis. 
	"Stop, stop, stop!," I yelled while waving my arms wildly. 
	"What's wrong?"  he asks, head now craning out the drivers window. 
	"It's shorting out or something down under the, ah..., the..., ah...
whatchamacallit, right where it meets the Johnson drive."  I thought I should
calm him with my knowledge of the whatchamacallit and that Johnson stuff.  It
seemed to work, and he sat there behind the wheel, both hands on it, pretending
to drive, complete with sound effects.  
	For repairs of wiring when sparks are involved, the old standby, duct tape,
seemed like the obvious choice.  I procured a roll and headed under the car
with it, seeking out the area where I saw the sparks.  Once under there, it
looked like the lead to the starter was frayed and was grounding out on the
chassis.  I wrapped it a few times, like fifty, and crawled out to test my
"quick fix". 
	"Ok, hit it," I yelled, while taking a few steps back.  My buddy turned the
"key" and stomped down on the accelerator. 
	Jesus!  It was actually trying to start!  The engine groaned and wheezed and
backfired.  Dust was starting to rise out of the engine compartment and the
whole wreck shuddered under it's own weight. 
	"Cut it!" I yelled.  Thinking that it might need a prime or something to get
it over the hump, I rummaged around in the trunk and found a one gallon can of
the Germans camp stove fuel.  I know this stuff burns in a big hurry, so I
headed to the beckoning carb with this can of instant life.  Not knowing
exactly how much to use, I figured about a quart of this makeshift starting
fluid ought to get the job done.  I poured it down the throat of the carb and
peered in to make sure it swallowed.  It did. 
	"Ok, gun it," I said, now taking more than a few steps back. 
	My buddy turned the "key" and then with a mighty bang, accompanied with eight
foot flames leaping over the hood, it was idling, albeit roughly, under it's
own power. 
	"Good God man!  what was that?" my buddy yelled from the drivers seat, poking
his head out the window to get a better view of the flames and excitement under
the hood. 
	"Nothin', just keep giving it gas," I bellowed, while moving back about a half
a pitch, and looking on from a half crouch, in total confidence.  The flames
were quickly sucked back down into the carb and the mighty V-8 was starting to
settle down into a steady, been there before, idle.  It seemed sane enough to
creep back towards the Olds, but only with my hands partially covering my eyes,
for fear of further pyrotechnics.  I looked over the engine, from about 10 feet
away, and declared it safe enough to run up on to slam the flame blackened hood
down over the rumbling power plant. 
	"Nice work pal," I said, coming around to the drivers side.  "Now get out of
there, so I can take this baby for a spin,"  I motioned to my buddy with that
"hit the road running" thumb action some of us have seen too many times. 
	"I'm not going too--am I?" he says, somewhat hesitantly and unsure if he
really wants to go any where in this machine. 
	"Nope, flat out too dangerous,"  I tell him.  "Besides, if this thing blows up
out there on the loop, you'll have to fill the rangers in on what
happened--they might think it was a meteorite or something."  
	I gathered up the parts I'd no longer be needing, like the air cleaner and a
few hoses, and chucked them in the back seat.  Little need for those I thought,
since this baby eats fire, a little dust surely won't hurt.  I slid behind the
steering wheel and landed the shifter in a forward gear.  After a slight whir,
a clunk, and a shudder, the forward gear was engaged and I pulled out slowly
and decided to head around the main Valley loop for the maiden voyage.  Hell,
it even had  half a tank of gas.  With the rear end as low as it was, it felt
like I was piloting a boat--a large boat--rather than "proud Detroit steel".
Not to worry....I kinda' liked boats.  	 
	I thought I should take it easy while going around the loop, at least for the
first 1/2 mile or so.  I got the pile up to ramming speed down at the "El Cap
straits", burying the speedometer into the far side of its cage.  Everything
started to get real quiet up around 120 m.p.h., and the Olds was seemingly
floating over the tarmac, sucking the yellow line up into its wide grill as we
went.  Lookout Hueco, here I come!   
	After doing the loop in style, I returned to the parking lot to check over the
paperwork and clear the Germans junk out of the trunk.  The glove compartment
yielded the paperwork alright, but it was less than current.  Hmmm--no pink
slip, not registered for four years, no current tags, no smog, a blank bill of
sale, and three parking tickets, two from Yucca Valley and one from Hollywood.
Trying to tie all this together in my mind, I surmised that Huntz and the boys
went to Joshua Tree for some craggin'--stole the car in Yucca Valley, and then
headed to Hollywood--perhaps for some haggin'--all before showing up in
Yosemite.  Seemed reasonable enough, after all, they were on vacation.  After
checking out the paperwork it looked like I might be the one going to the
"slammer".  Figuring I could take care of this paperwork stuff later--read,
much later.  I wadded it up and pitched it back into the "box for gloves" as
Huntz had called it. 
	I went around to the rear and removed the bungy cord that holds the trunk
closed.  I'm guessing the bungy has been used as the lock since the day that
screwdriver took over as the ignition key.  The chisel marks on the trunk lid
and the hole where the lock mechanism used to be, will support this theory.  I
opened up the trunk and propped up the lid with the broken ski pole provided.
I hesitantly rummaged around in the leftovers of the Germans summer vacation.
After unloading the obvious trash and spent beer bottles, a final tally yielded
the following items worth keeping:  four dollars in change, a half dozen wired
stoppers, one domestic porno mag, a belay plate, a Timex that took a lickin'
and just quit tickin', and some dirty laundry, gender unknown .  The laundry
was the first to go, which I promptly donated to the nearest dumpster.  The
four bucks I put in my pocket, the stoppers and belay plate went right on my
rack, and I traded the porno mag and the spent Timex to a buddy for a sandwich
to be named later.  I secured the trunk with its bungy cord, hopped into the
drivers seat, and fired that baby up, second try.  As I sat there being mildly
jiggled by the V-8 power, I listened with an untrained ear to the surging idle.
I thought to myself, this must be what they mean when someone says, "just
listen to that baby purrr".  I reached down to the console, put it in drive,
and patiently waited for it to catch.  A couple of whirrs, a bit of a clunk, an
indescribable noise, and I was under way.  I pulled out of the parking lot and
headed to Degnans Deli to shake down some lunch, plan my winter climbing tour
in the great Southwest, and perhaps sample an "Old English" cylinder or
three, as a toast to my new ride.

Quick! Take me to Part II of Like New, Low miles.