Have you ever tried to get some sleep in the front seat while someone else was driving? Or maybe on a plane? Sitting mostly upright, leaning against the window, you know how difficult it can be. Now imagine doing this every night for six months because you live in a car with a buddy.
Our buddy, John, had been doing just that. When we learned his buddy was about to leave him high and dry – literally on the street – we had to do something. We crowdfunded $2140 to buy him his own vehicle – to sleep in. You can get the details of his story in Part 1.
Cash in hand, my buddy JP and I hit the streets of Phoenix a couple weekends back, on the hunt for a solid, daily driver slash mobile living situation for John. We drove some real turds, but we had some real fun in the process. You can see just how much fun in Part 2.
Good people throw off positive energy. We feel good when we’re around them, just as we feel shitty when we’re stuck with some bitter asshole who does nothing but complain. Attitude has been proven contagious. (I should remember this at work.) I don’t see it being too far fetched to think good people, radiating positive energy to those around them, stand to get some of that goodwill reflected back their direction when they need it.
And the longer it takes karma to come back around – the longer it takes that comet to reach the end of the solar system and begin its slingshot back toward us – the more kinetic energy it will have when it arrives. John’s been putting out the good vibes as long as I’ve known him. He’s stuck by Buddy, despite buddy being a black hole, so to speak.
Still dealing with the lingering effects of the Flu the previous week, I laid in bed for a few minutes, browsing Craigslist for anything new JP and I might want to check out before or after the sleeper at the Days Inn. I saw all the same vehicles we’d ruled out previously, but there was one that jumped off the screen at me.
I’ll come right out and call it as I see it. The right vehicle, in the right place, at the right time. Because John’s been waiting a good, long time for karma to come back around.
I didn’t get a screenshot of the listing, but it basically said, “1998 Chevy Suburban. Tires 98%. Interior 98%, needs nothing. Great, reliable vehicle. $2,000” I sent the seller a text asking if we could meet around 9AM, then shared the link with JP. He agreed we should check this one out before driving all the way to Buckeye.
0915hrs. JP and I were sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot, waiting for Fernando, the seller, to arrive. The ‘Burb was easily a 10-footer; plenty of scratches, dings, dents, and even some unfinished body work, but you’d probably miss 99% of them if you passed it in traffic.
The interior wasn’t what I’d call “98%,” but an easy 80% for sure. There were no rips, tears, or sagging headliner, but there were more than a few stains. The cup holder was missing from the armrest, revealing a giant hole when the lid was flipped open. Beyond that, the little courtesy light in the driver’s door was gone and the surface of the dash on the passenger side was a little discolored. None of which were deal-breakers.
We popped the hood, looking for something – anything – to support our too-good-to-be-true doubts. It looked like someone was a bit sloppy within the last year, replacing the PCV valves on each head, but otherwise, the entire engine was bone dry. No leaking gaskets anywhere. Just a little residue on the outside of the brake booster reservoir. We could live with that.
Underneath the truck, we found more of the same. That faint, super light, surface rust developing where time and road debris have worn the paint off things and a complete lack of oil (leaks) allows things to begin oxidizing. This truck was, mechanically speaking, damn clean. I don’t think it leaked a drop of anything its entire life.
The test drive revealed some minor concerns. For starters, we had to put $5 in the tank since it was on empty and we wanted to be sure the fuel gauge worked. It did. Next, we went to AutoZone, as the check engine light was on and we needed to know why.
When I tried to open the driver door to get out so the guy could scan the code, the door wouldn’t open. Fernando, half-joking, asked me what I’d done. “Nothing!” I replied. Turns out, if you lock the doors from the inside, the interior control doesn’t have enough range of motion to fully disengage the lock. You just have to reach out the window and use the key. Inconvenient, but not a deal breaker.
The most irritating issue with the ‘Burb revealed, we set our sights on the cause of the check engine light. Fernando said it passed emissions the day before – and had the paperwork to prove it – but a CEL is an instant fail on an OBDII vehicle – especially for catalytic converter efficiency. We were still a bit concerned about that, to be honest.
CLOSING THE DEAL
This was the nicest vehicle we’d come upon. It was the cleanest, the most mechanically sound, and the roomiest thing we’d driven on four wheels all weekend. We decided to pull the trigger. Fernando, who apparently moves the odd used car on Craigslist, wasn’t one to keep signed, notarized titles around – really, when you think about it, a smart move – so he wanted us to follow him to the check cashing place to transfer the title to us.
It seemed like a bit of a hassle, but it worked out really well for us in the end. You see, while the Arizona DMV allows third parties to process titles, they can only do so when they include registration. So, Fernando couldn’t just transfer the title at the check cashing place. He had to register it. This meant he had to put tags on it, too.
Boom. We had proof the emissions test was legit.
Having already spend over $50 on convenience charges, plates and registration fees, Fernando was cool with signing the title over to JP and I, as we would be registering the truck in John’s name the following afternoon. He just asked I call or text to confirm it was done. Currency was exchanged for goods, and we returned to my house.
A final once over, attaboys all around, JP and parted ways and I emptied the few trash items inside. Later in the afternoon, I’d run it through a car wash, snap a few pictures on the edge of a more pricey neighborhood than mine, then drive it to the grocery store in the rain after dark to make sure things like lights and wipers worked. It all did.
THE BIG DAY ARRIVES
Monday morning, I almost resented having to load my daughter up into the beat-ass hooptie that is Rocinante for the trip to “Nana’s” after so much time in the big Chebby the day before. I was a couple blocks into the trip back home when I realized I needed to get John working on a ride to the office for the big reveal. I called him.
John knew we were getting him a vehicle, but would later tell me he was expecting some kind of beat up econobox. He told me nothing like this ever happens to him. I told him I’d never done anything like this for anyone, but that we both knew things like this happen to people every day, so let’s just enjoy the moment. He would meet me at the office around 1230.
I shot JP a text telling him I’d be parked around the corner and to let me know when he had John out front for the reveal, as I wanted pictures. Then I sat half a block away, around the corner, browsing reddit, waiting for JP’s text.
60 SECONDS OR LESS
JP sent the text. “Heading out front now.” I replied, “60 seconds or less.” Rounding the east end of the building, I saw JP, Lester, and John standing behind Lester’s Hilux. John and Lester we leaning on the truck, looking at something in the back. JP stood to the side, a watchful eye on my arrival, phone at the ready.
I coasted up right behind John and honked the horn, taking a picture myself. The look on his face was priceless. Surprise, yes, but complete and total disbelief there was any chance we’d got him a friggin’ Suburban. He kept saying, “No way! No way!” Walking around in total shock.
JP said, “We couldn’t have you on the street, so we got you your own wheels.” John dropped his bag, saying, “Nothing like this ever happens to me,” turned, and gave JP a hug. Then I got a hug. After a quick walk around, showing John all the interior space (and the super clean engine), JP had to get back in to work, so I had John hop in for the drive to the local AAA office. He and I had some business to finish.
MAKING IT OFFICIAL
We could have gone to the DMV – conveniently, right next door to the office – but rather than taking a number and waiting two hours, we drove 15 minutes to AAA and were at the counter with a real person within two minutes. I explained to the teller, “Our friend John, here, found himself in urgent need of wheels, so we crowdfunded some cash to buy him a Suburban. We need to transfer the title into his name and tag it, please.”
The teller told John he had some good friends and wished she had friends like this. John joked she’d probably need an epic beard. She laughed and said that probably explained why nobody’s ever given her a car. She asked for John’s ID and confirmed his address. He confirmed it was correct. I said nothing.
Next, it was explained to us, since no emissions test was required until 2016, we could register the truck through September of this year or next. I asked how much money we were looking at. 2015 tags, expiring in nine months, would be $40-ish, and 2016 tags would be pushing $80, including convenience fees for using a non-AZDOT facility. My wallet still open from presenting my AAA card and ID, I simply pulled my debit card out and handed it over, saying, “Let’s just do this year, please.”
John’s disbelief came back up. “You guys don’t have to do this!” he exclaimed. To which I replied, “Dude. This was the plan from the get-go. The only thing we want you worrying about with this truck right now is insurance. Don’t even worry about it.” Title transfer, tags, and fees done, we walked out the door for something like $76 if I remember right. (The last two weeks have been cray-cray at the office.)
We walked out back, installed the new tag on the back, and I tossed the key to John. “Now I’m the one needing a ride. Take me home, sir.” John pulled into traffic and we headed toward my house. On the way, we talked about the truck, the past, and the future. John gave me a thumb’s up as he pulled away.
IN JOHN’S WORDS
I shared this with donors via GoFundMe last week, but it bears repeating.
“Wow, I don’t know where to begin!
In the last few years, I have lost five people from my immediate family and cried a lot. So when this vehicle was presented to me, I did not cry tears of joy and I feel bad about that.
I turned around and saw the Suburban that you all so amazingly donated for me to get and did not believe that that was the vehicle! Then they said “This is what we all got for you.”
I was in absolute and complete shock!
I don’t even really know what my reaction was, because I was having a real hard time believing it was really happening… and especially to me! Things like this just have never happened for me, ever!
I could not ask for a better vehicle to help get me out of my situation than this 1998 Chevy Suburban. It’s perfect!!
As I drove it to work and other places [that first day], I remained in shock. I still am having a difficult time believing that this really is mine for keeps. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and realize it was all a dream!
To all of you from [ the office ] and from other countries and others of you from all over… from the bottom of my heart, I thank you with every ounce of energy and gratitude I have! You all have proven to me that there is still good, love, kindness and greatness left in this world. You have renewed my faith in people!
I slept much better in this vehicle than before! I still need to figure out how to operate the seats in order to have more room for sleeping and storing my things, but I’ll figure it out.
Now, thanks to all you amazing people, I can start to look for a much better paying job than being a janitor!
Now begins the process of getting myself back on my feet… and I now have the tools in my toolbox to start doing that!
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!
Love John Braden”
Last, but not least, here’s how the numbers played out in the end.
GROSS FUNDING RAISED: $2,200
NET FUNDING RECEIVED (after GoFundMe and credit card fees): $1,956.
1998 CHEVY SUBURBAN: $2,000
TITLE, TAGS, TAX THROUGH SEPT 2015: $76
HALF A TANK OF FUEL: $30
TOTAL SPENT: $2,106
In the weeks since getting the ‘Burb, John has come across a couple job openings of interest, and interviewed well for one of them. He’s optimistic about the future, and we all like to laugh about how it’s all probably due to his being able to get a decent night’s sleep for the first time in over six months.
Thanks again to everyone for being part of this. This is gearheads united!