1990: A Gator's Texas Odyssey

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Zambo, Mar 29, 2021.

  1. Zambo

    Zambo Poo Flinger
    Lifetime Member

    Jun 12, 2014
    +24,172 / -466
    This subject came up in the chatbox but the story is too long for that medium. So here it is.

    The year 1990 found me as a brand new enlisted Marine in Southern California. I was there for a short time learning how to work on hydraulic aircraft systems and totally enjoyed my summer, but with the fall came orders to Cherry Pt NC. So I loaded up my POS Nissan 4x4 and hit the road across country.

    My plan was to head straight to Gainesville FL for a few days of hanging out with my GF before having to report to Cherry Pt. Every day on the road was one less day I could see her and my old college buddies so I was determined to get there as fast as possible. Keep in mind that as a 22 year old PFC, I'm not exactly rolling in dough, so everything I do, I do on the cheap. Its either that or it doesn't get done. I say this because as this unfolds you might think that anybody in this day and age with any sort of resources might handle things differently, and I agree. But back then the only resource I had was my own willingness and energy.

    So with that said, here I am with all of my worldly possessions stuffed into this rickety beater, heading east on the 2400 mile journey back to Hogtown from LA. It was still hot out, especially since most of the journey is through the desert. I drilled through CA, AZ, NM, and west Texas without stopping except for gas. Amazingly at midnight I found myself all the way in San Antonio. I still had some energy left so I filled up, checked the oil, and took off to burn another tank of gas.

    About an hour later, roughly 80 miles east of San Antonio in the middle of nowhere, the dash lights up like a Christmas tree and the motor dies. Its 1am and pitch black outside in the middle of nowhere. Fvk! Here we go.

    I popped the hood and there is engine oil everywhere. The friggin oil cap is off and sitting on top of the motor. Clearly after adding a quart of oil back in San Antonio I must have forgotten to put it back on, and the oil eventually all splashed out. At this point I also noticed that all the v-belts were off the motor. I had a glimmer of hope that maybe the oil just got on the belts and threw 'em off the pulleys, and if I replaced them it might still run.

    I remembered passing a truckstop about a mile or so back on the other side of the interstate so I locked up my truck and started walking. Thankfully they had a nice selection of belts so I got one that would fit and a trucker was cool enough to give me a ride back to my truck. He left and I grabbed the crappy little tool set I had under the seat and got to changing the belt.

    I had to crawl under the truck to get at the stuff I needed to access. So I'm laying there, flashlight in my mouth so I can see, wrenching on this pig with oil still dripping off of everything and landing on me... when all of a sudden my back and arms and legs start feeling like they are on fire. I turn my head to the side and the flashlight shines on the ground and I notice that its moving......fire ants everywhere!

    So I slither out as fast as I can and start trying to beat these ants off of me. They are inside my clothes, in my shoes, f'n everywhere! I jumped up into the back of the truck to get off the ground and start ripping my clothes off. In short order I'm down to nothing but whitey-tighties and trying to slough all these bastards off of me. A few cars passed by and I wonder what they must have been thinking watching this spectacle at 2am.

    Eventually I got rid of them and I used a cheap mexican blanket I had to throw on the ground so I could finish the job of putting the belt back on. Finally, it was done. A semi pulled over and the guy asked me if I needed any help and I told him I was going to try and start the truck. Well the engine turned over and over but wouldn't start. Fvk. So I grabbed a bunch of my stuff, locked everything else up inside, and rode with the trucker to the next little town which was named Flatonia, TX. He dropped me off at a cheap motel and I spent like 27 of my precious dollars on a room.

    The next morning some folks at the adjacent diner helped me call a tow truck. They guy picked me up and we went and hooked up my truck and dragged it back to Flatonia to a service station. The owner took my truck in but now it was Sunday and he wouldn't even look at it until the next day, so I spent the rest of the day watching TV in my crappy motel room. I got up first thing Monday and walked back to the shop, and he already had the truck pulled apart. Motor completely shot. The cost to fix it was more money than I had in the world.

    Its amazing how quickly you can go from feeling like you are successfully mucking your way through life, to having no idea how the hell you are going to get through a situation. At that moment I should have been in bed with a beautiful woman back in Florida, and instead I'm stuck 1000 miles away with a dead truck, very little money, and I only have a few days to get to NC before I'm in big trouble. All because I forgot to put the damn oil cap back on.

    Now of course there were no computers or cell phones or any of that stuff yet. Just phone books hanging from pay phones, and paper road maps. There is nowhere in Flatonia to try and rent a car or truck to tow my beast to Florida or even drive myself home. San Antonio is 90 miles away. There isn't even a way to really find out any info on renting a car or tow dolly or whatever because there is no internet and no San Antonio phone book, and even if there was, everything is long distance and you need a calling card. So I grabbed a backpack and hitched a ride to San Antonio, with absolutely no idea where I was going, all in an effort to at least find a phonebook so I could make some local calls and figure it out.

    Well I got dropped off in the middle of SA on the side of the freeway near where there were some hotels. I hoofed it over there, found a pay phone in a lobby, and started dropping dimes in the slot to see what I could get. After calling half a dozen places, it turns out that renting a vehicle and tow dolly one-way is expensive. Like almost 2 grand, which may as well have been a bajillion dollars to a kid who only has maybe 500 bucks to his name. I resigned myself to the fact that my truck was staying in this middle of nowhere schythole and I was taking the bus.

    All my stuff was still in the truck, so I hitched another ride back to Flatonia. The guy who picked me up was some crazy freak right outta the joint, but WTF I needed the ride so off we went. We got to Flatonia and he said I could have a ride to Houston if I wanted to pay for gas, so I gave him 20 bucks, grabbed as much stuff as I could carry, told the mechanic I'd be back soon, and off we went. He dropped me off at a nasty motel next to the bus station, where I spent a fabulous night trying to remember all my Marine survival training. Boarded that beautiful Greyhound in the morning and the only seat was a window in front of the lav, sandwiched in there beside an enormous Houstonian woman who had the distinct aroma of toenails about her person. This is how I spent the next, and possibly worst, 23 hours of my life.

    Upon my triumphant arrival in Orange Park, my grandmother picked me up from the bus station. She graciously let me use her land yacht oldsmobile to run down to Gainesville for two nights, which was all I could spare. Now the question was what to do about my truck. I at least had to get it back home to FL, where at some point I would be able to come down from NC when I got some time off and try to fix it.

    By far the cheapest thing to do was to rent a tow dolly locally, drive out there, and drag my truck back myself. So my grandma had a trailer hitch put on her car, (thanks grandma!) and I rented the dolly and set out for Flatonia, 1000 miles away. I drove straight through the night and got there early in the morning in a total downpour.

    Hoping the rain would blow through (remember no way like today to just log on and look at a weather map), I gave the mechanic some money for his time and saddled up the Nissan truck on the tow dolly and started down the street. It was raining even harder, if that's possible. Before starting the return trip I pulled into the gas station to top off the tank. Or at least, that's what I tried to do.....

    As I started making the right turn into the station, all of a sudden I realized that my truck was starting to pass me up. We were hydroplaning, the weight of the truck was preventing the oldsmobile from getting any braking action in the standing water. The whole lashup was whipping down the street like a boomerang. The dolly jackknifed, and when everything stopped moving I had done a complete 360 and managed to dent grandma's rear bumper. Awesome! Hadn't even gotten on the freeway yet and already I'm thinking there is no way I'm getting this rig all the way to FL without an accident.

    At least it was now raining harder than ever. It was one of those torrents that make everyone pull off the road or camp under overpasses. Not me though! I'm just drilling down the road as carefully but steadily as I can. It rained for hours. I kept saying to myself, "you got through boot camp bro, you can get through this." Exhausted from the combination of no sleep and the stress of constantly thinking I'm going to have a terrible crash, I pulled into Lafayette, LA where I have some cousins who put me up for the night. Thankfully, the next day the weather had cleared, and 12 hours later I was back in Orange Park.

    My dad was in England at the time but he knew a guy with an engine shop who agreed to put a new motor in the truck for me at a big discount and he let me make payments. So I brought him the truck and dropped it off and returned the tow dolly. The next day I took grandma's car up to Cherry Pt, which was 8 hours away so I could report in to my new duty station. Thankfully, it was already Wednesday. As soon as we got liberty on Friday, I drove the 8 hours back to Orange Park and my new motor was installed and the truck was mine again. Thankfully, the last 8 hour drive back to NC was uneventful. It was over.

    To this day, when things start going wrong and I can see that there is going to be a long road ahead to get back to normal, I think of that journey and what life is like for those who haven't built up the resources yet to deal with those type situations. The whole thing completely sucked, but in an odd way I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
    • bradgator2

      bradgator2 Rioting
      Lifetime Member

      Jun 12, 2014
      +14,462 / -120
      Great story. Kids these days dont know how to figure it out.

      • Gator515151

        Gator515151 Well-Known Member
        2018 Pick 'Em Champ

        Aug 16, 2018
        +5,694 / -93
        A little different kind of story but my stranded in Gainesville story.

        It was sometime in the late 90s to early 00s, my youngest son an I had tickets to the UF/Kentucky game which was a night game. The game ran very late and due to traffic we didn't leave Gainesville until after midnight. I got into the wrong lane and missed the ramp to I-75. I was low on gas so I decided to keep going until I found a station. Somehow I ended up in some little town about 20 miles West of Gainesville. It consisted of just one little convenience store. Everybody in the parking lot except us was black. I pumped my gas then went inside to get a cup of coffee for the road.

        On the way into the store I passed a homeless guy outside who asked me for some change so he could get something to eat. I snubbed my nose at him and said I didn't have any change. I got my coffee and went back to my truck. My truck wouldn't start. The homeless guy I had snubbed came over and asked me if I needed help. I told him my battery was dead. He hollered to one of the guys hanging out in the parking lot and said, "Hey can you give my friend a jump?" The guy pulled over and tried to jump start my truck but it still wouldn't start. The homeless guy then asked what I was going to do. I told him I was stranded and would have to call a tow truck. He said "Oh no that would cost a fortune way out here." Then he asked if I had any tools.

        I pulled out a small tool box from under the seat and the homeless dude went to work. He crawled under my truck and tightened this and tapped on that and kept asking me to try it now. Eventually it started. He handed me my tool box and asked where I was going. I answered "Orlando". He said "Well don't stop till you get there."
        I answered "Don't worry I won't". Then he shook my hand and told me his name was Willie Newsome. I told him I would never forget that. "I only had about $30 bucks in my pocket and I handed it to him and told him to get himself something good to eat. Never saw that guy again but will never forget his kindness.

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