Who's that handsome guy in the station wagon?! Well, that bearded fellow, who desperately needs a hair cut is me...and clearly it's a very good day. That was the day I got my 1994 Ford Escort running.
A few months before that I found myself looking for work, any work. I was homeless, I was hungry, and I was very motivated to not be either of those things. After all, it was summertime in Catalina, AZ and very, very hot. I asked for work EVERYWHERE. And word must have spread that there was a young man looking for work. John Golder (the other gentleman in the picture) heard, found me, and offered me a job cleaning up a portion of his property. Of course I accepted.
The next day he drove me out to the property and showed me the scope of the work. His property had some trailers, campers, and vehicles on it that were vandalized, then occupied by pack rats, and then flooded. My eye immediately caught the white station wagon on cinder blocks. "What's up with that car," I asked. John told me he bought it new in 94', had put 42,000 miles on it, but it was stolen and stripped for parts, then, after it was recovered, it was planted there and hadn't moved since. He finished showing me around and then we went to work.
The first few days were cleaning and clearing land outside, which were by far the most pleasant. Among other things, I cleared brush, picked up trash, and stacked pallets; all the while that car occupied a space in the back of my mind. After a few days of working outside I had gotten to know John a little bit, and so I asked him if he would sell the car. He said he'd sell it for scrap value, $200; but warned me that was all it was, scrap. Of course I bought it, and was now the proud owner of a 94' Ford Escort that was stripped for parts, filled with rat nests, and resting on cinder blocks in the middle of the desert.
After finishing cleaning up outside I moved on to cleaning the inside of the campers and trailers. Yikes. I had done some hard work before, I had done some unpleasant jobs, but this was next level stuff. They were hot, moldy, and filled with rats that had drowned in the flood. For several weeks I went to work, cleaning out flooded rat nests with my bare hands. At the end of each day I took my earnings and hitchhiked to the parts store to buy various parts for my 94' Escort, or tools needed to make a repair. One day I'd get a radiator, then a water pump, then a fuel pump....battery.... ignition coil..... master cylinder.... The sequence became so routine that I gained nearly regular rides to and from the parts store. One woman whom I would see regularly on her way home from work even started detouring me to her house for dinner before bringing me to my destination.
Week in and week out, this continued. I had upgraded my living quarters to a tent in Campground B of Catalina State Park, where, get this, they even had showers! I had work to occupy my day, food to occupy my stomach, a place to take my boots off, and a goal to occupy my mind. Everyday I got closer to my goal. Wheels and tires...starter.....wiring harnesses......oil and filter.....fuel. Finally the day came to see if my work would pay off. John was there. I inserted the key and turned the ignition switch to start. The engine turned over. And turned over. And turned over. That was all. What a crushing feeling that was, the realization that all may have been for nothing. "I told you that car was scrap," John said. Before leaving for the night I rechecked to make sure the plugs had spark, they did. Each time I pulled a plug to check for spark I used my thumb to perform a shade-tree mechanic compression test...it seemed to have compression. It must be fuel related. Tomorrow was another day.
The next day I stopped by the gas station on my walk to work and bought a bottle of fuel injector cleaner with octane boost. John met me at the gate, where we were working that day. I asked him if I could try to start the car again first. He said of course. I trotted down to the car, and added the injector cleaner to the fuel tank. Turning the key the engine began to turn over. And turn over. And turn over. But, just before I stopped trying, at the tail end of turning it over, that 94' Escort gave a sputter. A glorious, invigorating, earth shattering sputter. With each turn of the key the sputter became more pronounced. Until finally, the cylinders began to sporadically fire; and, with a single press of the throttle, the engine roared to life and then settled back down into a healthy idle.
I gave it some gas again; the engine responded in kind. I put the transmission in drive, depressed the gas pedal, and off the 94' Escort went, with me gleefully behind the wheel. Up the dirt road, over the trestle bridge, to the gate where John was watching with a smile ear to ear. What followed was the above picture. A young man's moment of victory. A photo capturing the significance of the world of opportunity that 94' Escort would provide through the freedom of mobility. And the reality that such an unappealing job was nothing less than opportunity disguised as a rat nest.
Why am I writing this? Well, today I was speaking with a work colleague and we were talking about job satisfaction and station in life context. I told him that story, and reliving those memories reminded me of how much opportunity is out there, as long as one has the vision to see it and the perseverance to seize it. Point of view means a lot, and that is why one man's trash is another man's treasure.