This is the third installment of My Mexican Death Trap Blues. My previous two columns describing the process of acquiring and painting a Pulmonia can be found in the archives of this fine publication.
My Captured Tourist Woman purchased her Pulmonia four years ago and delights in driving it between the times when multitudinous repairs are required to keep her death trap on the road.
Over the years I have heard the phrase “held together by nothing more than the smell of an oily rag.” However, it was four years ago when the full implication of that phrase descended on my troubled soul.
Had I not been a serious shade tree mechanic in my previous life, by now the Captured Tourist Woman would have abandoned the damn thing along the malecón with the keys and title sitting on the seat. But we do have a roomy cochera and I have plenty of tools, so I have made the constant resuscitation of her Pulmonia my life’s work.
Needless to say, she was gratified by my unselfish sacrifice to give up lawn bowling, tennis and badminton along with curling and snowboarding just so I could devote my remaining days to keeping her bucket of bolts rolling under its own power.
The mechanical trouble started on the second day of ownership, when my Captured Tourist Woman and I headed off on an evening drive. About 100 meters into our cruse she said, “This gear shifter doesn’t feel right.”
Being almost an expert on old Volkswagens, I reached over and gripped the shifter and stirred it around like a butter churner before it completely detached itself from the vehicle. With the complete shifting mechanism dangling from my hand, it dawned on me: this was the first chapter of a continuing saga which will suck up my free time like a black hole.
Fortunately, a new shifter mechanism was an easy bolt-on fix, and so far the easiest fix in the last four years.
One of my first attempts at bringing order to chaos was to make sense of the rat’s nest of electrical wires bound with miles of vinyl tape. One headlight was dim and the other flickered whenever I wiggled the light switch, and the total lack of fuses made me dreadfully nervous.
Then one day while trying to track a wire, it happened; it was like one of those scenes in Star Trek when the Klingons attack the Enterprise. I had sparks, smoke and noise like a pan of bacon frying.
Fortunately I was able to pull the battery cable before the fiberglass body ignited. After the smoke cleared and my heart rate descended to normal, I grabbed my cutters and removed what was left of every wire, bumper to bumper.
After a week of frenzied work, 40 meters of multicolored wire and a fuse block, she was back on the road again. I also took this opportunity to install an electronic horn with 12 animal sounds, 10 sirens and a loudspeaker the size of a microwave.
After running through all the sound options, the 150-decibel crowing rooster was by far the most impressive sonance of all, and it quickly became her signature refrain.
About two years after the questionable acquisition, I could no longer ignore the atrocious noise coming from the engine compartment; the exhaust system was rusted out and falling apart. The old system was cobbled together with ugly welds, heavy-gauge bailing wire and a few tubes that looked suspiciously like plumbing parts.
Since the tailpipe of a stock VW muffler would not clear the rear bumper, I needed to talk with a Pulmonia guru to find a proper solution. So I headed out to the fabled Mazatlán Pulmonia factory, a loose conglomeration of mechanics, welders and fiberglass fabricators spread over an acre of ground east of town.
As I pulled into an open area shared by the many stalls in this makeshift cooperative, I spotted a small group of Pulmonia drivers sharing a few Pacificos while standing around the carcass of a very dead Pulmonia. As I approached the group the conversation stopped as all heads turned; no one ever expects to see a gringo in this part of Mazatlán.
I elucidated to the group, in my clumsy Spanish, that I needed a muffler with a tailpipe that would clear the low bumper on a Pulmonia. I further explained it was my wife’s Pulmonia which needed the new exhaust system.
At the mention of a woman driving a Pulmonia, several laughed out loud, while the rest wore an incredulous smirk. Then an older man started into an elaborate dissertation with hand gestures and sound effects.
I listened as he described a beautiful blond woman piloting a golden chariot and when he suddenly mimicked a crowing rooster, I knew he was describing my woman’s flashy ride.
So now, wherever she goes, Pulmonia drivers will either honk or crow just to hear the return call of a 1,000-pound rooster echo through the streets of Mazatlán.
Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.