Bronchial Melancholia

So my cold is in it's final stages. The final irritating faze where you feel fine at idle, but loose energy quickly when trying to build up speed. I feel healthy for lengthy moments, only to get dizzy when I stand up, or winded when I move around.

But I'm going to work tomorrow. Working from home today was hellish. No longer do I have a nice niche carved out in my own corner of the apartment. The kitchen renovations have tapped all of our previously spacious common areas. Leaving me to attempt design work from the couch today. Nothing doing! Cords strewn about. Hard drives overheating on micro fiber upholstery. Basically, I spent 6 hours feeling massively blocked and got a whole lot of nothing done. So a little bit of the sniffles and a nagging lingering throat tickle aren't going to keep me from going downtown tomorrow and killing it!

I couldn't help but be bitten by melancholy today. I've just started to feel like true productivity is within my grasp working from the studio downtown. But then to have a minor cold banish me back to my domicile in the middle of crunch time was less then ideal.

In my unusually banal state I started to get nostalgic, as I often do in the rare moments when apathy overcomes my usual enthusiasm. Something came over me around dusk and I was inexplicably compelled to go check on my Vanagon. A Gorgeous Dark Chocolate and Platinum coloured, 1984 VW Vanagon that's been sitting dormant in the parking garage since over two months ago when I last drove it and the clutch failed on me. A harrowing trip back the 6 blocks to home with no clutch was something else!

So that had scared me out of driving her obviously. It's not Charlottetown. I can't just rip around Mississauga willy nilly and clutchless, turning off the engine at each light like I did back in PEI when the clutch failed the first time. And I haven't had the steady income I've needed to be able to justify taking her in for expensive repairs.

But today, I just couldn't help myself.

I'd had this itch of an idea in my mind for a while, that, somehow, with the extra clutch fluid I'd poured into the reservoir two months ago, that some settling would have occurred, and what had simply been a nasty air bubble in the hydraulic lines would have rectified itself... Like... I've somehow KNOWN for a couple weeks that the Vanagon would run if I went and tried to drive it. A strange compulsion that became too strong to ignore today in my less then enthusiastic state.

I had sent my roommate a txt msg asking him what we should do for dinner tonight. We're both pretty considerate Dudes, and tend to make sure the other person is looked after for mealtime. Nothing crazy... but if I'm gonna go grab food, I make sure he's not about to land home hungry 20 minutes later...

So not having heard back from him, I couldn't wait without eating any longer. Instead of grabbing my longboard, or bicycle, as has been my habit of late, I grabbed my keys.

Down the hallway to the elevator, with an odd certainty. I pressed the P1 button to take me to the parking garage.

As a side note, a very thuggish, and "angry all the time" looking fellow got on to the elevator at another floor. He smelled TERRIFIC, which I found quite funny. Here this man went through so much effort to maintain his hardened demeanor, then he bathes in floral musk. Hilarious!

I got down to the garage level, and proudly walked to the other, farther doors that lead to the Vanagon. Unlike the closer door I've been taking lately to get to Ivan's parking spot and the Mazda 3.

The parking garage was relatively vacant. Most people probably don't finish fighting their way back through gridlock until after dark this time of year.

So the Vanagon was sitting there in all her regal glory with nary another vehicle in sight to ruin my view. I walked triumphantly to her, and with slight trepidation, stuck the key in the lock. A waft of hippy stink, gasoline, oil, and a broken lemon zest glade scented oil refill smacked me in the face. My cold must be all but gone if I can smell all of these things so clearly!

I lifted myself up into the cab and was overcome with a bevy of strong feelings. (I hate that word; bevy. *shudder*)

The drive up here from PEI was such a fucking epic adventure, that I can't help but be overwhelmed by the memory of it now as I'm sitting up on my perch as captain of this great vessel.

The Vanagon is in a sad state right now. The inside of the cab is a mess of fast food napkins, bits of wire from a partially completed stereo install, and a host of other non-necessities I've lazily left floating around in her.

I'm ashamed that she's reverted into such a state of chaos. And yet, oddly proud to be reconnected to my humble origins. Such a stark contrast between the earthy vintage mess of my ride... and the pristine urban shine of Mississauga City Centre.

So I'm sitting in the 4 Ton behemoth that, to my knowledge, does not have a working clutch. Again, this odd 6th sense tells me that I'm not just going to sit in it. I FEEL that it's going to run. I pump the clutch a couple times, trying to recall how much resistance it had when it was repaired back at Dave's service centre in Charlottetown. I could feel that it wasn't at 100%. But there was enough resistance for me to keep moving forward with whatever it was I was attempting.

I put the shifter through it's motions....

It didn't feel good. Not smooth at all. Thank god I'm alone. Nothing like being alone to make me brave. I tend to second guess myself the second another human being is in my space. But the lot was empty. Just me, and my ride.

So I muddle with the shifter a few times while pumping the clutch sporadically until I finally get it to run from first to fourth gear smoothly. Well... that shouldn't be possible. The clutch is supposed to be dead. It was fully fucking dead the last time I drove this thing. That's for sure.

Again, despite my frontal lobe telling me that this was a logical improbability, I continued my pre-flight tests.

I pushed firmly down on the big ball that's perched on the tip top of the extra long, big rig style shifter, and jammed her into reverse. (reverse on a VW is like that; Push down, and then left and up, passed first gear. It's complicated, but safe. And oddly, smugly satisfying. Different for the sake of different.) I stuck it in reverse because I park the damned thing right up against a wall. The Vanagon has a frighteningly blunt front end. It almost feels as through your toes stick out passed the bumper sometimes when your sitting in it. That's why I love it so much, and what makes it so fun to drive. But I'm no slouch in the logic department, so I figure, if I'm gonna turn the engine over on this beast, and the clutch is, or is not going to work, I want the old girl to lurch AWAY from the concrete wall, rather then smack into it.

So I get it into reverse, and, against all logic, confidently turn the key for just a second.


She lurches backwards about a foot. As to be expected for a vehicle who's clutch does not function.

But some dumb unseen motivator is telling me to push on. To keep going.

I plunge the clutch down all the way and let it spring back up two or three more times, and try again.


The engine turns over once and the van heaves itself backwards another foot.


By this time, my heart is beating out of my chest. That frontal lobe I'd previously mentioned, screaming in agony as it's logic circuits continue to be scrambled by my blind determination.

I try and pull it into neutral. Usually it's quite easy for me to slip it back out of the push in, up left, reverse position. But now it's not co-operating. The Van is now two feet too far back, and jutting out of my paid parking allotment. At very least, I need to get this poor beast back into neutral, and push it back into place.

Maybe it's not too late for me to walk away from this whole thing, and go back up and take my skateboard instead.

But wouldn't you know it. My stubborn inner miscreant wasn't going to let the responsible side of me walk. Nope. I'd been compelled to come down here for weeks now, and the logic circuits couldn't hold the curious instinctive side back any longer.

I got it out of gear! Dammit. In neutral the sheer weight of the bugger becomes instantly evident. Suddenly, the barely noticeable 5% grade I'm parked on becomes a terrifying hill. Without a gear to hold it, the Van wants to roll back. I jam in the break, pump the clutch again, and jam it back into first gear. EFF WORD.

Now what do I do?

It's 3 feet too far back out of it's spot, and on a hill!

I step out of the cab and begin the effort of trying to push this whale farther up the concrete beach! This involved me planting my feet on the floor, heart racing, and then reaching over the drivers seat to pull the shifter down into neutral. The door is open, and I'm pushing the frame and the drivers seat with all of my (sick therefore reduced) strength! I get a rocking motion going and realize I AM strong enough to move her. (Frig, being a grownup is cool!) But I need to really use all of my strength. Everything I can muster. If I relax for even one second, and this thing goes rolling backwards, I could get uncomfortably jammed between the front open door, and the giant cement column that it will smash into in a matter of feet.

For some reason, and again, this goes back to me being alone, I was never really mad at myself for trying this. I was nervous for the Van, but didn't have the usual "worried about being in trouble" feeling that I get when I'm concerned for others feelings.

I knew that I was only doing myself over if this didn't work... and for some nonsensical reason, still believed it would.

So... I get her pushed back forward, and leap up into the cab, jamming my foot onto the break.

Now. Common flipping sense would dictate that I call it quits at this point, and count my blessings. Walk away unscathed, knowing I almost went too far.

But no one is around.

I own the Van. It's paid for. It's mine. I'm alone. And I have this burning feeling that I need to keep going!

A couple more clutch pumps. Jam it into reverse again. Turn over the key....

No lurch!

I turned the engine over, and it didn't move! The clutch is engaged! The fucking clutch is engaged!


Turn the key again.


Putter putter putter putter....



By this point, I hear another car has triggered the electric door into the garage. I'm no longer surrounded by the safety of loneliness.

A sudden urgent need to escape the underground in my newly revived beast overwhelms me. I let the clutch out gently, and the Vanagon gracefully backs up, like it did so many other times for the first few months I was here and driving it!


I confidently rev the engine while I pull the shifter out of reverse and into neutral.

*Pow, Kapow pow pow*

The engine backfires as it had been for months before I parked it. (Another issue the Van Doctor is confident he can fix for me)

I slip the shifter into first with frantic satisfaction. The other car that had just entered the garages headlights can be seen illuminating the path in front of me. I ease the Van forward cautiously and come to the corner where I see the other car to my left.

My goodness lady. Get on your own god damned side of the parking garage!!! Common courtesy! STAY ON THE RIGHT SIDE! DON'T YOU KNOW?! THIS THING COULD GO OFF AT ANY SECOND!! GET THE EFF OUT OF THE WAY!!

The sub compact car complies with my searing stare and shuttles its way to the correct side just in time for me to grease by, engine puttering and stuttering to ever more vibrant life.

for a 1.9 litre flat four cylinder (translation: tiny) engine, this bad boy makes a LOT of noise. Especially in an underground parking garage.

I drive with my hand hovering over the ignition. If I feel even the SLIGHTEST feedback on these pedals that tells me this clutch isn't properly engaged, I cut the engine and hit the break, and no one gets hurt.

We lumber triumphantly around another corner, and the automatic garage door springs to life!


The blasting echo of indoor, becomes the sweet softness of outside as the Vanagon proudly marches up the steep incline out of the underground. The wooden barricade at the top mocks me as I approach. It doesn't have any sensitivity to my newly miraculously engaged clutch. It requires me to bring the massive beast to a full stop on a 30 degree incline and hold it there for the longest 3 seconds of my life.


I spring through the barricade as it lifts itself up and out of my way cordially.


My heart pounds even harder at the sudden feeling of freedom, control, and independence that has all at once been restored by this singular miraculous event!

I cruise down Confederation Street triumphant! First gear... VROOOM... Second gear... VROOOOOM... third gear.. VROOOOOOOOOMMMM POW pop pikaw plop pop bang....

I drove that damned thing around the block 2-3 times in disbelief. The clutch held by gosh, it held. I could feel that it was still not right mind you. I was definitely leaving more then 10 car lengths between myself and anyone else for the first couple blocks until I was REALLY confident it was going to be ok. Even then, as I approached lights in first gear, I had my hand on that key, ready to cut the power if I felt the clutch disengage.

I did feel it slip a couple times. It's definitely broken. 3 times as I came to a stop I felt the van shudder a bit from the clutch wanting to let go. But something didn't let it. Something. Some unseen, inexplicable force... being it divine intervention, or blind, dumb ambition and unwavering faith, made sure that that clutch held on just long enough for my little joyride.

I was even able to take her through the drive thru at A&W for a teen burger and an old fashioned root beer!

I don't have any clue what compelled me to try this RIDICULOUSLY STUPID thing tonight. But as you can tell, it got me jazzed up and energized to say the least.

I'm moving to Toronto December first, for better or worse.

But in that 15 minute joyride, I knew that my destiny is still on the open road. I'm still going to take this beautiful Van of mine across this gorgeous country of ours and make a photo book. I'm gonna take it to the Van doctor as soon as tomorrow (now that I have a more reliable source of income!) and many more times between now and next summer.

If Toronto is as lucrative as it has the potential to be for me, then a Subaru Engine conversion will not be out of the question!

Imagine, Vanagon... you and me, and a brand new Subaru four cylinder!

POWER! RELIABILITY! QUIET! And best of all, no leaky gasoline smell to give me and my passengers a headache as I drive!

You know. I don't know why I went down there and had that moment of absolutely reckless bravery... but boy am I happy I did it.

I brought the Vanagon back to it's parking space safely... grabbed my food, and gave it a kiss.

I used to kiss the Van every time I drove it. But it has been so long since it ran well, that I'd forgotten to show it love lately.

I planted a nice firm one on her before coming back upstairs triumphant.

Whatever force guided me to take that risk, is the same one that made me get back up out of bed to write this entry.

And I gotta tell ya, I feel a whole lot better now as I finish this, then I did when I started writing it. And even better still then I did before I snapped into auto pilot and went walking towards the elevator.

Thanks instincts. And thanks to myself for following them.

My roommate just sent me a text to say he's on his way home with McDonald's.


Amazing what a little blog rant and a bit of bravery can do for a man's spirits!