Rambeaux: a tad fickle but holding strong…

Rambeaux in Mexico, 2011.

My 1986 Dodge Ram pickup truck—the aging Rambeaux—sits at my buddy Fred’s house in Texas most of the time. When I show up stateside for a visit, as I recently did, I renew Rambeaux’s registration, make sure he’s inspected and insured, and rely on him to get me around for a couple of weeks. If it’s one of those trips where Katka and I head down into Mexico for a year or two, I depend on him even more.

You might say Rambeaux is for me what Rocinante was for Don Quixote—a noble steed, a bit beyond his prime, but still reliable.

I bought Rambeaux from friend John Yearwood back in 1996 for $1,800. That was 17 years and about 130,000 miles ago. And he’s still got legs. He must be the best bargain on a ride I ever got.

Rambeaux has taken me deep into Mexico at least a dozen times, including trips into the Copper Canyon and all around the Yucatan Peninsula and down into Chiapas to the Guatemalan border. He carries a low cover over his bed and sometimes I park up under the jungle canopy and crawl inside to sleep for the night. He’s also hauled me all over the western U.S., including several months in the southwestern deserts of Arizona and Utah.

But after all these years, Rambeaux is showing some wear and tear that worries me a bit. Over time, I’ve replaced parts of him: alternator, radiator, starter, solenoid, muffler and tailpipe, brake pads, various hoses and belts, battery (several times), and of course tires. Several years ago, in Mexico, I put in a rebuilt transmission. Once in Arizona, when I was low on money, I had to borrow a library book on carburetors (1986 was the last year Dodge put carburetors in its trucks, switching afterward to fuel injection), and by carefully following the instructions, I took the carburetor apart to clean out the fine desert sand that had sifted inside. It was quite a chore. But I even got it put back together without any pieces left over.

Considering the tough demands I’ve put on him, Rambeaux has held up well. He’s suffered only one minor traffic accident. That was in Mexico and it twisted his front bumper to the pavement on the right side. I had to bend it back up to drive away. He managed that mishap without missing a step. I think he’s much like the bionic Six Million Dollar Man, only a lot cheaper. His air conditioner never has worked.

Whenever I show up with Rambeaux, certain folks invariably ask me why I don’t get a new vehicle. They think I should sell him or trade him in, that he’s just too old. Any ride that age has got to be unreliable, they say. And probably unsafe.

That attitude strikes me as awfully cold-hearted. What sort of person ditches an old friend just because he’s getting a bit stiff, a little fickle, and sometimes need professional attention?

Last month, during my most recent trip to Texas, Rambeaux served me admirably. He only quit on me twice, and one of those times he started right up again after half an hour and ran just fine. No explanation, though it happened in the middle of a huge rainstorm and I figure he simply felt too soggy to run and needed to rest for a while. I certainly recognized the feeling.

The other time he quit was a bit more serious. But he did have the foresight to do it right on the outskirts of Tyler. That’s up in northeast Texas. I was on my way to Jefferson to visit Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens Book Club. That’s another story and maybe I’ll tell it sometime. The main point is, my good buddy Randy Mallory lives in Tyler and he came to our aid. We were able to get Rambeaux to Randy’s mechanic, Bruce McDow over at the Firestation Service Center, and Bruce fixed us up in short order. Turns out there’d been a short in the electrical system and a couple of wires burned through causing the voltage regulator to melt down. That poor voltage regulator looked like one of those clocks in a Salvador Dali painting.

In the end, I lost about four hours of travel time. And it cost me about $150. But as anyone knows, that’s a very low price for recovery from a breakdown. I figure Bruce was a Good Samaritan doing a generous deed for a stranger from out of town. He and Randy rescued us like they’d been planning for it all along.

Rambeaux finished the rest of my stateside trip without a hitch. Well, his windshield wiper motor did freeze up, so I had to use Rain-X to get through a shower or two. And his right headlamp eventually went out after that earlier rainstorm but that was easy to fix. Those are the sorts of things that can happen to any ride at any time and you just have to expect them. Anything made in a factory breaks now and then, that’s a fact. It’s explained somewhere in laws of thermodynamics, I believe. So I didn’t take it personally, and neither did Rambeaux.

Still, now that I’m back here in Prague and Rambeaux is parked at Fred’s house in Texas taking a long rest, I’m wondering whether he’s up to another long trip down into Mexico. Katka and I are thinking of going there later this year. Come this autumn, should I ask Rambeaux to cinch up and get ready? Would that be asking too much of my faithful friend?

After all these years and all our adventures, it would feel strange to be down there below the border without him. I recall once in Chiapas, when we were traveling to San Cristobal de Las Casas and were snaking our way up a jungled mountain road, how we came around a sharp bend to find more than a hundred rebel Zapatistas holding machetes and blocking the road. Most steeds would’ve turned right around at that sight. They’d have fled. But Rambeaux just kept moving forward to see what the ruckus was about. That kind of fortitude would be awfully hard to replace.