Why I prefer rowboats to cars

Holy cow. What a whirlwind of a week. At the start of the week I was out sailing on a lesson and was pretty stoked. Life looked like it was all coming together. I had a busy couple of weeks of charters and had a significant (by sea gypsy standards) amount of cash that had just transferred from paypal into my bank account. It would have been just enough to pay the mass of parking tickets and past due registration fees my car has acquired in the previous year of non use.

I’ve been wanting to sell the car for the last year but a few things happened. First, the car became my storage area. Did I have anything worth storing in there? Of course not. Second, it’s amazing how in our modern society we feel like we need a car in our life. We think we’ll feel paralyzed without one. Well, I needed a car like a hole in the head. But I held onto it anyway. At first these two factors were enough for me to procrastinate my selling of the car. Then I managed to get myself into a catch 22. On the Thanksgiving holiday I managed to rack up $750 of parking tickets in three days for expired registration and parking longer than 72 hours. Ouch. Add this on top of the registration and a couple prior parking tickets and I had myself a small fortune to pay.

The Mammoth Mobile in her element.

The Mammoth Mobile in her element.

So I need to sell the car but need to get current on registration to sell it. To get current on registration I need to pay the parking tickets. To get the cash to pay the parking tickets I need to sell the car. WTF. Catch 22. So I do the next best thing, or so I thought at the time. I parked it in the Berkeley Marina parking lot. I had seen cars there that hadn’t moved in years so it seemed as good a spot as any… at least until I could get things sorted out and sell it.

A few weeks ago I finally got to the DMV to figure out exactly what I needed to do to get rid of the thing and how much it would set me back. I was on a mission to get things paid up and sell the car by the end of the month. This car has been one of the remaining loose ends anchoring me to the bay area and I was ready to end the constant worry of it looming in the back of my head.

Of course now that I was finally actively trying to do something with the car the city of Berkeley decided to do so at the same time. While out teaching a sailing lesson I got a text message from a buddy in Berkeley “Hey dude, did you move your car?” Crap. Really?! After six months of the car sitting under a pine tree becoming one with the surrounding ecosystem the city decided to impound it. I can’t blame them. At my earliest opportunity a couple of days later I jumped on my bike to embark on what would become a 30 mile wild goose chase through three counties to DMV’s, police stations, and impound lots.

What’s funny about the whole thing is that if I had my car to run these same errands, I would have been a stressed our wreck by the end of the day. Instead I felt totally energized as I blasted around on my bike. What would have been a traffic nightmare turned into a day of epic bicycle riding over the golden gate bridge and along rad little side streets where I stumbled upon no less than three farmer’s markets perfect  for stuffing my bag full of peaches, carrots, and snap peas.

To top things off, when I was riding on the main streets I was moving as fast or faster than traffic the majority of the time! So stoked on bikes and ready to be free of this car!

Three hour wait at the Oakland DMV!? Screw that. I rode the six miles to the El Cerrito DMV as fast as I could. 10 minute wait. Score! Off to the police station. Apparently three o’ clock on a tuesday afternoon is a shady time in Berkeley. I was forced to wait two and a half hours will the guards booked prisoners until they’d allow me to post my $75 bail to get my car out of jail.  I finally got away from the bail window at 5:20, the impound lot closed at five. Another $80 fee for after hours pickup at the impound lot. Figures.

From mountain roads to lock up.

From mountain roads to lock up.

At this point there was no point in rushing. My friend Peter was in the neighborhood so we decided to get burritos. I hardly ever eat out in the interest of saving my pennies but after what will tally about $3k to get my car out of jail, a $7 burrito didn’t seem like too much of a splurge. A massive carnitas burrito the size of my arm and a horchata. Heaven.

So with bellies full of burritos we took off to the impound lot (Peter was kind enough to give me a ride, or perhaps he was in need of some etertainment). Deep in Oakland we venture to find the tow yard. Meet Tow Truck Tubby…  your standard impound yard jerkface. “Whose car is that?! You can’t park there. You have to move now!” He said to Peter the second we walked in the door. Apparently where we parked wasn’t kosher and the dialogue of our visit continued in much the same manner. Out of all the people I had to pay off today with the last of my savings, he was my least favorite. Needless to say I was less than thrilled to hand him twelve hundred-dollar bills.

The car was an impressive sight. Upon seeing it, Peter and I both broke down into a solid laugh. Having unknowingly parked it under a pine tree for six months it was a disaster. If you were to go park it in a pine forest, you wouldn’t even see it through the brilliant camoflauge. Gobs of sap everywhere  glued the pine needles to every surface. The word “stolen” was written in the dirt on the back window. Something tells me this may have been a contributing factor in the car being towed. Not cool whoever did that. Either way, I had the car back. Finally. All I need to do now is get the thing smogged and go back to the DMV to finalize registration. Unfortunately it was now the 4th of July holiday week/weekend so I wouldn’t be able to get back to the DMV until the following Monday. Oh well, the DMV did give me several days of operating permits so I figured that I’d be safe until then.

So where did I drive first? Right back to the Berkeley Marina of course! There was the Tuesday night potluck so I figured I’d say hi to some old friends and hang out around a bonfire for a bit. I thought about leaving the car there again but thought it might not be a great idea. So I drove it back to Sausalito – land of outrageously expensive parking tickets – and chose my parking spot carefully.

Monday comes along. Time to get this done once and for all! I walk up the hill to go drive to get the car smogged. No car. WTF… Really?! I talked to the guys doing road construction across the street. “Aw dude, that was you? Bummer. Sorry man. They just towed it about an hour ago.” By this time I’m getting used to this. I walk down to the police station and the lady in the window what happened. Sure enough it got towed upon discovery for non-current registration stickers. After picking her brain for a couple minutes it turns out that there really wasn’t much else I could have done. Turns out I would have been better off leaving it in Berkeley.

Yippie. How I missed impound lots. The next day I hitch a ride to the San Rafael towing company with my sister. Hand over another wad of cash and get my car back, again. I proceeded directly to the smog test. Do not pass go, pay another hundred dollars. But it’s finally done. Car registered, tickets paid. Now time to sell the damn thing.

I call a buddy in Redondo Beach who expressed an interest in buying the car. “John, you still want the mammoth mobile?” He did so I drove down to LA the next morning. You’d think that it’d be smooth sailing from here but that’s not how I roll. Rolling it turns out is not my forte. While driving down the Interstate 5 my rear tire blows out. Boom! thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk. Of course right at cowschwitz… the giant cow slaughterhouse whose methane stench causes you to attempt to hold your breath each time you drive through. Shrug. Oh well. Adventure begins when things go wrong, right? Well adventure must be my middle name.

Pop goes the tire

Pop goes the tire

I had been driving at cruse control set to exactly the speed limit so far. No more tickets for G-off! With the spare rated at 50mph max the only thing I could get now was a ticket for going too slow. Driving up the grapevine I occupied the slow lane as the semi’s passed me to the left. Truth be told I was actually quite content moseying along at 50mph. Still a good click faster than my standard commuting speed of 6 knots.

Finally, I pull into the driveway at my mom’s house in Redondo. All I want to do is take a nice long nap, but now the real work of cleaning the car begins. Thankfully my mom felt inclined to help clean and between the two of us we were able to transform the car from a storage area disguised as a pine tree to a damn good looking car. I called over my friend John the second we got it presentable, went for a test drive, shook hands, and signed the paperwork. No more car!


It’s been fun, car.

At the end of the day I think I will probably have ended up paying $300 or so to get rid of my car. Not quite the $5k I was hoping to stash in the cruising kitty from selling it, but even with paying off the DMV, cops, and tow truck Tubby, I’m still stoked. When it comes down to it, having a car was the last physical thing anchoring my existence to land. Without any land ties I’m now free to go anywhere in the world without ever having to come back. It’s a crazy feeling. A sailboat, a rowboat, and a bicycle, all of which fit together into the perfect little adventure machine. Zero reliance on fossil fuels and virtually no carbon emissions. Still a few more loose ends to tie up before setting sail for good, but this was definitely a step in the right direction!