Trip #3. There exists a real irony in big American cars that are made in Canada. However, be that as it may, Crown Victoria's are, or rather were - since production ended in 2011, made in Canada at Ford's St. Thomas Factory not too far from Toronto. I was able to visit this plant a few years ago through work, and for a sedan junkie like me, it was nothing short of PHENOMENAL. It was amazing - Crown Victoria's, 980 a day, spawning from what looks like just the shell of a car roof to metamorphosing into an actual brand new car within a few short hours. In the parking lot, as far as the eye could see was a sea of color of various Crown Victoria's and Mercury Grand Marquis' awaiting their picks in life. I admit, my usual sappy self took great emotional stock in knowing that every Crown Victoria I've ever driven - from police cars to my old 89 station wagon, rolled down this same line that has not changed for the better part since the 50's when Crown Victoria's first started getting made. Anyhow - when a car is made, it is already sold, it's not like Ford Motor Company owns the cars at the factory. Actually, the car is sold before the metal is even poured to make what will become a car. A dealership orders cars - either through a customers desires, or, at the whim of the dealership. A VIN is assigned by Ford and stamped on paper, and once that future car's turn is called, that piece of paper with the list of options follows the car down the line until the factory poops out the final product.
So, now that you know this riveting fact, you have likely surmised that the grand high exalted mystic traveler known as 8D69 was born in Canada. It's American parents, Best Ford in the Bronx were the ones responsible for it's life - at least sort of kind of. Now, just because it was born there, doesn't mean it really ever got to *see* Canada, so on February 20, 2012, I had a vacation day and decided to take the 500 mile round mile trip to Montreal in my old cab. A homecoming of sorts. Well, not really, but you get the gist of what I mean. Of course, the car ran well, and prior to crossing the border I filled up as I didn't want to bother to change my U.S. currency into Canadian as the exchange rate sucks, and I was only going for the day. When I wheeled up to the stop sign at the border to wait my turn to speak with the border officer, I noticed other Canadian border agents in the building to my left opening the shades and looking at my car and smiling and talking amongst themselves. Well, I admit I assume that the car was the root cause, unless Canadian Border Officers spend all day lifting shades, pointing and giggling at *every* car that rolls through there.
When it was my turn, I rolled up to the border officer in the booth, who was very pleasant. I gave him my passport and he asked me where I was going and for what reason. I didn't tell him the real reason, which is that I am a complete nutcase and I was treating my car like it was my date. Instead, I just told him I wanted to wheel into Montreal for the day for fun and then head home. He handed me back my passport and told me to have an enjoyable day. It's funny, every time I have crossed into Canada as an "alien", officials there have been nothing but friendly. But whenever I come back HOME, the U.S. guys start in with the inquisition as to why I traveled to a city in a friendly non warring country only an hour from the border. More on that later.
Driving in Canada is always pleasant. In Quebec, the language difference from English to French is immediate - from road signs to the radio station. There is no easing into it. Quebec is French, and is in fact the second most French speaking place in the world. Also immediate is the text message your cell phone gets stating you are out of coverage unless you want the international plan. All I was thinking at that moment was PUHLEEZ don't die on me 8D69, or I am royally SCREWED! No money and no means to communicate in a foreign country is probably not the brightest decision I have ever made. Anyways, not even 500 feet into the country you are transported from mph to the metric system. So, "100" doesn't really mean ONE HUNDRED. In a car made for the USA, one now has to rely on those teeny tiny kilometers on the speedo. For being so far up north, the area in which I traveled was as flat as Kansas with large farms everywhere. People tend to drive pretty fast in Quebec, but there are plenty of passing zones so one doesn't have to feel stressed out when you just want to cruise. One thing I do not do in 8D69, is drive fast in it. It has far too many miles on the clock to be driven like a madman. I will spin it up to 75 or so on an interstate if it gets away from me by accident, but that is about it. People are all very friendly as well, in fact, whenever one roams about North America in rural areas, one should feel fairly self assured that if you ran into trouble, someone will aid you. Sort of a pay it forward system without actually knowing that expression even exists. I'm not naive, it's just simply my experience.
While cruising for about an hour, and trying to decipher how on earth their exit sign numbers work, I was able to find the major highway to Montreal. Getting in was easy, the road signs for finding places in Canada are all well marked. Finding how to get BACK to the U.S. though...? Well, let's just say it does not appear to be a high priority for the transportation department of Canada. I crossed the Pont Champlain Bridge and took the exit to Old Montreal, which is the old seaport section of Montreal. It has a very definite Euro feel to it, with it's cobbled streets and narrow passageways. Many of the buildings look absolutely ancient, as if they belonged in Rome.
Naturally, being the taxi geek I am, I noticed the cab system there also must be regulated. I noticed all the cabs were unmarked regular cars, from Impala's to Camry's with one tiny little sign on the roof. They are also everywhere. They did not look to be very busy, and the few I saw with passengers, the driver's drove slow and respectful like. Quite a few gave me a hat tip so to speak and at a stoplight to my right, a driver motioned for me to roll my window down. As I did so, he was smiling and reading the fare amounts on my rear door and then jokingly asked me for directions to the Empire State Building. At this point, wherever I was, I was lost, and I told him that for the first time in my life, I really didn't know. He smiled and the light turned green and off he went down another street. I noticed most of the cars in Montreal were small to medium sized. Finding a parking space became a challenge for me, but I was finally able to find one that the big Ford could fit in.
I walked around a bit and noticed later that my car was parked near the famous chapel Notre Dame.
It was a bit windy and cold, so I thought I would head back to the car and just cruise around instead. When I got back I was a little embarrassed to go near the car as it appeared that 8D69 was stealing all the attention of tourists away from Notre Dame. People were posing next to it, a dozen cameras and cell phones trained on it as it sat slowly ticking away it's heat from the drive up. I waited a bit for the scene to clear out so I could slip back into the car without any question, but - well, the scene never did clear out. I couldn't believe it - here was this car that went from total absolute obscurity and disdain, to what appears to be a traveling roadshow. I was off in the distant as to not be a third wheel and spoil their fun, but after getting a little too nippy, I finally walked toward the car, and I noticed everyone was speaking french. Nobody asked me anything about it, which made me happy - and I just nodded and smiled to be polite and then got in and drove away. Not even two blocks away I rolled up to a stoplight. To my right was about 40 people on the sidewalk, some of whom appeared to be young adults on a class trip of some sort. I saw one older guy nod his head my way - clearly announcing a NYC Taxi was over yonder, to which the remaining 39 heads locked eyes with the cab. Next thing I see, is everyone holding up cameras, yelling "New York City Taxi" in their heavy french accents and smiling and waving. It was really something - I felt as though old 8D69 took a breath and pushed it's chest out as if to say "Hell Yeah I am" (or was - lol). Quite literally, most every street I went down that was populated or at least had groups of people that were not walking, it was similar situations, so - at that, I thought it time to move on back home. Montreal is a beautiful, clean and progressive city and I highly recommend it to anyone. I would just recommend it in warmer months!
On my way back, I took a different route home to end up in upstate New York. It was a nice ride with plenty of neat views of rural living once you head out of the city limits. I've never seen farm fields as large as the ones I saw in Canada. As we approached the border of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, as the sign says in impressively large block letters as you approach the border, I took my camera out to snap a photo. Quite a bit of a different welcome as opposed to Canada. The first thing you see are cameras. Everywhere. Different sizes, planted here planted there - it makes you feel worried that someone will smell Cuban Cigar on your breath. I'm not whining about it, I get it and all, but it's like wow. I imagined I was on the red carpet of the Oscars - a flash here, a flash there. As I waited my turn behind a silver Impala (who was earlier taking pictures of me while on the road), I rolled up to the booth.
Like the language change is immediate when you enter Canada, so is the immediacy of a change from pleasantries to one of suspicion. So this border inspector....lol - I can't complain as I appreciate his astuteness, but woo hoo!. He starts in with this flat, blase 'I've Done This a Thousand Times Before' attitude. He asked me at least a dozen questions, each time looking at me in disbelief as I would answer. It felt like an interrogation and he would ask me questions verbalized in such a way that he *really* already knew the answer. Of course, when you're at the border, you're pretty much the most powerless and vulnerable person on earth - it's best just to smile and nod and answer lest you wish to have your time wasted by someone searching your car. It wouldn't have bothered me at all if it was, but, I don't imagine it is a whole lot of fun and good conversation. At one point while he was typing my info into the computer, his phone rang. He answered the phone and he said "I know, I'm running it now". Not sure what all that meant, but, when the guy was done asking questions, he was looking at his computer screen. He handed my passport back to me without looking, of which I took. I didn't know if he was completely done, so I sat there. After a moment of silent awkwardness, I asked him if I was all set; he said NOTHING - he just looked straight ahead at the next car that would roll through once I left. I mean this literally. He appeared to be disgusted with me, it was very confusing. So, after a few more seconds, I assumed he was indeed done, so I thanked him and wished him a good day, put the car in drive and drove away....slowly...just in case he wasn't..?... I was very confused as to just what he was doing! So, since no sirens or alarms went off, I pulled away a little faster and got the speedometer up to oh......3 mph. Just prior to leaving I had to drive through a series of cones and twists and turns. While I am the ilk of person to encourage border scrutiny, I have to admit I was a little perplexed. But oh well - life goes on and the road calls. Anyhow, enough of that.
On my way back through New York State, I cut back into Vermont and rolled 8D69 through the islands of Lake Champlain which is a very nice route. I've never been on Route 2 before and it was nice rolling and smooth ride. I was tempted to be the first person in known history to drive a NYC Taxi on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain, as many others were driving their trucks out on the ice, but decided against it. Heading south, I thought I would keep heading southeast and be the first person to drive a NYC Taxi across the oldest and longest covered bridge in the world which connects Vermont to New Hampshire before steering my way home.
After a nearly 600 mile day, I made it back to home base, got out - affectionately tapped 8D69 on the fender and thanked her for another great ride.
Other than the trip home from New York City, the first "real" trip I decided to take in the cab was a jaunt to the Atlantic Ocean along the seacoast of Maine. The trip was not new to me, as I had been going to the seacoast since I was an infant, but it was just long enough and far enough away, that it most definitely would classify as a trip, since the total mileage after cruising around would be roughly 500 miles or so. I also thought that it would be nice to cruise up the coastal route and give a little dash of color to old Gray Maine with my cab. Maine is one of the finest states one could ever visit - first of all it is huge in area, and I mean really big. Most of it is rural if not state forest. It is clean, diverse in it's topography and just a great place to visit. Whether it is the Appalachian Trail, a tall mountain, a farm, small towns, large cities or the quintessential port towns - it has everything. However, since I already live in the sticks, such things did not interest me, but rather - it was the ocean I needed to see.
Prior to the trip, it had dawned on me that 8D69 had already sniffed sea air before. Coney Island in Brooklyn is the beach community for NYC. From my perspective, Coney Island is not what I imagine it once was. The beach is disgusting - and so aren't most of the individuals who choose to go there. But the Atlantic Ocean in Maine? Just beautiful. And so aren't the beaches and the homes and the stores and the restaurants. I rolled into Maine via Interstate 95 after crossing the Piscataqua Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
From there, I cruised around the towns of Wells, Ogunquit and York, making a stop at the famous Nubble Light House.
The homes in this area are unbelievable; seriously, I mean they are really something else. What always strikes me the most unusual about so many of these homes, is that no one lives in them. Clearly, the homes are summer homes and owned by people whose bank accounts are not for the faint of heart. Kind of sad really - the homes and the grounds and the views are top notch. The southern Maine coastal towns in the late fall and early winter months are GHOST towns by the way. When I cruised through York, everything was boarded up. Roads that are usually one way traffic are now opened up to two way traffic. Speed limit signs that usually say 35 are now covered over with bolt on signs that say 50. It is rather surreal, and it is such that I often cannot decide if I like the loneliness of it, or if I miss the summer laughter, or the family cars with bikes tied to the roof, or the people walking in flip flops unshaven and relaxed. I suppose I am reading to much into it, because despite the relative low population of people in the off season months, there are still many a person who clearly enjoy the occasional day trip to Maine if only to wet the appetite for warmer months and summer vacations.
After a short rumble north on Route 1, I cruised into the Town of Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport is also a town that is predominately wealthy - or at least it seems that way. It's most famous resident is former President George W. Bush, who has a home that arrogantly sets on a large natural stone jetty. Secret Service is stationed there for obvious reasons, but there is a pull off for knuckleheads like me to pull over, take out the binoculars and see what George and Barbara are up to.
I have read before that George does not like his privacy compromised and has expressed disdain towards the reality that his home is a tourist trap. Unfortunately, there isn't a thing he can really do about it. I parked my cab in the little pull off and sat on a bench for awhile just to watch the waves crash against the rocks, only occasionally looking up with a hopeful stare that George might walk the dog or something; I've never seen him in all my years of going to Maine. I got back in the cab and took a tour of the homes in this area, cruising into neighborhoods that have probably never even SEEN a Crown Victoria, much less a yellow one. I even pulled into Bush's driveway to turn around just so I could say 8D69 has been to Geroge Bush's house. The Secret Service Agent in the booth just waved to me. The homes and neighborhoods I cruised through were unbelievable - and I mean jaw dropping butt clenching beautiful. What a great cruise through these neighborhoods. Before I left, I drove to the docks and sat for awhile listening to the boats in the harbor rock away - their ropes and buckles clanging against masts while there crusted keels lapped the cold blue-green water. As the sun started to make it's voyage from high in the sky to the west, I decided to make the roll home. As is becoming standard fare in this car, many people whether on the road or at occasional stops, would smile and wave at me. This is especially true for New Yorkers. I have noticed that no matter where I am, when a New Yorker sees the car, they get all bubbly about it. The thought occurred to me one day as ski traffic in Vermont was heading home and while trying to break into traffic, I waited and watched so many New York cars wave, take pictures or do double takes as they sped by. It is amazing how New Yorkers love a New York cab when it is far away from New York. Kind of strange.
Anyhow - the cab ran great with no troubles at all and doing the trip after I had made some repairs made me feel more confident with it. Many more trips to come with this awesome car.
Alrighty then - if you've read my "About My Story", you now know I have this old taxi and I'm about to drive it all over the place because I'm a weirdo. Now, when I bought this car, I fully expected there would be many things that would need attention. I am fairly handy with a car and can usually diagnose a problem, and if it is a car that is manufactured before the onset of onboard diagnostics (the computer brain of which one needs a special tool to access) I can usually fix it myself. I once bought a 69 Mustang Mach 1 SHELL that had been sitting in the woods for 27 years.
All by myself, using my rudimentary caveman skills, I was able to jack the thing up, install a rear end, springs, a front end assembly and an engine. Mind you, I did all this in the WOODS. I sawed through numerous trees, used a tractor to move other similarly abandoned cars and ended up hauling the car home on a flat bed and within a week had the thing running and driving (admittedly not very well)
Before I worked on this car, I remembered showing pics of it in the woods to friends. My friends, who are used to my afflictions, scoffed as usual. One such friend, and I shall never forget this, looked at the pic and said "It's a ghost, a shell, it's nothing, you'll never get it out of there". That struck lightning in me, and during the summer as I shed blood, sweat and tears working on this thing, those sharp words of his pushed me along. Do you any idea how hard it was to work on a car in the woods, amongst spiders, mosquitos and other assorted Vermont woods creatures? I'm surprised the car never fell on me. The car, by the way, is now fully restored and lives in Florida. Feeling I did what I could to save the thing, I sold it to a guy in Florida, who had it first shipped to a restoration shop in Kentucky. Aren't I AWESOME?!! Anyhow, I've done this sort of stuff numerous times and I love it. But this taxi of mine? Well, yeah it's an "old" cab, but - it's not really old. It's still actually relatively new. It's newer than my "nice" car that I have a loan on! But, despite it's relatively young age, it really is "old" simply because it has a lot of really hard miles on it. I go to New York a lot. My brother lives down there and my fiancee is from Harlem. Most of a NYC Taxi's life is spent in Manhattan, and Manhattan, all considering is not really that big. So the fact a car can have so many miles on it in such a relatively small area is really quite remarkable. It's also a really remarkable feat of engineering that cars can even get so many miles on them under such adverse and difficult conditions.
So, in the case of 8D69, there were indeed a few issues with the car that needed repairing. Some of the work I would have my local trustworthy mechanic perform - who is as honest as the day is long; I trust him with anything. The transmission leaked fluid like a sieve - the whole undercarriage of the car looked like it was undercoated. Thankfully, the car shifted fine (when it had fluid in it) and sounded like a normal Crown Vic transmission should sound like. It ended up being a seal on the front of the drive shaft that cost $30. Other things it needed: The valve cover gaskets were deteriorated and would leak oil directly onto the exhaust manifold, which would smoke like crazy and smell and is also a fire hazard. I've seen too many youtube videos of cabs turning into infernos so, I fixed this immediately. Even if it wasn't a fire hazard, when you turned the heat on, the oil smoke would get sucked right into the car and you couldn't breathe. I once went in to grab a pizza one cold night and left the heat on with my fiancee in the car (who hates my car by the way - more on that in another blog) and when I came out the car was off. I opened my door and smoke rolled out and she was all mad saying the car was trying to kill her - "Cono Diablo!" (She's Dominican...I'm used to this sort of stuff now). Tires. The tires on this car are size P235 55R17. What that means is they are EXPENSIVE. Like $250 a piece expensive. Thank the Good Lord He in his infinite wisdom allowed police departments to use Crown Vics too, as I was able to find some used tires that for whatever reason were considered not good enough for police service. Those cost 10 bucks a piece; a bargain with plenty of life left in them. Power Steering Pump. Ford's always make this unusually annoying grinding noise when your turn the wheel - you always know when a Ford is nearby. But on the cab, it went from the usual grind to ear piercing scream. So, I changed the power steering pump. U-Joint. Whenever I would back the car up, it sounded like the Beverly Hillbillies truck - squeaka, squeaka, squeaka, squeaka. A simple U-Joint that cost $27. Things it needs still is a wheel alignment - the front end on this car is a bit....uh, how do I describe it..? Skewed? Yeah that's it....skewed. The next thing I tackled was finding a short somewhere in the dash lights. When I first got the car, the ABS, Brake and Engine Light were all on, but then would mysteriously all go out. As would the high beam light indicator, the gas gauge/temp gauge in addition to the annoying crown victoria "buckle up" audio dinger. Then, after what could be 10 minutes or 1 hour, they would come back on. Sometimes the odometer wouldn't turn on either. So - clearly, some kind of mess going in the dash cluster. When a NYC Taxi cab is in service, it runs ALOT of different electrical equipment. First, it has the meter, then it has the credit card machines, GPS, and of course "Taxi TV" for the passengers in the back seat. So - when all this stuff is either installed or removed - it doesn't take much to touch off electrical issues. In any event, I believe I have fixed the issue, the OBDII scanner does not indicate any codes, I've gotten the issues that prompted the initial flashing of the lights repaired and at present, 8D69 is a green light GO.