Street Legal

Days went by, with the boxy green van seeming to whisper ‘Let’s Go!’ every time I walked by its spot on the curb outside the house. The weather was awful; freezing, stormy and snowing like crazy, and I was hesitant to attempt the trek west in a big metal rectangle on wheels. Not the ideal vehicle for tackling windy, narrow ice-slick mountain passes. But then I was requested to head out to Phoenix, AZ to train a new hire for my company, and days later a friend working in the Grand Canyon managed to procure a sought-after permit to hike and camp down in the canyon by the mighty Colorado river. The final straw came when a flurry of letters arrived addressed to our homeowners (who neither myself or any of my roommates had ever met) notifying them of their impending foreclosure. Turns out, you actually have to pay your mortgage to keep ownership of your house. We weren’t required to leave, but I took the news as a clear message from the universe—a big metaphorical boot, kicking me in the rear, right out the front door.

But there was one more hurdle to clear before leaving. I had been driving around with the sixty-day temporary tag, procrastinating the inevitable emissions test I needed to officially register the van, which I was sure it would fail. The rumbling, sputtering gasps of the air-cooled, fuel injected engine in the forty-year old vehicle didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence. So with just a couple days left of the grace period supplied by the fluttering piece of green paper in the back windshield, I reluctantly puttered down to the nearest Air Care Colorado and turned over my keys.

Sitting in the tiny white-washed waiting room surrounded by the wonderful aromas of cigarettes and dirty socks, I immediately begin to worry when I noticed the ‘beeps!’ punctuating the garage after each vehicle rolled off the raised testing platform. Courtesy of a spunky little Tesla that didn’t feel like stopping at the red light glaring into the downtown intersection on my way over, I had learned another one of Turtle’s fun little quirks while being pelted in the back of the head by things I forgot to tie down in the back as I screeched to a halt: the horn didn’t work. Slamming my hand down on the little button at the center of the enormous steering wheel was just about as effective at alerting the offending driver as shaking my fist in anger out the window. My anxiety continued to mount as I watched car after car roll happily away twenty minutes after being hooked into the numerous hoses and fans on the testing platform. Turtle had rolled away almost immediately, but outside to the back of the building for reasons I could only guess at. After about an hour I left the waiting room to peer out around the corner of the building. The site didn’t help to ease my worrying. The mechanics were standing around the van, one pulling a retractable hose on and off the tailpipe while the others just stood around scratching their heads with looks of utter bewilderment. I emerged from around the corner and asked if anything was the matter, not really wanting to hear the answer. “Yeah, we can’t get a reading on the computer. The muffler shakes too bad for the hose to stay on.”

Five minutes later I was laying on the ground with another one of the mechanics, gripping with all my might on the vibrating muffler, my arms about to shake out of their sockets. “Hold it… hold it… got it!” I heard the shout over the deafening rattle. “Did it pass?” I asked. “Oh, we just finally got a reading. The computer analyzes the exhaust and tells us if it passed”. Great. I spent the next twenty minutes plotting how I could extend the life of the temporary tag; maybe I could smudge the permanent marker to make the ‘April’ Look like ‘June’? Eh, not likely. Use an old tag? It’s got a 2015 sticker on it. Darn. How am I ever going to get this beat up old van street legal?

I held my breath as the mechanic finally walked over with the folded slip of paper, his face set in a grim expression. He stopped a few feet away, arm outstretched offering the paper—and broke into a huge grin. “Congrats dude”, he said. “She passed.”

A quick stop at the DMV, five minutes in the parking lot finagling the shiny new license plates onto their mounts with screws and zip ties, and I was on the highway headed west by mid-afternoon.

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