Love Letter to a Storage Yard

Every time I fly back home, it takes a full day just to leave the Detroit Metro Airport area. This is despite having two cars nearby. They’re at a storage yard only four miles away, but getting them requires going through an elaborate operation involving hiking and hotels.

This developed for several reasons: Detroit has no public airport transportation options. Taxis are out the question for the distance I have to go to reach my hometown. The cars need to be stored somewhere. It might as well be by the airport.

I’m also in short supply of friends who can give me rides, and I wouldn’t want to bother them with it anyway. The move to China has been an open-ended one. When I planned it, I didn’t know if I’d be here for one year or ten. It would be unacceptable to go to the same people over and over for rides years on end. Also unacceptable is the idea of leaving my hard-earned vacation time vulnerable to the whims of others. It’s a long chain of transportation to get me from my Beijing apartment to a motel or camping spot somewhere far out in Michigan. Other individuals cannot be part of the equation.

It was my choice to live overseas. I need to be a mobile, self-contained unit.

I found the storage rental business in the months before the move. It’s in Romulus, Mich., a municipality whose heart was carved out and an airport put in its place. The square-shaped city completely surrounds the airport.

The storage place has the usual rows of metal shed buildings, but out back it has even more space for keeping vehicles. A great expanse of aged concrete sits out there surrounded by barbed wire fencing and scrubby woods. Faded yellow paint lines demarcate each rented spot. It’s a parking lot like any you would see at a large American retail shopping center, except the spots are twice as long to accommodate one of the two primary types of renters there: motorhome owners.

The other type are people who store junk cars. You can fit two in one parking spot. Some of the cars appear to be awaiting a long-imagined restoration. Some are in decent shape. Most are not. Many are dented-up cars from the late 80s or after, not the years people usually care about for project cars. Front ends are stoved in, tires are flat, rims sit on bare concrete.

To get there, I walk two miles from a hotel just before dawn. This is after arriving the evening before and taking one of the shuttle buses that serve the many chain hotels in the area. There are two long strips of these hotels on the streets between the airport and the storage yard. Among them are chain restaurants and gas stations.

Once there, I don’t just get in a car and go. The cars are under tarps and raised on jack stands. The batteries are disconnected. The carburetors are dry of fuel.

The tarps are tightly bound with an array of bungees, tie straps, and spare rope. It takes time to undo all this. Then out comes a 3-ton floor jack I keep in the trunk of the Buick. Jack up the car and get it off the jack stands. They’re placed one at each wheel to keep pressure off the tires. Sitting for months in one spot can make the tires’ shape go out of whack, which leads to the car shaking badly at high speeds.

The Buick is my main car, one that I’ve spent years resurrecting, repairing everything from “stem to stern” as my friend’s dad, who taught me how to fix it, says. It’s a two-tone green 1979 Buick Electra 225, or Deuce and a Quarter. I have gone to great lengths for this car.

It gets the first try. I connect the battery and try to start the engine. This is mostly just to get gas moving from the tank toward the carburetor. Then I go under the hood and squirt a shot of starter fluid into the top of the carburetor and give the throttle a few pulls by hand.

I get back inside the car and pump more on the gas pedal and try to start it. If it doesn’t start, I give it a moment to let the fuel settle. If it does, I let it run a while to let the seals and everything else come back to life.

Meanwhile, I head over to the second car, a blue 1985 Dodge Diplomat that’s impossibly disheveled. Ripped, rusted, and discolored. The battery posts and cables of this car corrode easily. It’s the type of battery where open-ended cables are clamped onto posts on top of the battery. A stupid design. There’s little point in trying to start it without cleaning things up first with a wire brush. Between the brush and the copper wires, I end up poking a hole in a finger and bleeding.

I check the fluids and top things off. Incredibly, neither car has ever leaked much fluid while sitting there, even after a year. The seals have maintained their integrity, and I haven’t come back to find my engine or transmission or radiator totally empty.

I keep a wide range of tools in the spacious trunk of the Buick. Everything from a heavy duty jack to a timing light and spare distributor cap. Electrical diagnostic meter, transmission fluid, oil, antifreeze, carburetor cleaner, spray cleaner for the dash and steering wheel, a “Booster Pac” portable jump starter, spare alternator belt, gas, large sockets, and breaker bars for stuck bolts. In the back seat I have work boots, work pants, cargo shorts, rubber sandals, black t-shirts, blankets, and water.

Barring any problems, I get each car started and the engines get some heat in them. The Diplomat stays and off I go in the Buick to grab my luggage and check out of the hotel.

Before I make the 80-mile journey to my hometown, I drive to a government office to update the vehicle registration that has usually expired since my last visit, making this drive technically illegal. It’s a short but uneasy drive. Police are always looking for expired license plate stickers, and my car stands out. At any moment, there’s never another car on the road like it, not even other older cars. My fear is not so much over the fine I’d have to pay, but of the spitting mad rage it would bring on. It would take me days to stop brooding on the irony of coming from authoritarian China to freedom-loving America only to be tagged by the police as soon as I got there. It would foul my vacation.

In theory, the design of my system should allow me to go from the airport straight to my car and be on my way in about two hours. That’s even happened, once.

You might think my old cars are the reason it takes me so long to leave the airport area — that I have to spend a lot of time fixing them just to get out of there. That’s not it. It comes from timing, and much of that has to do with the visits to the motor vehicle office.

I have to plan my arrival with the office’s hours in mind. I can’t land on a Saturday and then drive long distances with expired plates until Monday. If I arrive on a Friday night, I possibly could hit the office during its limited Saturday morning hours, but I’d have only till noon, and there’d still be the hotel checkout and all this storage yard business to handle.

Because of the complexities of shift scheduling at my job, Thursday is the earliest day of the week I can arrive. Miraculously, Delta has direct nonstop flights between Beijing and Detroit. The flight is 12 hours, same as the time difference between the two cities. It works out that I arrive in Detroit at the same time I left Beijing, often right down to the hour.

So I have that going for me, but the airline’s schedules are such that the earliest I arrive to Detroit is in the afternoon, sometimes with only hours to spare until the storage yard’s electronic gate closes at 9 p.m. It’s feasible to arrive on a Thursday afternoon, grab a car, and go, but that’s pushing it. Such a plan assumes there will be no mechanical problems with the car, and leaves the license plate question unanswered.

Going directly to the storage yard from the airport also requires a taxi. This is galling because the whole point of these contortions is to be self-reliant in transportation. It’s not as cost-effective as it should be either. The taxi company that serves the airport has a $25 minimum fare. So it costs $25 to go four miles. The gouging makes me more than happy to give two to three times as much to a hotel, where I get a big bed, bathtub, TV, breakfast, and a shuttle for the money.

A hotel puts me within practical walking distance of the storage yard. And it gives me all day Friday to deal with everything. Arrive and take shuttle to hotel. Decompress from the 12-hour plane ride. Wake up and start walking to the yard at 5:30. The gates open at 6. Fix the car if there are problems and get back to the hotel before checkout time. If the problems are dire, I walk back and possibly stay another night while I figure out a plan.

Storage Yearn

I’m not complaining, exactly. This was my idea and I’m grateful it came to me. I like the self-reliance it provides, and I enjoy working through the steps of the procedure.

But it’s a lot to deal with as soon as you arrive. Endure China and CGTN weirdness for months on end looking forward to only thing on the horizon, a trip home, and when you finally get there you spend the first 24 hours trying to leave the five-mile radius around the airport.

It’s far easier to get to the airport in Beijing, where I should be well out of my element, than in Detroit. It’s only two subway stops and a transfer away from my apartment. Forty minutes, hardly any thinking involved. The only hard part is the short walk to the subway station, pulling my suitcase through the crowd. Whether coming or going, the major flow of the crowd inevitably is going against my direction. But once on the subway, it’s basically over.

In my home state of Michigan, I have to come up with a convoluted, multi-phased plan spanning two days filled with toil. Rolling around on the dirty, gravelly ground in spare clothes kept in my car for just this occasion. Sweating in July or August sun. The sunlight always going straight into my eyes even as I lie under the car because it’s always sunrise or sunset when I’m out there and the angle of the sun shoots the light right onto my retina. If it’s winter, I first have to sweep snow off the ground before I get down there to start handling cold knuckle-ripping metal. All this is after walking two miles from the hotel.

Unique Path

I can’t help but see myself from the outside when I’m doing the Romulus walk. On the first one, I was carrying a book published in 1953 about China. It was some sort of foreign policy assessment aimed at academics and policymakers of the day. It had been discarded by a small college library in my hometown and dumped into one of those free giveaways libraries do when they shuffle their inventory. I figured now was the time to put it to use.

When I was at the car, I saw the book in the backseat. I’d forgotten to put it in my suitcase. I grabbed it.

I was wearing black rubber sandals, khaki green cargo shorts, a black t-shirt, and sunglasses. Trudging. I marched across fields, book swinging in my arm, trucks and warehouses around me. Not totally weird, but not quite right either.

“If I get hit by one of these trucks and people come to help, or am being eyed by airport security in the unlikely event that they keep an eye out for unusual things this far away, what would I say I am doing here? I’m walking from that storage yard over there where I have two fucked-up rusty cars each more than 30 years old, that have long been part of a running joke about how I’m a serial killer who needs cars with big trunks to store dead hookers, to a hotel on the other side of those ambush-rape woods. And I’ve got this book from the 1950s about the threat of the wily, determined Chinese Communists.”

“Are you planning to fly somewhere?”

“Yes. In the hotel I have a one-way ticket to Beijing, where I will work for the country’s biggest TV broadcaster, run by the Communist Party of China.”

It would all seem like nonsense.

What would a person think, if somehow able to watch me go from being on the gravelly, oil-stained pavement in the far back of an easy-to-miss storage yard at the outer edge of an airport area, surrounded by busted-up cars and scrubby overgrown weeds; to walking across commercial, industrial, and rural lands; out from the woods at a forgotten dead-end corner of a road lined with budget hotels on one side and a huge airport parking lot on the other; and finally get onto a plane to Beijing. Once in Beijing, he goes into that building? guarded by soldiers in full military uniform? What the hell is this guy up to?

And yet when I think of going home, it’s the image of this place that most excites me. I long for it. The thought of it fills me with feelings of warmth and wellbeing. My cars in their slot, still securely covered in their tarps amid all the other junk cars.

I don’t know why I look forward to being there so much. Almost every moment there has been one of stress. It starts off with such glowing feelings. The sun, the air, the comforting presence of my slabs. But there’s always a problem, despite my elaborate arrangements. Within minutes I’m fending off rising desperation. I go from international traveler emerging scrubbed-clean from a hotel to sweating in the dirt out behind some metal buildings beyond the airport.

Another jet passes overhead. The lonely sound falls on me. I’m lying in the dust and gravel.

The sound of a train horn comes through the trees.

Going to China

When it comes time to return to China, I do the inverse of everything I did when I arrived. Drive to hotel. Drop off luggage. Drive to storage yard. Park car. Raise it on jack stands. Disconnect battery. Put on tarp. Walk to hotel. Bathe, eat, sleep. Take shuttle to airport.

I invariably arrive at the hotel two hours after I planned. I hurriedly check in and drop off my luggage before driving to the yard. The pressure is on to get the cars all set before the sun goes down.

Once there, the first order of business is to pour fuel stabilizer into the gas tank and let the engine run for five minutes to keep the gasoline from going bad. I always plan my driving for the last day or two so that by the time I arrive, I only have a gallon or two in the tank and won’t need to use much stabilizer.

While the engine is running, I begin jacking up the car and setting it on the jack stands. I have the car stereo going and am working happily, thinking that getting all this done in half an hour is a reasonable goal.

I have to disconnect the battery before the big job of putting on the tarps is done. No more music.

Getting the tarps on never goes as quickly as it should. After I unravel it and start covering the car, I see that I forgot to put up the window and have to reconnect the battery to get it back up, forcing me to start over. There are never enough bungees. Old tarps have to be discarded and replaced with new ones. It wasn’t until Year Three that I finally had the all the right tarps and bungees, and had an efficient tarping experience.

It’s important to get the tarp tightened down thoroughly all the way around, so the wind doesn’t get ahold of some wayward flap and begin tearing at it over the coming period, which usually includes a full Michigan winter. It’s also important not to go cheap on tarps. The first several times I came back, I arrived to see my tarps beginning to fray and tear or already in tatters. It took me two years to learn that it was easier in the end to buy the most expensive tarps on offer. Canvas ones are best. You might think plastic would work best because it repels rain, but it can’t withstand the sun’s rays and other elements, and ends up disintegrating and ripping to shreds in the wind. The storage yard is full of cars with the flapping remains of tarps on them. Ribbons and bits of tarp blow about the parking lot, collecting in piles along the fences and at the wheels of vehicles.

Close attention must be paid to ensure everything is done well. I fret all the while I’m in China about the tarps, of getting an email from management that my arrangement is in violation of some needling, arbitrary rule American businesses have a fondness for. They have sent general notices about tarps and jack stands. Tarps can’t be tattered and flapping. Wheels can’t be all the way off the ground. I also worry about other renters or fence-jumpers messing with my cars. They see the tattered tarps and know that no one has been there to check on the cars for a long time. They could pop the trunk, steal tools, smash a window and the owner wouldn’t know it for months. I have to push these thoughts out of my head at night.

At this point, it’s been at least two hours since I left the hotel. By the time I’m done, I’m sweaty and dirty and have grime on my hands and arms. Between setting the jack stands and getting the tarps tightened down, I do a lot of work lying on the ground. Dust and dirt are all over my clothes. This is why I keep work clothes always at the ready in the car. I change down to my underwear right there in the parking lot.

Once everything’s buttoned up, I begin the trek back to the hotel and start breathing easy again. My head is already out of the country to some degree. I feel like I’m entering China as part of one fluid movement, from storage yard to entering my Beijing apartment. I’ll step into a box, the hotel, then step into another one, the shuttle van, step into a bigger box, the airport, then into the machine attached to it, wait a while, step into another box, then a machine on tracks. I emerge from underground within a few minutes’ walk from my apartment door.

This is the linchpin of the system. This is how I get to China. When I walk to the hotel, it’s like I’m walking to China itself.

March of Romulus

In walking to the hotel, I emerge from among the long rows of metal boxes on dusty asphalt that is the storage facility, onto a fast-moving four-lane street of warehouses, a gas station, a Tim Hortons, an auto parts store, small factories, and trucking operations, all distributed so widely as to have no natural connection with one another. Sometimes a cement sidewalk begins, only to end after a couple of properties. Empty fields bearing “for lease” signs sit among them, ready for another faceless square factory or warehouse. Occasionally there is a tightly-packed stretch of three or four tiny shoddy houses. Being close to the airport, logistics operations naturally sprang up around here. But it apparently happened in a slapdash manner.

Most of the walk is across scrubby roadside grass and weeds and shoulder gravel. Semitrucks blast air at me as I walk a few feet from the road. The sound of jet engines falls across everything. Washes of traffic noise flow in from the expressway a mile to the south.

The zoning is perfectly disorganized. A warehouse next to a house next to a convenience store next to a small factory. Then it repeats but not in the same exact sequence. And a gas station or some other random business might be in the mix. The whole area is in disarray, like it was carelessly discarded.

It has the unnatural feel of a science fiction movie. Devoid of meaning. Notable not for its character but by its lack of one. It doesn’t matter if it’s a warm July morning at sunrise or a November night, it always feels this way.

My eyes fall onto strange plastic shapes on the ground — bits of industrial packaging and dunnage from the logistics operations in the area. They join the usual roadside litter of plastic bottles and fast food waste.

As if things couldn’t get more unbalanced, then comes an area that is positively rural. Bucolic, even. A little rural pocket of homes on dirt roads amid so many trees that it’s practically a forest. Houses sit on large properties full of trees. Outside are piles of wood that can be used for heating.

This rural pocket obviously predates the airport. It’s only a tenth of a square mile in area, sandwiched between the low-grade industrial, commercial, and residential properties on one side and an equally soulless strips of soulless chain hotels and restaurants on another. The I-94 expressway bounds it to the south. Above, never-ending jets. Squeezed on all sides.

On its north is a pothole-filled two-lane road with scrub woods on the other side. I come in from this side. A mesh of dirt roads runs through the rural section. Enter one of the roads and work diagonally though the pocket to emerge at its southwest corner. You come to a point where one dirt and one paved road both come to an end, perpendicular to each other. Stretching into the distance ahead is the well-kempt sprinkler-system lawns of the hotel chains. Landscaping and sidewalks. That’s all on the left, the south side of the road. The north side is filled entirely by an enormous fenced-off parking lot. It’s so big it has its own air traffic control-looking tower.

A sequence of commercial-industrial-residential-rural zoning. In less than two miles, the walk goes from warehouses, through a country community, and into this most plastic of modern scenes.

Why not walk to the airport?

In the beginning, I imagined I could simply walk to the airport. The storage yard is close enough to the airport that a person should be able to walk to or from there. This doesn’t bear out in practice. There’s no way to do it without probably drawing Homeland Security attention. There’s no sidewalk or even the shoulder of a regular road to walk on. It’s all expressways leading into the terminals. You’d have to enter an expressway on foot at the nearest ramp, not at all intended for pedestrians, and trudge down the rocky shoulder amid fast-moving traffic all the way into the airport.

I drove around the whole place a few times one year, hardly believing it. There must be some way for a person to walk to the airport, I thought. But no. It also looks like you’d have to walk across large expanses of grass, only to find fences in your way, necessitating long go-arounds to get to places almost right in front of you. Dragging luggage across airport grass would be conspicuous. It almost certainly has never been done at this airport, making it all the more likely to cause a run-in with security.

It raises an interesting question though: What about people who live nearby? It seems silly that they should have to worry about getting a ride into the airport. They already suffer the noise and low property value that comes from living by it; they should at least get this one benefit. What about that rural pocket? It has stood stolidly all these decades, enduring the endless blasting of jet engines. Is it too much to ask that the residents be able to walk to the airport that’s introduced so much unpleasantness into their lives?

The dirt road stretching behind you at this point separates the rural area’s western edge from the big parking lot, connecting the hotel street with the pot-holed street that lines the rural section’s north. This dirt road had been open to traffic when I first started doing all this. Or at least it wasn’t closed. The road was ill-maintained, full of puddles and weeds encroaching from the sides. It looked like you weren’t supposed to drive down it or that it went nowhere. It heads into woods that look well-suited for a murder.

But I noticed it there during my very first of these operations, the night before leaving for China. I was driving from the hotel to the storage yard and looking to see what path I could take to walk back. I’d never been on any of these streets before. I came to the end of the hotel road expecting it to dead end, and then saw a dirt entrance of some sort tucked away at the very back corner, away from the hotels. It had no sign marking its name. I could only guess that it was a road and not the entrance to a logistics or utility operation of some sort, tucked away back there somewhere. But I bombed my big old Buick through the holes and puddles and came out the other side closer to my destination. A perfect shortcut. I later came back from China to find it barricaded with cement blocks. The local government had abandoned it. Now I can’t drive through there but can still jump the barricade and use the shortcut for my walks.

I paint a bleak picture, but these walks are one of the things I most look forward to when coming home. I’ve loved them from the beginning. There’s always a feeling of triumph that comes with them.

It’s the kind of odd situation I enjoy, and the solitude offers a moment to relax. It’s either a much-anticipated walk to see my beloved cars after a long journey from Beijing, or it’s after the hard part of my contorted airport procedure is over, and I’ll soon be relaxing in a hot bath at the hotel. One last time to bask in fresh Michigan air before descending into smoggy Beijing, or a time awash with joy to finally be entering clear air and trees, treading on grass, walking the earth without a bunch of fucks around me everywhere I go. I may be the only person on earth who sees Romulus, Mich., as a destination for enjoying fresh air and the outdoors.

The walk has come to represent this China time of my life. It’s the image that first rises to top of mind. Of all the symbols of my time in China — commutes to work, my apartment, people I talk to every week, the striking building I work in — this is what stands out. A dirty walk across castoff Romulan lands. All the planning and obstacles, the entire experience of being in China, take a subordinate position to this.

Photo Gallery – The Storage Yard

First Return to the Storage Yard – 2017
Panel Strands

Booster Trickle

A key element of my initial setup was a solar trickle charger.

To keep the Buick battery from going bad, I attached the charger and placed the battery inside the Diplomat, on the driver side floor to protect the charger’s regulator from the weather.

The solar panel itself was on the hood of the car. I duct-taped it there. The cord to the regulator ran over to the thin space between the side fender and the door, through the gap. Wires from the regulator were attached to the battery by jumper cable style-clips on the ends.

Ten months later, it was time to put the system to the test. My first return to the Storage Yard.

I put the Buick battery back in the car and tried to start it. It gave a few cranks and then nothing. I wondered if the panel hadn’t gotten enough exposure. Though sitting on untarped hood, my kayak above it may have blocked it too much of the time. I’d strapped the kayak to the roof of the Diplomat as a handy place to store it. The tarp covered the plastic kayak to prevent warping from sitting in direct sunlight. The extra volume of the kayak prevented the tarp from completely covering the car, which was good because it left the hood open to tape the panel to, but bad because now there was this kayak-and-tarp overhang partially blocking the sun. Maybe that cut the amount of shine time just enough to ruin the plan.

It was on the Diplomat to save us. I opened the hood. Coral growths of corrosion had again grown on the battery terminals. That didn’t mean it was as bad as it looked. The battery had come with the car when I bought it eight years earlier. I had drained it many times over the years, after trying to start the car too many times while working on it, or because something had been left on. Just when I thought it’d finally seen its day, I would find corrosion had creeped up the cable line and ruined the wiring, or that a ground connection was bad. Nothing was ever wrong with the battery.

I gave it a try. Nothing. I remembered the ignition system in this car is weird and you have to hold the key down for several beats before it does anything. You need faith. I tried again and it started up, after some judicious pedal work.

Smoke started coming from underneath the car. It smelled like actual fire, not just the usual smoking that comes from starting a long-sitting dirty car. I looked and saw leaves had piled up under there and were about to ignite. They were touching the catalytic converter. It’s so badly plugged up that the car runs quiet even though there is no pipe or muffler after the converter. It had gotten hot quickly.

I shut it off, cleared out the leaves, started it up, charged up the battery, attached it to the Buick battery, and after a while got the Buick going.

Yet again the Diplomat had saved me.

The same thing happened the following year.

The morning started off in the highest spirits, as it always does on the return home. Up before sunrise, get some hotel coffee, summer time Michigan morning. Anticipation of seeing my children.* Couldn’t be happier.

I wasn’t 14 steps past the hotel grounds before the shit started.

The sidewalk goes along the soft green grass of the hotels lined up one after another on this street. The grass patches are well fed by sprinkler systems. On the sidewalk I see a puddle formed from this morning’s sprinkling. Mosquitoes begin assaulting me. They’re the most aggressive, tenacious mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered outside a forest.

I’m holding a small open-topped Styrofoam cup of cheap coffee from the hotel lobby. I was so happy to be bouncing along with free American coffee outside on an American morning. Now the coffee is spilling with every slap at a mosquito. Jerking an elbow isn’t good enough. They hang right on and dig in if you don’t hit them directly on. They’re crazed.

It was those sprinkler systems. They created puddles for the mosquitoes to breed. They abated once I was past the well-kempt lawns of the hotels and into the scrubby woods at the edge of the rural pocket.

Once at the yard, I found the Buick battery once again dead. I got the feeling that the trickle charger was somehow pulling charge out of the battery. It was still a fairly new battery and was designed for a larger vehicle. It should have been fine after a year even if I’d done nothing to it.

The Diplomat battery wouldn’t work either but I figure that’s because I’m not trying hard enough. Clean those posts, clean those cables. Mess it with it long enough and it’ll start. Always does.

It doesn’t. I can feel the morning slipping away. The vacation, slipping away. Panic rises. The jets fly overhead. 

That sound. The stillness of the yard.  I’m down here in the middle of this wasteland of vehicles, scratching away at battery terminals and wires.

I have a battery charger but it requires an electrical outlet. I remember that the management office opens at 9 o’clock. I’ll go up there and ask to plug the charger into one of their sockets. They must see this situation all the time, I think. It’s less than an hour till they open.

“Sorry,” the woman says when the time comes. “We don’t have one available.” This is a new woman working the counter. She’s not welcoming and friendly like the lady who used to work here, the one I signed the papers and made all my arrangements with. She had a warm, down-home comfort about her.

This new one, I don’t like her demeanor. She’s pinched and uptight. She’s probably going to take this entire storage business in a terrible, fussy direction.

It’s nonsense to say an outlet isn’t “available”. They’re not arranged by appointment. It was her mealy-mouthed way of saying she couldn’t be bothered to help me.

But I do have the good fortune of being across the street from an auto parts store. It’s a serious one, meant for the truckers and factory workers around here, not just your usual backyard oil-changers.

This is where I bought my Booster Pac. $150.

It got the Buick started with a snap. Then I got the Diplomat started.

I drove to the hotel and the motor vehicle office. At one of the stops, I had to hit the battery again with the Booster Pac.

I made the long drive to my hometown. The next day I had troubles starting the car when it was hot, while running errands. It needed a new battery or starter, or maybe something else. Whatever the case, I couldn’t drive around like this. I drove back to the storage yard, got the Diplomat, and drove it back.

I forgot that the Diplomat has a surprising amount of accelerating power. It is a wreck of a car but the engine and transmission are fine. The car pitched and creeked as I peeled out of the storage facility. Dust was flying off. Long white shreds of the duct tape on the hood were flapping. A rear wheel was making a scraping sound as the metal drum brake rolled around. This great mess blasting out the gate. The Diplomat, to the rescue again.

The next day I bought a $200 battery, took it to the Buick, and that was the end of it. Three days after arriving.

“This one should help me get through a year of storage with less BOSCHYET!” I told a friend.

Before I went back to China, I needed yet again to buy more tarps and bungees to replace ones that had disintegrated. That was $160.

That came to $500 in storage-related vehicle costs for this trip. It costs that much again to rent the parking spot for the year. A rental car after nearly a month of travel might cost more, or it might not. I have little clue, as I’ve never checked. I don’t dare.

Just before my grand march back to the hotel weeks later, the night before my flight, I saw as I was lying in the hot dust under the car, buttoning up the Diplomat’s tarps, that a spot in the frame is nearly rusted away entirely. It’s a foot-long stretch right under my feet when driving.

The Diplomat is too dangerous to drive. On my most recent trip, its battery couldn’t be revived, even after charging overnight in the work bay at my friend’s business, The Detroit Bus Co. It will be the Buick’s turn to save the Diplomat when I return for good some day.

* “My children”: A self-motivational trick-device I employ to keep myself on the effective side of adulthood.