What happened … And what’s next for XyloVan

IMG_8513So here we were, all ready for Burning Man 2013.

We were gonna drive up there, set up XyloVan for all the Swing City visitors to play, get re-married on Tuesday, volunteer at Gate and Cafe again – just have a total ball.


Look! Here’s Xylovan all stuffed to the gills with gear, ready (or so it seemed) for the 12-hour drive to Black Rock City, NV!

IMG_851910 minutes from home, the engine overheats.

The thermostat meter needle – which used to live reliably in cool-as-a-cucumber territory – is now firmly, jauntily planted in the red.

We pull over at the nearest exit. In Pacoima.

If the Valley is L.A.’s backside, then Pacoima is the valley’s impoverished, crime-ridden asshole. Mercifully, there’s an Auto Zone across the road from the gas station parking lot where we land, which proves to be the only positive note about the arrangement.

So I change the thermostat. Ninety minutes later, it still overheats.

Then we decide it’s the water pump. The water pump is barely visible behind 4 belts, 1 fan and 4 other assorted devices. They must all be removed first before I can even get *at* the water pump.

I take this panorama (above right) so I have a prayer of reassembling everything correctly later.

IMG_8527Removing everything, gasketing and installing the new pump, takes the entire day.

For the next 11 hours, this is my position – hunched over the engine bay, bruising my arms and fingers, dropping tools, losing bolts and cursing the idiots who made the Rube-Goldbergesque arrangement of belts, brackets, pulleys and shit that hold together a 1985 Ford V8.

Mostly I’m cursing.

IMG_8523At midafernoon, I finally manage to disengage the (presumably) damaged water pump. It takes me till 8:30 p.m. to put everything back together.

And it overheats again. At this point, we throw up our hands, figure we’ll turn it over to a nearby mechanic in the morning, and retire for the night – my wife and daughter to a good motel in the sketchiest part of the Van Nuys prostitution strip (which is still better than Pacoima) and my son and me to the back benches of the van to guard against break-ins.

The next morning, a coroner’s wagon is parked outside the nearby liquor store. The old homeless guy who slept in the bushes passed away during the night. A horrible omen.

IMG_8514And then it hits me: There was oil in the coolant.

The fucking thing has blown a head gasket, and driving it 12 hours into the godforsaken Nevada desert is a surefire bad idea.

Amazingly, we’re able to locate and reserve a rental van, so we call the towtruck and plan to head home to figure out a better route to the playa.

IMG_8529The towtruck driver takes one look at this overloaded water buffalo and assures me cheerily, “If anyone asks, I never towed you.” Company regs say he can’t tow anything with cargo on the roof or equipment on the side – but he’s a cool guy and flatbeds us back home while the ladies cab it.

IMG_8531Plan B: Amazingly, we find a 15-pass Ford passenger van We pick up the rental van (thanks, AvonRents!), shift the gear, and leave town 18 hours later than planned, driving into the deep Sierra night.

And we have a fantastic burn, we renew our wedding vows amid much whooping and hollering, and we have the Best Burn Ever.

What’s to become of XyloVan? That’s under considerable discussion.

One school of thought says find another used vehicle and shift all the instruments, sound gear, electrical systems and lights to it, designing it this time from the ground up as a mutant vehicle so no serious work need be done to make it eligible for a playa driving permit. No more Janus-level mutations needed, but it’ll be costly to find a reliable used vehicle in better shape.

Another school of thought says stick with the devil you know for fear of the devil you don’t: Run a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to raise enough to have a rebuilt motor, tranny and front end put in, and keep the old monster rolling. Then figure out some sort of lightweight, low-cost, easy-to-transform mutation that doesn’t take 2-1/2 days on-playa to execute (like the aforementioned Janus)

Jury’s still out. We’re still thinking.

Anyway, XyloVan isn’t going anywhere until we figure this out – your input is welcome – but if you spot it out on the street while we’re trying to make up our minds, please bang on it for old time’s sake and make some music. We’ll leave sticks out. It’s awful lonesome there at the curb.

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