Car Story: The Kerouac Cadillac by Threetails

Since I'm asking for money to fix a car, why don't I tell you all a story about one of my favorite cars? If you like this story, please consider leaving a tip at and keep watching this space, because I've got more car stories to keep you entertained.

I think, of all the cars I've owned, the one I miss the most is a 1992 Cadillac Deville I bought on its last legs. It was white on white, and would have been a gorgeous car if not for years of neglect that left the paint peeling off in foot-wide sheets as I drove down I-40 across the Southwest. The radio never did work properly; I always kept a boombox in the passenger seat and a generous selection of home-burned CDs instead.

The car was a junkyard rescue and still had its junkyard lot number on it- a death sentence in greasepaint. Instead of going gently into that good night, she broke loose and went on a 3000 mile road trip with me.

Admittedly I thought the trip was a suicide mission. I was so desperate to get out of Little Rock I didn't care. After paying my bills downtown, I set off down I-40, playing an old 16th Century French corsair's song on my boombox:

Sont des hommes de grand courage,
Ceux qui partiront avec nous
Ils ne craindront point les coups,
Ni les naufrages,
Ni l'abordage,
Du péril seront jaloux
Tout ceux qui partiront avec nous.

The first stop was Amarillo, staying in a house overrun with cockroaches. Luckily my host for the night offered me something real nice to smoke because I couldn't have slept with those little claws tapdancing on me all night afterward.

The transmission started giving me trouble around Amarillo, but got me as far as a little Mom and Pop garage along Route 66 in Gallup before I had to stop for repairs. I stayed in a motel next door, a little one-star roach castle called the Roadrunner that hadn't been redecorated since the Eisenhower Administration.

Four days and $200 later, I was back on the road. My next stop was supposed to be Flagstaff, but my friend there warned me that if I stayed with him, I wouldn't be able to dig the car out the next morning, so I braved an Arizona blizzard with bald tires and bad brakes all the way to my mother's place in Las Vegas.

At Cajon Pass, I got stopped for doing 89 in a 70 zone (I didn't want to liquidate my brakes by riding them). The CHP officer took one look at the car and said "You drove all the way from Arkansas in that?" When I explained I was on my way to Oregon for a better life, he wished me good luck and sent me on my way with a warning. I've been told that CHP almost never lets anyone off with a warning but the look of that car and my natural earnestness was an easy way out of a speeding ticket.

From Mom's place my next stop was Fullerton, CA, staying with a now-former friend who hated Koreans and loved old Russian cartoons. He had a spotless early 70s Mercedes W116 (I think it was the 450 SEL model), an original Blue Plate car that had spent its whole life cooped up in his garage and barely had 6000 miles on it. I nearly cried when I saw it. This man's apartment was a dragon's hoard of obscure pop culture treasures that he piled up even as he discarded friends for the slightest transgression. Eventually, our friendship broke when I got tired of walking on eggshells around him. But for the duration of this trip, at least, I had a sunny place to stay between long stretches of winter driving.

I spent New Year's in Sacramento, eating In-N-Out and drinking 40-year-old whisky with a friend of my host who, it turns out, might be a distant relative.

I-5 around Lake Shasta was terrifying. I was forced, due to the terrain, the weather, and the condition of my tires and brakes, to drive 35 until I was well into Oregon.

I spent about a week in Portland, got to know the city, then went back the way I came. Apart from topping up the transmission fluid in Fullerton and forgoing the roach-infested house for a much cleaner Motel 6 in Amarillo, I went back the way I came with no surprises.

The car died about 2 weeks later. I was driving to Kroger for cat litter and was barely able to crawl back into my parking spot at home before it would move no further (much the same way my Scion died on me today). But for 18 days in late 2010-early 2011, that car was my lifeline to a new life on the West Coast and helped me make up my mind to move to Portland.

Car Story: The Kerouac Cadillac


12 October 2017 at 23:47:24 MDT

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