me and my truck

I’ve never really been a “car guy”. My step dad tried to teach me mechanical principles but in retrospect I realize he wasn’t really a “car guy” either. I learned to change my oil, swap air filters, and keep the tires full. These are important tasks, but it’s a far cry from having a well worn impact gun and wobble sockets.

I was going to buy a new Jeep Wrangler: I actually drive off road a lot and who doesn’t love a new car. Fortunately while on a backpacking trip my friend talked me out of it and dropped some science on me:

Look at Africa. Look at the Australian Outback. Shit man, look at ISIS. Know what they all drive? Toyotas, and the Land Cruiser in particular if they can get their hands on one. Go to Africa and see if you spot any Jeeps: you’ll be looking for a long time.

So instead of buying a ~$30,000 Jeep with the associated payments, taxes, and cranked insurance in 2015 I found myself a 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser down at the border.


My beautiful truck the first time I laid eyes on her.

It was listed for $3,900 but with a leaky valve gasket and bald tires I got him down to $3,000 cash. When I went to register it the dealer had put a sticker over the “EXPORT ONLY” stamp, meaning it wasn’t supposed to be sold in the United States. My would-be truck was caught up in some international crime syndicate. An honestly dumbfounded look on my face at the DMV convinced the agent I wasn’t a part of it, and the registration was done.


Filled up with search and rescue gear, headed to San Jacinto with some other team members.

I had done a bit of homework and learned that the FZJ-80 was one of the preferred Land Cruisers. Early enough that it still had tank-like construction (solid axles, body-on-frame construction, etc) but new enough that you’re not futzing with a carburetor or pulling a choke knob. Don’t get me wrong: nearly all Land Cruisers pre-1997 are dope whips with their respective pluses and minuses: go figure I’m in love with mine.


Me and my little girls, waiting for a fellow Land Cruiser buddy to show up. Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

And basically for $3,000 (base) + $1,000 (tires) + $1,000 in various mechanical fixes I had a truck that could keep up with the bulk of true offroad vehicles. And I was pretty happy with that: no need to do any fancy upgrades, no need to get bigger tires, no need for a bro-dozer off road “rig”.


Car camping with a friend and our kids, Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

But then we moved to Mammoth and winter happened.


The snow hat on top of the roof there is from 1 night of snow. Mammoth got over 40′ this winter.

This winter I saw:

  • People losing traction and going into snow banks.
  • Big powerful 4×4’s stuck in snow ditches.
  • Tires spinning around all over.
  • Folks putting chains on in horrible conditions.

And through it all, I drove around in comfort. To be sure, much of snow and ice driving is about your skills. I got high centered myself trying to drive (like an idiot) through thigh deep snow. There is a reason snow cats exist, and it’s similar to why you’d take a snowmobile out and not a motorcycle: once the snow gets deep enough it’s simply not passable by a wheeled vehicle.

But in general, minus a lifted version of my own truck with more ground clearance, my Land Cruiser was a top performer here in the Eastern Sierra.


Pulling a UPS truck out of a snowbank with my Toyota Land Cruiser.


My Land Cruiser even towed all (seriously) of our worldly possessions from San Diego to Mammoth Lakes.

In the late fall, terror left my heart stricken: there was a leak coming down the tire of my trusty vehicle. A little bit of research led me to the problem: a broken seal in the inner axle area and a tougher-than-most-humans-will-ever-do repair job. I considered taking it to a mechanic but hardcore Land Cruiser fanatics shouted their disapproval.

As I’ve come to understand it, barring full engine rebuilds nearly all other jobs can be handled in your driveway. Indeed, many can be handled out in the middle of nowhere provided you were wise enough to pack tools and spare parts (affectionately known as “trail parts”).


The leaking differential fluid that caused me to throw down and pick sides: am I Land Cruiser guy or just some dude who drives a Land Cruiser?

I knew I could hobble along through the winter, filling up fluids and grease all the while making a huge stink in my driveway from differential fluid constantly pouring out. I acquired the tools I would need. I acquired the rebuild kit. I watched the youtube videos. I found the factory service manual on Ebay. I waited, silently sending mental vibes to my truck, “You’re getting me through this winter so well. Come spring, I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”


I have no idea what I’m doing, but I try to hard to follow along with the instructions from those who do.

And so I completed my first knuckle/inner-axle rebuild. A job so intense that full grown men walked by me and commented, “Jesus… I hope you know what you’re doing.” I learned the value of my impact gun. I learned about impact swivel sockets. Aerokroil. Brass drifts. I even pounded a race in upside down and couldn’t get it out. No problem, said the Internet: use your dremel to cut some notches into it for more purchase.


Goodbye factory sheet metal bumper, hello Sleep Off Road badass bumper.

I don’t think it’s masochism to say that I enjoy a challenge. Living and sailing on our boat I really enjoyed having problems thrown at me that were above my paygrade. I screwed some of them up, many I didn’t, and where I made mistakes I’ve tried to learn so I don’t ass-it-up again. I think any tradesman who’s being honest can point to stupid things they did when the learning curve was steep: it’s no big thing to make mistakes predicated that they make you better in the long run.


Slee Off Road rear bumper with (a) Hi Lift (b) CB antenna (c) spare tire (d) gay pride Mammoth Sticker because rainbows are cool and if you can’t wear a gay pride sticker without worrying about what others think about your sexuality than you might be gay, bro.

And so, dear reader, this has been my little tale of a boy and his truck. It’s a tale that will be told for decades and possibly centuries to come and no doubt some guy was tricking out his horse and carriage two hundred years ago.

No matter how much money I pour into this Land Cruiser, I’ll still stay under the stock price of a baseline Wrangler and my mechanical skills are coming along for the ride.

And now I must go to pick up my kids from school. It’s snowing out with low visibility on my rural busted up road, but Land Cruiser don’t give a f.

Post Script: A reader sent me this, and to correct the record you can find Jeeps in Africa:

I just wanted to point out the following blog, about a Wrangler currently making its way around Africa:

social media in mammoth lakes

Before I moved up here, I did what any Internet savvy citizen would do: tried to creep on Mammoth Lakes and learn everything I could. Confusingly, Mammoth denied Internet norms: there is no Craiglist, just Reno, “Gold Country“, and even some junk on Bakersfield. The messageboard is broken and doesn’t allow new members. The subreddit is a digital ghost town.


What’s the point of doing anything if you can’t post a photo of it on social media to get recognition from others?

Paul Oster has a blog that’s somewhat current, and there’s a lot of info on there especially for anyone who’s looking at buying real estate.

But in general I had to learn all this the hard way, so with no further ado let me key you into Mammoth’s social media:

  • Mammoth Buy Sell Trade. This is the facebook group that nearly everyone with a phone or computer uses to buy and sell in Mammoth or Bishop. I’ve bought bikes, furniture, and tires from here. Likewise we’ve sold a car seat, storage racks, and housewares. Also, this is where up-to-the-minute town drama happens. Did you hear an explosion? Did a bear get into someone’s house? Did the police cite a guy for picking up trash? It’s all on Mammoth Buy Sell Trade.
  • Mammoth For Rent. Unable to figure out where the hell the rentals are? Well, here you go. Before the snow season starts, this is 10% listings and 90% people with $500 a month looking for a place slopeside that will take them and their dog.
  • Butt Hurt Owens Valley. This is primarily for folks who love along the 395 as there is a distinct difference between Mono residents and those down in Inyo/Kern/wherever. In general this is full of people from Bishop complaining about homeless people the Vons parking lot sleeping in their cars.

As an interesting note, I believe social media allows us to connect with each other (big shocker!). When you live in a small town, however, you end up being really connected. Very quickly you end up knowing everyone and everyone knows you. This also forces a large degree of civility because you either will get along with neighbors who are on different ends of the political and religious spectrum from you or you will shut off half the town and retreat to a very small group of like-minded individuals.

In Manhattan, you can easily fill a high school auditorium with raw-food vegans whose favorite color is green and share the first name of Ben. In Mammoth, just finding some folks who like the same movies as you might take a lifetime to discover. As such, there’s a lot of getting along going on. Not the echo chamber kind, but the kind where civility and neighborliness is prized. There’s just not enough people around here for you to only associate with the kind you agree with. Honestly I find it a refreshing change of pace from the larger city life.

oh hell yeah: school gets out at 1:30pm

Generally speaking I work 8ish-5ish. Flexibility cuts both ways for me in the sense that sometimes I need to pile on hours at work, pushing through evenings and some weekends. I’ve slept at the office more five times, probably less than ten, when projects have continued on into the wee morning hours.

So I feel zero guilt when it’s a nice day, I have some hours open with no meetings, and bail.


And now I have learned that Mammoth Elementary gets out before 2pm every day. Better: it gets out around noon on Fridays. And that of course means that during the winter I can meet my kids at school with their boards, we can ride to the mountain on the shuttle, and proceed to shred it up.

There are some things about moving to Mammoth that will be hard (paying a big mortgage), there are things that will be different (working remote so much), and then there are things that just kick ass and make me motivated to deal with it all. Like snowboarding with my kids in the afternoon.

i’m tired of the bums in san diego

I like to think I’m pretty up to speed on homelessness, at least in San Diego. I did some reporting on it earlier in my life. I know that the bums holding up signs represent a small fraction of the “homeless” population. I also know that people end up homeless through a variety of mechanisms: some self inflicted, some by no fault of their own, some by a mental health problem, and many by a sticky and re-enforcing combination.


Smelling like urine and feces, a shoe-less man in a thong stumbles around downtown on Park Ave in downtown San Diego. Photo is from on my walk home, yesterday.

As a lower-rung-but-on-the-ladder emergency medicine guy, I can see the physical hardships that create and exacerbate illness and disease for those lacking proper shelter. Check it yourself one day: the next time you have the flu and feel like absolute shit, go spend your night under a bridge with roaches crawling about, people walking past your head, and a constant threat of violence about.

The last number I heard from a member of the Alpha Project was that roughly 5% of homeless are bums. That’s not hard science, but it’s what I heard quoted from people who’ve worked directly in the homeless services world for decades here in San Diego. And before you freak out on my use of “bum”, let’s use the official definition:

In San Diego there are roughly 9,000 homeless people as of 2016. Particularly awesome for us living and working near downtown is that the vast majority of San Diego homeless also live right in my neighborhood.


C Street, as it passes underneath the Interstate 5 bridge. Golden Hill, San Diego, California. Photo is a sidewalk that I walk twice a day to and from work. My kids walk it too and hold their noses at the putrid smell of urine and feces.

But I’m tired of the god damn bums.

I’m tired of seeing a tweaker with his pants half off, on my sidewalk in front of my home, with his penis hanging out, and his filthy bag of belongings next to him.

Worse, I’m tired of not even being bothered anymore. As a first responder, I hate having to turn a blind eye to it and not care about an unresponsive person on the ground. I hate knowing that there is nothing I can medically do for this person because they have so many untreated conditions and existing constantly in a dangerous environment.

And they are threats. Don’t think so? How about you let your six your old daughter walk around by herself next to some of these guys. She has a right to walk around her city more than they have a right to shit on my sidewalk, contribute nothing to our economy, and function as a literal parasitic organism.

Want me to volunteer on an effective team to right this problem? I’m in. Want to raise my taxes so an effective and results-proven program can be put in place to effectively remedy this stain on our society? I’m in.

But San Diego won’t do that. The County Board of Supervisors, who really this problem should be addressed by, doesn’t care in any practical sense. They manage health and human services, for which homelessness is about as dead-center in their court as possible. But, the actual problem is in the metro area, and the suburbanites who stay relatively insulated in their lives throughout the county aren’t about to cough up money to solve someone else’s problem.

People “care” about homeless in the same way they “care” that every minute of every day a child in Africa dies from malaria. That is to say that they don’t care, of course. Not in a material sense where it will cause action.

And in an extremely sad and grown up way, I get it that we can only care so much. There’s so much horrible shit going on this world is just impossible to care about all of it, let alone try to get anything done and have some enjoyment along the way before you die.

So we can get into existential arguments and get super wonky with policy initiatives. We can debate this all night long.

And while we’re having that debate, there’s probably some bum on spice taking a shit on my sidewalk or trying to break into my truck. So sorry for being a little selfish but I’d like to just step out of this problem now. Someone else can spend $2,000/month in rent to live like this: have fun.

actually reading all the documents i’m signing

Although knocking on forty years of age, this will be the first home I’ve ever purchased. I found out that the average age for first time home ownership is 33 (in 2015), so I’m actually not that old, but still: the idea that on a 30 year loan I’ll be done paying this sucker off when I’m 67 years old is… spooky.

When we’re kids, the idea of being 40 seems so abstract and distant, it’s hard to imagine it ever become reality. But turn 40 we shall, if we’re lucky enough to live that long, and imagining actually being in our late 60’s is much the same.


So last night while my wife was out I actually read through all the documents I’ve been e-signing furiously, trying to speed escrow along. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, there were stories about borrowers who didn’t read the fine print. When I heard those myself, I scoffed at the dumb-dumbs who could do such things: obviously I am a smarter and more detail oriented person.

Or so I thought.

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Leaving San Diego

My family moved to San Diego when I was in 5th grade. I finished up elementary school here, then went through middle school and high school. I went back to the east coast for college and military service, and then came back to San Diego in 2000. In total, I’ve lived in San Diego for 24 of my 38 years.


I lived and worked near downtown until I left, and have lived in Carlsbad and Encinitas. I have friends all over the county, and have worked in Sorrento Valley, San Marcos, Oceanside, Hillcrest, Point Loma, Del Mar, and Poway that I can remember. I’ve had girlfriends in San Diego, I got married here, and have two little kids, one of which is in local school.

But it’s time to move, and here’s why.

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