I’ve owned a ’93 Jeep Wrangler since I was 21. It was my second vehicle and a marked upgrade from the 1986 Ford Tempo that transported me through high school and a handful of years thereafter. The Tempo was great don’t get me wrong. I like puzzles. Which door doesn’t open from the inside? Which window can I not lower all the way down? How far do I have to park away from school to make it on time, but not let anybody see me step out of this vehicle?
I called it “Jefe”, which is Spanish for “Boss”. I’m not sure why I called it that. Maybe because naming something it’s polar opposite is funny. My ’86 Tempo was not a boss. It was the awkward janitor that cleans up at night, and is found passed out in the elevator most mornings. But it ran like a champ. The only thing I ever replaced on it was oil, when I remembered. The maintenance to cost ratio made it the best $500 ever spent. No I didn’t leave off a zero. That was the purchase price for my sixteen-year-old self. Well, the parents of my sixteen-year-old self.
Five years later. Boom! An onyx black Jeep Wrangler with a hard top, lift kit, and the promise of dramatically increased cool factor sent the Tempo packing. I was glad to help Jefe with his bags. I’m a giver like that. Instantly I was a Jeep guy. Jeep guys know what I’m talking about. You’re part of the club. We don’t have a handshake but we do all wave at each other when passing on the street. It’s true. Google it. The Jeep Wave can become quite engrained. Sometimes while driving my wife’s 2004 Honda minivan, packed to the gills with children, I’ll instinctively wave at a passing Wrangler. Then I’ll instinctively wish that I really hadn’t done that. I often picture the driver pulling away from the intersection, racking his brain, trying to figure out who he knows that decided to have that many kids.
For an amazing decade my Jeep went everywhere I went. To work, to play, to dating my wife Charity (it no doubt helped in her decision to marry me, how could it not?). I even was able to hold onto it as we started adding children to our family. Charity didn’t want to see me give it up, because she ’s a keeper like that.
No one buys a Jeep for it’s smooth ride. A Cadillac it isn’t. If you are not wearing your seat belt, going over a bridge could put your head straight into the hard top, Harry and the Hendersons style.
It’s a manly ride. Every jolt and shock that travels through the chassis and out your ears lets you know that you’re alive.
My Jeep is also a stick shift, which is the only way to drive a vehicle in my opinion. Automatics are making us soft. Our forefathers drove stick, and they put a man on the moon. My clutchless generation thought fifteen seasons of American Idol was a good idea.
Around two years ago my Jeep stopped shifting and I couldn’t get it in gear. We figured that the master cylinder was bad. My parents had an extra vehicle that I started driving until we could get it fixed. And this made fixing it less urgent. Also our finances suggested that it might be better to drive my parent’s car for a while.
Soon I was getting home from work and walking past my dusty Jeep in the garage and telling myself that I should get that master cylinder replaced someday. It was on that to-do list in your head that is always just beyond your reach. The tires began to sag and cobwebs formed in the wheel recesses, as for almost two years it patiently waited for someday.
One day a friend of mine, Ryan Freshman, noticed it in my garage. It wasn’t long before he asked me if I’d be opposed to him slapping it on a trailer, taking it away, and getting it running again. Hmmmm. I thought about it for a long time. Do I want my Jeep to run again? That was a tough one. After making a lengthy pros and cons list I said, “Freakin’ YES!”
One evening Freshman and his friend, another Ryan whom I’d never met before, showed up with a trailer. Then my Jeep disappeared into the night air.
A week went by, then another. Freshman would keep me vaguely updated with things like “we’ve got it torn apart” and “we’re making progress”. I didn’t know who “we” were. He was not forthcoming with all who were involved. I kept asking to let me know the cost for repairs and all he said was, “Don’t worry about it.”
Another week went by. He apologized for it taking so long. I didn’t care. If it wasn’t in the shop it would just be a two-ton paper weight holding down the concrete in my garage.
My friends started randomly asking about my Jeep, out of the blue. It began to feel like some kind of clandestine operation because I would press them about it and they would smile and say they knew nothing.
The beginning of the fourth week Freshman sent me some teaser pictures and said it would be done by Friday. The pictures were fishy. Extreme close ups, not much detail. I did notice that the Jeep was a resounding black. It had sat for so long I just assumed its color was ashen gray.
Finally it was ready. Freshman had me come pick it up at his house after work. As Charity and I rounded the corner in our van I saw it. Perched on his lawn, poised, and gleaming. With all the presentation you’d expect from someone who is a sales manager at Woodhouse Nissan—which Freshman is.
It was glorious. I didn’t realize that to change the master cylinder you needed to also replace the clutch, battery, rear shocks, tires, spark plugs, distributor; include a fluids change, rust coating, wheel buff, and complete detail.
It turns out that it was a clandestine operation. Freshman had taken point and rounded many of my friends, and also a handful of people I’ve never even met before, to pitch in. Some donated money, others time and automotive expertise. I couldn’t believe it. A group of amazing people had brought Lazarus back from the dead, and gave him an extreme makeover. For me.
It was quite an honor.
I hopped out of our van, gingerly walked over, and held out my hand. Like my Jeep was an animal I’d raised and released into the wild years back. “Hey there boy. Remember me?” He did. Freshman and I took it around his neighborhood. The smile on his face was as big as mine. The wheel felt like nostalgia and youthfulness. It was a time machine back to pre-kids, to pre-mortgage, to pre-adulting. It ran great and looked like a million dollars.
Surprisingly the day was chilly for mid-May. And without the top I’m sure I would have been cold. But I was warmed by the fires of Jeephood, and to be slightly cheesy, friendship.
I drove home and marveled at the people that had banded together to make this happen. Their generosity felt in every satisfying jolt of the Jeep’s manly suspension. I was finally able to pry a list of contributors out of Freshman and have tried to tell each person how grateful I am. But there were so many that I’ve lost track of who I’ve thanked. Hopefully this expresses my gratitude. Each time I pull out of the driveway I think about how we say it’s better to give than receive. If I’m on Cloud Nine, then I hope every one of those guys are on Cloud Ten.