Life behind the Autozone

Life in an AutoZone parking lot is as exciting as you would think, but we do our best to keep it interesting. Here's a his/hers account of our days (11!) there. 

Sunday January 29th, Day 1:

Hers- Towed the van from the Sinaloa Mountains through the streets of Mazatlan to the Auto Zone parking lot. Arrived at 4pm, got settled in, discussed how nice it was to have a bathroom (some bushes for privacy that we started calling “the coffee shop”), a streetlight above us that went out just before 10pm. No one really to bother us, apart from the dogs that lived at the bus repair shop behind us. Sophie and I walked to the nearby Walmart to stock up on food and alcohol and were at the check-out line when they lady told us “sorry, you can’t buy alcohol after 4pm on Sunday in Mexico.” WTF, Mexico! Why do you hate us? Despite not having wine, we made a good dinner and all got to bed early so we could get to work on the van early.

His- The Van blew a head gasket yesterday. The fan failed due to the crappy wiring and it overheated. We spent a night at a reservoir, where we didn’t catch any fish, then made use of our tow-strap to get it home. At least we got to use the strap finally. Oh, and the radios everyone makes fun of me for having..


Monday January 30th, Day 2:

Hers- Sophie and I start a routine of getting up around 7:30am, walking to Walmart for our morning ablutions and to buy fresh bread for breakfast (the fresh stuff was surprisingly good at this Walmart) and then coming back to do a work-out. This first morning we did a hard half hour cardio workout. I am out of shape so this about killed me, but the breakfast of fresh bread with avocado that has become my favorite in Mexico, gets me a nice recovery. Sophie promises me an hour long workout tomorrow! Yikes!

By now it’s about 10:30am and the guys have started tearing apart the van to replace the head gasket. They spend the day with their heads in the truck, while Sophie and I work on our computers. It’s a nice day all-in-all and we marvel at how our standards have sunk that a day like this and a campsite that is a garbage-strewn parking lot off of a busy street, can be pretty great. When the guys finish work for the day, Sophie and I take another trip to Walmart to buy our much needed wine and dinner stuff. We have a feast of chicken fajitas and then all crowd around my laptop for a movie night. We made some stove-top popcorn and watch The Mummy… well Peter and I watched The Mummy while KP and Sophie slept in their chairs.

His- We’re all excited about the spot. We’re in an Autozone parking lot, and there’s a Napa, a Wal-Mart, and a VW dealer all within walking distance! The pavement is flat and clean, and we’re tucked away behind the building. If we have any chance of getting this thing going again, this is the place we’ll make it happen.

 A guy on the internet tells me it’s hopeless, and I lose faith for a minute or two. Then Peter pitches in with his eternal optimism and we start tearing the motor apart. We’re still not sure what motor is even in the thing. Once we get it pulled apart, it’s immediately obvious the head gasket is in fact blown and there doesn’t appear to be any other engine damage.

 Also, the girls were able to buy beer and wine today. Things are looking up!


Tuesday January 31st, Day 3:

Hers- After our standard morning routine – Walmart, work-out, breakfast – the boys get back to work and Sophie and I start in on our computers again. We decided that in the afternoon we’d go shopping at one of the local malls for a few things we needed/didn’t have room for and then to the movies. We wanted to be supportive but there is only so much we can do (nothing) to help with van maintenance. So to the mall we went, but we did return with sushi. So, sushi and wine was had by all. Yay for the parking lot.

His- Almost all the hardware in both manifolds is BS. None of it matches, most is the wrong length with wire and literal junk used as washers. Peter spent all day searching Mazatlan for the right stuff. I spend all day cleaning all the RTV off the head. If you’re wondering, NO you shouldn’t use red RTV on a head. At least the giant gash the previous mechanic made in the head gasket probably saved the motor..


Wednesday February 1st, Day 4:

Hers- Starting to get a little bored in our routine, but there is comfort in it. Another day of Walmart, workout, breakfast, but today is a good day because it’s shower day!! I pack up the camper and go to the nearby gas station to fill our tanks with the 80 liter capacity of the camper. When I get back it’s time for luxurious 5 minute showers for both of us and with clean hair and bodies everything is a little brighter! We make dinner for the boys of brown rice with onions and white wine, and beef marinated in Soy Sauce, lime, and olive oil. The meals are pretty good when you have two bored girls and a Walmart around the corner.

His- We finally got it all put back together and it RUNS! For about 39 seconds before a cascade of coolant spills from the intake. Awesome.

 It turns out one of the holes in the original head were ruined by the wrong bolts, so now we can’t get the intake to mate solidly. The slack is letting coolant spill out through a port between them.

 At this point the manager of Autozone and an employee come out and greet us. Assuming, as we always do, that our parking lot camping/auto repair shenanigans are about to be put to an end, we greet them in return.

 Although we’re starting to hate Mexico because it takes 6 hours to find bolts and the wiring in the van could possibly constitute a crime in some states, these guys help to adjust our opinion once again. Their only concern that we’ve been here so long is that we might need some professional help. The manager has brought his best “diagnostic specialist” to see if they could lend a hand.

 Jorge (the specialist) calls a machine shop on his personal phone and explains to them the heli-coil we need made. All we have to do is go there in the morning and get the lose hole repaired. After that we’ve got a running van!!


Thursday February 2nd, Day 5:

Hers- Normal morning - Walmart, workout, breakfast – and a plan to leave in the afternoon to go try the other mall for the shopping items we couldn’t find. Mid-afternoon we get ready to leave but the boys inform us they are done for the day and would like to get out of the parking lot as well. So it’s date night! : ) We all load into a pulmonia, 4 adults plus two Doberman’s, and head down to a small driving range with a ring offood carts and a bar that open up in the evening. It was probably the most American thing we’d done in Mexico. There were sushi stands, pizza, burgers, tacos, and more, so we all ordered a bit of everything, and each ordered a different bottle of beer and had a free-for-all of food and booze. Lots of fun!

His- Because it’s Mexico, we spent all day trying to find someone to do the heli-coil. We went to the recommended shop, then were sent to another, then another. All told about 3:00, before we found one ran by a woman who was interested in taking our money. They’ll even do the work onsite! The only catch- the guy doesn’t like cars so he’d ride his bike down to see what the work would entail.

 It won’t be today, but for sure tomorrow AM. We’ll have this thing running yet. Time for a little date with the ladies. And the dogs.


Friday February 3rd, Day 6:

Hers- So, things are starting to drag a bit in the autozone parking lot. We think we’ll be out of here soon with the new *insert van part here* coming today and KP and I are talking about leaving on Sunday no matter what. They have hopes in the morning that the mechanic will be able to fix the heli coil, but that problem only leads to another, so the new word is new head tomorrow and then it will be fixed. Sophie and I go to the mall today for the other things we needed/don’t have room for, and celebrate a successful shopping venture with a late lunch and a couple glasses of wine each. When we return, a little tipsy, our guys are feeling a little low so we tell them to get out of the parking lot for a walk, and if they could bring us back tacos for dinner that would be ok as well. We all go to bed early and hope for an eventful day tomorrow.

His- The guys shows up (supervised by the lady running the shop, complete with skirt and heels) and gets the heli-coil put in. Despite a crooked drill bit and getting really close to the head with a grinder he does an excellent job. Out of earshot of the lady supervisor he tells us he’d do the job for half the cost, if we need any more work, and gives us his number.

 We’re getting pretty good at installing the manifolds and get everything put together in no time. We carefully torque the manifold bolts and fire the engine up once again.

 It starts right up and then also starts to hemorrhage coolant.

 Turns out that one hole wasn’t the only one ruined. There also seems to be a disturbing lack of oil pressure.

 By this point it’s pretty late in the day and we decide the only prudent course of action is to drink. A lot. Quietly.


Saturday February 4th, Day 6:

Hers- Today I woke up with bad cramps and can’t workout, so I hang out in the truck for a while for some computer work and a little internet binging since we plan to leave tomorrow, Monday at the latest... Then we get the bad news that the part they needed has been damaged and won’t be fixed until Monday… Well, that puts a bit of a damper on the day, so we decide to go out again that night for pizza at the spot where we all met three weeks before. It brightens the night just a bit.

His- We decided to replace the head altogether. By now we’re well known in the neighborhood and everyone wants to help. They’ve all got a cousin or an amigo that has the part we need. We’re lead on some pretty sketchy runs following a motorcycle through traffic in the camper to a shop or two with “new” or “rebuilt” heads that turned out to be not so new and definitely not rebuilt. Not to mention not the right head.

 We finally get a lead on one, but all we have are pictures. The guy says he’ll deliver it to our spot for 2700 pesos.

 We sit back and drink beer.

 He shows up, without the head, and asks us if we’re sure we want it today. “It’s Saturday, and I have a fiesta to get to”. We ask him politely to please bring it today, since that’s what we agreed on. He puts off on his bike a little forlorn but promising to deliver it.

 5 hours later Jorge walks out from the Autozone. He’s had a phone call from the guy with our beautiful new head. They’ve dropped it somehow and broken a stud. They’ll fix it, but that guy doesn’t show until Monday.

 Vive Mexico!


Sunday February 5th, Day 7:

Hers- Sophie and I have a hard workout this morning and we talk again about how she needs to make a workout series on the road, if and when she gets on the road!! But the endorphins only last so long. KP and I have to have a serious talk about what we’ll do about staying or going. Do we wait for the part to come back which may or may not be back tomorrow, but more likely Tuesday and risk staying the rest of the week while that gets installed and the other problems are figured out? Or do we try to stick to our plan and leave only a day late on Monday. Neither of us feels good about this option, but we knew if we committed to staying we’d be there until Thursday because Wednesday was Sophie’s 30th birthday. The idea of leaving Sophie and Peter to spend her birthday alone in the parking lot is enough to make me cry and we immediately decide it’s Thursday for sure.

I spend most of the morning cleaning up our camper (seriously I feel like each day we take everything we have out and just spread it around the camper), and working on the text and pictures needed for our next blog post. We all decide to go to the mall again so that Peter can stock up on tools and we can all gorge ourselves on another round of mediocre Mexican sushi - they put cream cheese (called Philadelphia here) in every roll unless you remember to specify “sin Philadelphia.” I spend the next frustrating six hours trying to get my pictures and videos to load for the blog post on the incredibly slow Mexican WiFi. We catch the half time show of the Super Bowl before we head back to the Autozone parking lot for an early night in. Tomorrow the new part for the van should be fixed and maybe it’ll be running!

His- We have all day to work on the van’s atrocious wiring and to go to the Sears(!) to get Peter some much needed tools. Up until now we’re mostly sharing mine. We go to the mall, have some mediocre sushi, and generally feel pessimistic about getting the van fixed. Ever.

 Then we go home (the parking lot) and drink more wine.


Monday February 6th, Day 8:

Hers- We are now over a week into this life and we’re all going a little crazy. The smell of pee from our makeshift bathroom is starting to waft towards our little camp, and the dogs are getting pretty tired of being cooped up, as are all of us! So Sophie and I decide to get crazy and go get tattoos! That’s the right thing to do if you’re feeling bored, right? Also the huge lunch of tacos, beer, wine, and medicinal tequila shots (to prevent any sickness from street food), made us all a little tipsy. So we went and got new ink, while the boys once more crawled under the van. We returned later, inked up, still a little drunk from the additional tequila for the pain and celebratory drinks after (seriously this parking lot life is hard on the liver!), and made the boys some killer fish tacos and salads. Another day of parking lot life complete.

His- The head actually show up before noon. It has had much more than just a stud repaired. The fall must have actually broken a corner out where the stud was installed. They’ve braised it back together, but all in all it looks pretty good. The guy who delivers (and we assume dropped) it shows us pictures of his family, then we go right to work getting it installed.


Tuesday February 7th, Day 9:

Hers- Start the day off the same again - Walmart, workout, breakfast. We are seriously going crazy by now and I decide I need a haircut, so that seems like an excuse to leave. We spend the morning on computer work (taxes, yay!) and then head out for late lunch, the haircut for me nails for Sophie, and we bring back dinner of something… by this point, the days have blended so much I don’t even know… Sophie and I make plans for her birthday tomorrow, including the cake we brought back from our adventures in the afternoon, and we go to bed early.

His- We got the head installed and the engine fired up. No leaks!

 Also, no oil pressure. The lifters aren’t pressurizing and there is now oil getting to the cam. I hate this van. I hate Mexico.


Wednesday February 8th, Day 10:

Hers- Sophie’s birthday and the last day in the parking lot… we hope!! Sophie and I had discussed plans for the day the night before, so we knew we were starting with a workout designed for Sophie’s 30th – 30 reps of 30 different exercises for a total of 900 reps!! KP joined us for the grueling 50 minute workout and we earned our breakfast of hot chocolate (a traditional birthday drink in Germany) and a blackberry cheesecake with 30 Mexican sparklers! The sparklers didn’t all light and mostly covered the cake in ashes, but we managed to scarf it down and gifted the wonderful staff of AutoZone, who’d given us a home for the week with no complaints, with the rest. Sophie decided she wanted to have a spa day so we went back to the hair cut place from the day before and each had two treatments, me a facial and massage, her a massage and pedicure. They gave her a birthday discount so her bill was 400pesos ($20 USD), mine was 750pesos ($37 USD), you really can’t beat that exchange rate!! We returned, pampered and pretty to get ready for dinner, and found that the boys had gotten the van running!!!!!!!! Woohoo!! And with only minor problems left to fix (because it running was not the only issue). Per the birthday girls wishes we all went out for a fancy steak dinner in town at Sophie’s favorite restaurant! It was a wonderful night, with our amazing friends, but the sadness of our impending departure was definitely there. Sophie spent most of dinner dropping hints that we should stay a little longer, and when that didn’t work, just started flat out begging us to stay one more day, just one more day! We reminded her what happened the last time we stayed one more day… but we both considered it for sure!

Early night for all after we shared a little more wine back at camp. We all went to bed with heavy hearts.

His- The pressure’s on. Well, not the oil pressure. We’ve got to get this thing running today. It’s Sophie’s birthday and we really want to get things fixed up for her. We pull the oil pan off, prime the oil pump, make a huge mess, and get the oil flowing again!

 In the meantime, we also screw up the timing and it takes us an hour or so to fix it. We’ve just go the van running and the lights fixed when the girls get back from wherever it is they went. Hooray!

 It’s nice to have it running, but we still take a cab to dinner.


Thursday February 9th, Day 11:

Hers- We got up for our workout and made it a short one so we’d have time to pack up and eat breakfast. I spent a while going over maps and mapping programs that I use as navigator of our vehicle so that Sophie could have a good start when they got on the road. Then KP and I passed our Baja map back and forth, marking all the spots that we had been and wanted them to see. It was almost 11 by the time we were packed and ready to leave, but we all drug our feet for the goodbyes. Sophie brought a bag out of the van before we left with a bottle of Don Julio Reposado (one of our favorites) and a box of chocolates, as a thank you for all the work KP had done on the van and for sticking around with them. The hugs and goodbyes were tearful all around, and it was the hardest 15 minutes I’ve had saying goodbye to these incredible humans. They are the best of the best, and we will miss them so much as we travel in opposite directions. We have plans to meet again in October when we fly home for the Rebelle Rally, but until then, we wish them safe and happy travels, and minimal, if any, van maintenance!

His- In the morning, as we pack up, I have Peter start the van again so we can all hear it. The gas pedal promptly falls off.

He gets it put back on and we get to hear those 90 horses in all their glory.

 The girls hug and cry. Peter and I both get some greasy dirt in our eyes, and we do the most difficult thing we’ve done in the parking lot so far- leave it for good.


Even now, as we continue our adventures, there’s a big part of us that wishes we were back in that parking lot with those two wonderful people and their VW van. I’d hate that van if it wasn’t the thing that brought us all together. 


*Bonus Content* - Here's a video of Peter's thoughts on being towed back to Mazatlan..