For those just getting caught up here’s the skinny—I recently quit my job in Seattle and have decided to head east across America until it’s time to stop. So far I’ve made it just about 300-miles and have spent the past couple days in Spokane, WA, where I’ve been holed up working upon my traveling companion.

When I first began to conceive this trip I decided it was important that I drive. Largely this was because road trips are fun and offer more opportunities for both exploration and curiosities; in small part I’m a horrible plane rider and trains in America are a sadly absurd proposition.

The rub of this plan was that the car I own—a 1969 Saab 96—is only slightly more consistent than Donald Trump. Stella’s a sweet sturdy girl and a ton of fun to drive, but she wasn’t the one to get me across the country. And so began the hunt for a cheap but reliable machine to get me around.

I was looking for that $500 beater whose outsides were a rusted and primer-ed mess, the interior stained, seats torn and windows cracked; yet a car whose engine remained oddly functional. I asked about but couldn’t find anything that fit the description. Everything was either too far destroyed or too expensive.

Growing desperate I decided to call an uncle in Houston who runs an auto dealership, figuring he’d be certain to come across such messes in his line of business; his response was curious enough to earn a post of its own at a later date. Finally, a friend in Spokane suggested the following:

This winter her father had driven out from the east coast to visit her; he flew back and left behind his car, a 2005 Ford Focus hatchback, and she was uncertain if he was ever going to return for it. She assured me that the car was a mess but mine to take, and after having spent the past couple days out here I can attest that my friend is nothing if not an honest woman. I wanted a piece of shit and I got it.

The quick car-talk is as follows: the engine was a stuttering mess; when I pulled the ignition coils and checked the spark plugs two of them were pooled in oil, which led to my removing the entire valve cover, replacing the gaskets, replacing all the plugs and two of the ignition coils. The car began to run noticeably better. The front tires were studded snow tires, one ground completely bald: so new front tires. The car then began to run even much better.

The suspension is totally shot: the struts are useless and every bump sounds like an echo chamber, but given that I’m eventually returning this car to its owner I’ve accepted that I’m in for a long and bumpy ride. Because this car is from the east coast, where roads are doused in salt during winters, its underside is a master’s course in rust. The rear hatchback door doesn’t open. The interior was a mess: stained and dirty, the back seats covered in scraps of paper and old shoes and a leather bomber jacket and god knows what else.

I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to pause a moment and think about exactly how long 12-minutes is. Once that’s solidly in your head please continue reading, because 12-minutes is exactly how long I spent at the car wash earlier vacuuming the insides of this car. And even though it was raining at the time I gave the outsides a good scrubbing as well.

That’s how I’ve spent my past couple days here in Spokane. I’m in a little over $300 bucks but as of this moment this little Focus seems to be running fine. I’m beginning to think she’ll be reliable enough to get me somewhere. As you can I’m one who values proper expectations.

I don’t know if my friend’s father had a name for this car, and as yet she and I haven’t spent enough time together for me to have a good feel for her. But hopefully that’ll come. For now, I’ve got a couple more details to see to and hopefully soon I’ll be on the road once more.

Ford Focus