Justin Roth - "Pro" Blog 8

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The Spray rides again. Photo by Justin Roth.

The Spray rides again. Photo by Justin Roth.

SPRAYQUEST— An epic tale

Following is the story of my quest to bring the Spraymobile (aka the Spray) home. My relationship with the Spray began in winter 2007. As with any epic quest, Sprayquest includes tragedy, success, even auguries spoken by prophets.

When I first entered the hallowed halls of Climbing, I was told the magazine had a special company car — a 1999 Ford Explorer with full-color murals of a man climbing airbrushed (or sprayed, if you will) onto the door panels. “Wow,” I said. I was told I could use the vehicle, if I so chose. “Uhm… Sure,” I said. Next, my co-workers told me not to get mixed up with the Spray. Like Oedipus, when told he’d kill his father and sleep with his mother, I ignored the warnings. I got involved with the Spray and immediately things began to go wrong.

The first minor issue was the broken driver-side door handle: it forced one to enter through the passenger-side and then scrabble over the center console to achieve the captain’s chair. No biggie. Next, I realized that the wiper fluid reservoir ran dry quicker than a dog’s bladder, leaving the windshield smeary and impenetrable (and thus creating an amazing safety hazard) under the salty winter-road spray. Again, easily remedied — a cache of wiper fluid jugs rolls around the back of the Spray to ensure there’s always a squirt available. More seriously, the traction in two-wheel-drive mode is severely lacking: while driving to the office after an ice storm one day, I failed to engage the on-the-fly four-wheel-drive. While changing lanes at modest speed, the vehicle began to move in a diagonal and then sideways fashion. While sliding forward in slow-moving traffic, I watched the Spray’s nose swing within inches of another truck’s tail before swinging back the other way and then stopping on the road’s shoulder. I sat for a moment to let some of the urine evaporate from my pants, clicked the Spray into maximo-traction mode, and pulled back onto the road.

Strangely, the real problems came when I no longer used the Spray, and left it parked in front of the office, on the street, for an extended period of time.

For weeks, nothing happened. Each day, rosy-fingered dawn would rise, the sun would cut its arc, and the clear mountain night would descend, all without word of trouble. Then, an orange blaze appeared on the Spray, beneath the wiper arm. “Abandoned,” the ticket declared. Apparently, the registration of the Spray had lapsed some time ago… a year ago, in fact, which fact I’d failed to note. The ticket declared failure to move the Spray would result in towing. So I moved the Spray across the street. Three days later I returned to find the Spray gone. “Stolen!” I cried, but then thought back to the ticket. Towed. Thus Sprayquest began.

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The DMVThe first leg of my journey brought me to the Department of Motor Vehicles, to update the registration, which would in turn allow me to retrieve the Spray from the impound lot. At the DMV, I explained my situation and was told I needed one thing to update my registration: a letter stating that I would be the supreme master of all vehicular matters for Climbing magazine. Saddened, I returned to the office and, after much ado, conjured just such a letter. That afternoon, I returned to the DMV, clutching my letter like a talisman. After explaining my situation to a different employee, I was told there was a second thing I needed: proof of insurance — mine was out of date. Again to the office, where I requested said proof from someone in some place called New York City. The next day, a fax arrived. On my third visit to the DMV, I obtained not the full registration I sought, but a temporary permit, which would give me just enough power to first acquire the Spray from the impound lot, and then get an emissions test, required by Boulder County. Only then could I truly register the Spray. I shuffled wearily across the street to the Boulder Police building, where the Spray had been taken.

Der PolizeiAt the desk of the police station, a pale, thin-lipped woman with black hair and humorless eyes gathered my paperwork. “That will be $25. Cash,” she said. Next to her was a laminated sign that said “Cash and Checks Only, no Credit Cards Accepted.” I said nothing, and pushed two 20s through the glass partition. “We can’t make change,” she said, directing me to a King Soopers grocery store a block away. As I made my way there, our intern, Megan, arrived with the key to the Spray, which I’d forgotten. “Where are we going?” She asked. “To the King Soopers,” I growled.

Back at the police station, exact change in hand, I signed on the dotted line. “Do you know where Marv’s is?” the cold-eyed woman asked me, Megan by my side. “What’s ‘Marv’s?’” I asked her. “It’s the lot… where they have your vehicle,” she said without merriment. Oh really? I thought to myself, loudly and repeatedly, as she showed us how to get to Marv’s on a photocopied map.

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Marv’sAs Megan drove us to Marv’s, she asked how much I thought they’d charge to get the Spray back.Other than the $25 I paid at the police station? I wondered. “I don’t think there’s a charge. We already paid to get it back,” I said and went in. All proceeded smoothly until the man behind the counter began scribbling something on a sheet of paper that looked for all intents and purposes like a receipt. “Whatcha doin’ there, boss?” I asked him, to which stated the amount of dollars he required in exchange for the Spray: 177. “I don’t suppose you accept checks or credit cards,” I said. “Cash only,” he said. As I walked out, the man stopped me. “We’re running low on change,” he said. “So bring small bills.”

“You’re kidding,” Megan said, when I returned sans Spray. We hunted for an ATM in a strip mall a mile away, spotting a First Bank branch. Of course, the screen of the ATM read, “This ATM is temporarily out of service,” in mocking green type. Back in the car, Megan said, “You’re kidding.” At a nearby Target, I withdrew $200, and then bought Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas for the both of us, as a way to kill the pain of a day gone horribly wrong. Walking out the door, an old woman with a shopping cart started walking backwards, nearly knocking me over and causing me to drop my pizza on the carpet. On the way back to Megan’s car, she looked up. “It’s the little things that add up to the killing spree,” she said.

Back at Marv’s, I paid and walked into the dusty lot to get the Spray. Sitting there, gritty buy alive, it was a sight for sore eyes. I realized I’d loved the old beast all along. “There, there, girl — they didn’t hurt you, did they?” I asked as I stroked the Spray’s chassis. I opened the passenger-side door, clambered into the driver’s seat, and started her up. Two blaze-orange slips stuck angrily from under the wiper blades. The same traffic cop who’d given the first ticket had, in a matter of three days, given two more, and then had the Spray imprisoned. Deep inside me, I created a little sticky note that read simply “Revenge.”

As I drove through the chain link gate I waved farewell to Megan — she’d stood by me through two legs of my journey, but she couldn’t help me on this next one. I was off to the emissions testing facility.

A Final TestAt the facility, I handed the Spray off to a man with yellow-tinted sunglasses, who affixed a hose to its tailpipe. I sat like an expectant father in a waiting room, drinking a Mountain Dew. Without passing this test I couldn’t get the Spray’s registration updated. Then what would happen? I wondered. Ten minutes later, the man with the shades asked me for $25. Cash, of course. He told me the Spray had passed. We had passed. As I got into the Spray the guy held his arm up to my window, revealing his watch. “The DMV closes at 4:30,” he said. “You’d better hurry.” His watch read 4:29. Why are you mocking me? I thought.

The ReturnThe next day, I returned to the DMV, where I paid $250 for the registration (including the year’s back registration). I took the little stickers and affixed them to the Spray’s license plate, bringing it up to date for the first time in over a year. Sprayquest had finally ended. Today, the Spray is in full effect. If you don’t believe me, check out the pix.