The explosion was deafening. The big truck heaved forward and to the right. As Hal wrestled the wheel to keep us from fishtailing out of control, he cheerfully yelled, "Uh oh, May Day. May Day!" I glanced in the rear view and seeing sparks, smoke and debris flying from the rear wheel, said something like, "Blue to Base, we've been hit -we're going in." A horrible whapping and banging noise was echoing through the truck as Hal managed to wrangle it across three lanes of traffic for a forced landing on the shoulder. Drivers behind were on their brakes and swerving to other lanes to avoid collateral damage from flying bondo, dirt and miscellaneous loose parts.
Once out, we saw what had happened. The new-looking tire Hal had bought just 20 minutes before at the used tire store, had completely disintegrated on the rim at 60mph. "Look at that", Hal said calmly. The whapping noise had been caused by the 4-foot long steel belted tread tangled on the spinning rim and wrapped around the axle. It beat the daylights out of everything in and about the wheel well; the exhaust pipe, the gas tank filler tube, side panel supports and rear brake lines--all bent, twisted and leaking.
Hal Friddle keeps a low profile around this town. He has a nice wife, Anne, who works for the Performing Arts department of Coronado High, a daughter, Meagan, who's a college teacher, and a wire-haired terrier named Chloe, who's currently unemployed. Hal takes care of all the maintenance needs of the Shores buildings and seems almost normal. But the truck he drives belies his past risky undertakings south of the border.
Big Blue is a twenty-five foot behemoth that is as long as a legal lot is wide in the beach town of Coronado. It is perhaps the ugliest blunt force truck made west of the Eastern Block countries. The shape that failed the wind tunnel test is muscular but not well proportioned--lanky, like a giant chunk of beef jerky.
The 1979 Chevy Custom Deluxe 1-ton 4x4 with crew cab has absolutely no design or aerodynamic reason for being. It proudly proclaims itself a `Work Truck' in steel-toed boots, sweat socks and paint-splattered Dickies low enough to show plenty of butt crack.
Its `70s kidney-busting suspension sporting added overloads cradles a big dumb in-line 6 cylinder motor that is low-geared for dead-weight-hauling. Hal and my cousin, Ken Shortt, bought the truck as military surplus from the Air Force at a Vandenberg Base auction in 1984. Ever since they've been exploring parts of the Baja that aren't written up in the travel brochures. "What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico." is the stolen credo that stays with Big Blue.
Now Blue wasn't always blue. It's true that while in the Air Force he wore a sophisticated blue uniform with stenciled lettering describing his nomenclature and military affiliation. But once retired from active duty, just before the auction, Blue was painted a shabby metallic silver right over the dirt, rust and numbers. And over the next thirteen years, that's the way he looked as he lived on the streets of Coronado, provoking many midnight Police searches for vagrants living in his back seat.
As far as I know Blue never won a medal for Valor or had any other fancy awards festooned upon him. He was the kind of truck that did his job and kept his mouth shut. But once Ken sold out his share to Hal in 1997, the veteran was taken to Tijuana for the finest civilian two-tone sky blue go-to-hell paint job a peso could buy.
The added touch of red wheels and an aftermarket "Silverado" emblem glued to the dash pulled the whole fashion statement together. It should be noted that the trucks' age and cheaply renovated appearance allows Blue to blend with typical well-used Mexican trucks and therefore stand out when surrounded by tricked-out expensive chase trucks of the elite race crews.
Blue also has an appropriate high-mileage and patched-together camper that just squeezes in the extended 8' bed and flexes the overloads to their max. When it's loaded for a trip, the truck appears ready to spring into a back flip. The upside down broom attached to the camper's backside is never used for sweeping, only as a permanent signal that an emergency is in the making.