Sticky lifters and Old Nipples

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That was the diagnosis that Dean the mechanic gave me the day I saw the little drip, drip, drip underneath the front of my 1984 Vanguard camper van…  goes by the name of Rumblebee. I told him about the funny sound I could hear from the engine giving away the obvious fact that I am not mechanically inclined.

“Sticky lifters… no problem… happens with these old engines.” (I prefer the word vintage to old.) “Weird that there are two nipples,” he said, as he fingered the crumbling rubber where fluid bubbled on the left side of the rad cap.

“Hmm, yes,” I answered, restraining myself from stating the obvious.

He sent me to the parts department where his son, Harley, could outfit me with a new nipple. Harley did this and gave me an extra, just in case.

I like metaphors. Being 58, I too may suffer from bouts of sticky lifters. Its when the oil doesn’t flow through easily and causes a dry little flutter that comes and goes. Could be the bones; could be the circulation. I imagined the very worst when I first heard it. Cancel the trip, rebuild the motor, sell it and try to get your money out of it. Dean didn’t tell me to take it off the road, just said its something that happens. So be it from age or trauma or a reluctance to stick to yoga practice, the lifters get a little gummed up. No reason to quit.

Today there was a serious squall, a wild-wind- howl that made driving unsafe. Rumblebee has a topper that makes a broad side for the wind to catch. We hit the nearest go-to boon-dock site and fired up the new Little Buddy heater. I always thought that a little buddy that would keep me warm would have two legs, a soft flannel shirt and want to get up to make coffee first thing. Maybe I can upgrade from propane at some point.  I made a supper so good you’d have thought I already had.


A one pot Tortellini with spinach and mushrooms and spicy tomato sauce steamed up the windows. I topped it with fresh shavings of parmesan and black kalamata olives that had been marinated in cabernet wine. Afterwards, I cozied up and hunkered down with tea and a good book. In the middle of a bluster when things weren’t flowing easily I took care, took cover and took comfort.

Van-dwellers live with less insulation between themselves and the outside world. Our homes are like bark is to a tree or the shell of a mollusk. There isn’t a boot room or layers of doors, front steps; just a minimal and careful selection of belongings. When the door swings open I notice the world has changed, advanced towards the next season. Red and gold leaves lay at my feet, glazed by a tepid sun, wet and spent from their last tango. A spare few stoically persist on lean branches.  Perhaps they were last to get to the party last spring. The world was fresh again and I was feeling a little shiny too. No worse for wear, we were back on the road.