Sunday, May 29, 2011

Van Shopping: Strike One

by Scott

A week ago, we thought we found our dream van. It turned out to be a nightmare.

We found the 1998 Coachmen Starflyte via ebay. From the start, Steve Marks, the alleged name of the alleged owner seemed sketchy. He had only completed 2 transactions on ebay, and one of them was the sale of a similarly sized motorhome just over a month ago. We figured he was a dealer, but he vehemently denied that, claiming he sold that one for a friend. He said this one was his personal motorhome, and that he was selling it to upgrade to a 32-footer. This conflicted with the explanation from his alleged brother, Anthony Marks, who told us on the phone that Steve was selling it due to financial problems. Hmmm.

When we ran the VIN check, we found that the last title change was in 2002. This was odd, since Steve claimed to have bought the van 5 months ago. When pressed on this, he claimed that he didn't have the money to transfer title at the time, but that he had just transfered it. Hmmm.

By now, you're probably wondering why we weren't running for the hills. Well, conveniently, the van was located in Brentwood CA, which just happened to be 5 miles from our good friends and fellow adventurers, Frank and Kim. They generously accepted our invitation to check it out. They set up an appointment, but when they arrived, no one was home. Furthermore, there were no signs of the van. There were boats, trailers, and other high-end toys, apparently for sale, but no van. Hmmm.

By now, we'd had it. It was one thing to waste our time, but now we were wasting our friends' time. I called Steve to demand an explanation for standing up Frank and Kim. He denied scheduling an appointment, insisting he had never even talked to them! For once, he wasn't lying. It turns out that the appointment was made by his alleged nephew, who hadn't relayed the message. Frank and Kim returned and everything checked out. It drove well and was clean inside and out, just as advertised. The following day, we had it inspected by Lemon Squad, a mobile inspection company. Again, everything checked out, including the "ownership documents and title".

Now, I have to diverge a bit to talk about Lemon Squad. I ordered the inspection online on Saturday. On Monday morning, I called to ask for a confirmation when the inspection was scheduled. The woman on the phone indicated that this was not standard procedure, but that she'd email me. A couple hours later, not having received an email, I called back. Keep in mind, this is Monday morning. I ordered on Saturday. Lemon Squad advertises same day service on most early orders, and the auction was scheduled to end on Tuesday evening. Also, I wasn't even asking for same day service, just confirmation that the inspection had been scheduled. Andy Dabbs, the owner of Lemon Squad, went off on me. He said that I had an attitude, that I was telling him how to run his business, that he'd never had a customer like me in the 3 year history of Lemon Squad, and that it would probably be impossible for him to satisfy me. It turns out he was right on that last point (maybe the first one too).  

Back to Steve. Recognizing that he was a liar and a reseller, but feeling good about the vehicle, we bid and won the auction. We called him on the phone to schedule a time to take delivery. We had proposed flying out Sunday and closing the deal on Monday, but he pointed out that Monday was Memorial Day, suggesting we'd have to do it Tuesday. We went ahead and bought plane tickets for Sunday, assuming we'd just spend Monday with Frank and Kim. The next day, Steve informed us that he might not have the title by Tuesday. This was the title that he had already claimed was in his name and would be presented to the winning bidder. Now, he said that it was in the mail, and should arrive any day. Yeah. Bye Steve.

Back to Lemon Squad. I emailed to ask about the "ownership documents and title". I quickly received one of many calls from Lemon Squad owner, Andy Dabbs. It turns out that their inspector saw the current registration, but didn't record the name, nor did he cross check it with a title or driver's license. Andy sent his inspector out to review the documents a second time. Introducing...Mikie Bobby Cruz!

The van was not registered to Steve Marks or Anthony Marks, but to 19-year old Mikie Bobby Cruz! Since the last title transfer was in 2002, apparently little Mikie Bobby bought his very own motorhome at the tender age of 10!

Andy, who does a one-man good cop/bad cop routine, argued that this was no reason to back out of the deal. After all, we had a registration and a driver's license -- who needs a title?! Ultimately, he offered me a full-refund on the inspection, and told me never to call Lemon Squad again. Minutes later, good cop Andy called back -- twice! He left an apologetic message, gave me the names of two of his competitors (sabotage, I guess), and indicated that he had changed the wording on his checklist to avoid future problems. Whatever, at least the refund offset some of the cost of canceling our plane tickets.

We're done now. For the sake of anyone who might be doing some research before buying this van, here is all the information we have about the players. Contact us if you want the AutoCheck or Lemon Squad reports.

Van/RV: 1998 Coachmen Starflyte E350
VIN: 1FDJE30L8VHA89810
Seller: Steve Marks
Ebay Name: cheyenne_shelby
Phone: 209-642-3447
Address: 2301 Empire Ave Brentwood CA 94513
Seller's "brother"/assistant: Anthony Marks
Registered owner: Mikie Bobby Cruz

Back in the USA

We made it back to the USA without a hitch.  I think I'm getting the hang of the 30-hour travelfest involved with flying from Austral-Asia to the USA.  We sold most of our stuff but couldn't part with a surfboard, kiteboard, 2 kites, 2 snowboards, and a few items of clothing.  We've been back for 3+ weeks and still haven't felt the need to buy anymore clothing -- I think this nomadic lifestyle is really starting to stick.

1am at the Detroit airport.  30+ hours of travel and we still squeaked out a smile. 
After a great week visiting with my parents, sister and nephew, we took my dad's truck down to Indiana to visit Scott's sister, Becky, and her family.  We had never visited Becky at her home.  It was also our first visit with Nick, her husband, and their two kids Cayden (4) and Camren (5).  After a bit of hiding upstairs, the boys introduced themselves to Uncle Scott with a baseball to the skull. We had so much fun with them over the next 24 hours -- playing Cayden Ball, watching T-ball, and eating at Shake 'N Shake (because it's all about the shakes).

Next, we drove to surprise Scott's brother, Skip, at his college graduation party.  Skip is no ordinary college student.  He is 39 years old with 4 teenage kids.  We are so impressed that Skip stuck with it for four years during an incredibly hectic time for his whole family.  They thought we were still in New Zealand, so the surprise was priceless, as was the look on Skip's face (see below).

We are back at my parents' house in Ann Arbor.  I call it the 5-star resort -- all-you-can eat and drink, fluffy bed, a free gym membership, manicured lawn, spa-like showers, our own car, wireless internet, a TV in every room, fresh coffee waiting in the pot every morning, and our favorite orange kitty.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Repetition is a Sign

by Scott

We are in the final days of our year in New Zealand. The gear is gone, and it's raining, so I've found time to record a song I wrote last year in Australia.

The song was inspired by Ann Arbor's Chris Bathgate. He writes beautifully mysterious songs with lines like:
I twiddle my thumbs at the rag I've become and wait for the world within
cause all I need is the night as my steed and a kiss to serve as my shield
cause it's comfort and ease on evenings like these that turn all my poisons prose
It takes a secret decoder ring to figure out what he's talking about, but it's undeniably poetic. Unfortunately, my brain doesn't work like that. Simple chords. Simple lines. Simple man. Simple mind. Repetition is a sign (mp3).

My band in a box--every van dwelling songwriter should have one