“Remember what this lot looked like yesterday?” asks Victor Arabe, the head of vehicle logistics for Volkswagen at the port of San Diego. Thousands of cars waiting to be shipped out to their final destinations are parked in the National City marine terminal lot. They were all unloaded from the Jinsei Maru just yesterday.
A half hour later, Heberto Gutierrez arrives. He lives in Chula Vista and has been a professional driver for more than a decade. He’s got a list of the cars he’s loading onto his truck, and he works at a frantic pace. Hurrying through the lot, he plucks one car after another. He hops in, drives a few hundred feet, and then loads each onto the bed of his Waggoner’s truck.
Gutierrez takes extra special care with the Golf R. He wipes the wheel rims with his gloved finger, inspects it from every angle, drives it slowly from its parking spot around the lot.
He works the hydraulic lifts with the care of a surgeon. He checks and double-checks the safety pins carefully placed throughout the bed’s frame. He checks the cargo’s height using an expandable measuring stick, swinging it above the upper deck of cars.
“Just made it,” he says with a smile.
We hit the road around 10:30 a.m., heading north on the 15. A call from my editor warns of a chemical spill near the California/Nevada state line.
“I’m sure it will be cleared up by the time we get there,” I tell her.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Thousands of cars came to a halt nearly ten miles from the Nevada state line on I-15 north on Friday, in what the Los Angeles Times referred to as a “carmageddon.” Travelers parked and stretched their legs, talking to each other in a mood infinitely more jovial than I’d ever have expected as a native East-Coaster.
My phone rings.
“This is crazy,” Gutierrez says. He’s bit farther ahead. I had stopped earlier on the side of the road to film his truck passing by.
We debate what to do and decide to simply trudge forward. An hour later, we’d covered one mile.
A lady in gym shorts jogs past my car, seemingly oblivious to the heat. A half hour later, two children follow, the boy’s flip-flops spanking the baking blacktop. Apparently, the need to exercise in the desert struck some people at that moment.
We crest the top of a mountain, and around 4,000 feet, begin a slow descent toward the Nevada desert. Gutierrez worries about the tires. The constant braking could lead to overheating, and in the 100-plus degree heat, his tires could catch fire. He begins praying. Hard.