Home » I Said Goodbye To My Dream Car And Finally Ended Two Years Of A Living Nightmare

I Said Goodbye To My Dream Car And Finally Ended Two Years Of A Living Nightmare

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Last weekend, I finally ended the last chapter of a nightmare that has dominated much of the past nearly three years of my life. Two men stopped by my parents’ house, pushed my 2002 Audi TT Quattro down the driveway, then dragged it away with a truck and a tow strap. That Audi was my dream car, yet seeing it roll away made me smile. In fact, the last time I was this happy to see a car go away was when a tow truck hauled away my old diesel Ford Econoline van, and the sales of both vehicles relate to the same nightmare.

I first started collecting cars back in 2016. My car collection started almost entirely by chance after my 2012 Smart Fortwo caught fire. I leveraged my connections at Smart USA to score a brand new 2016 Smart Fortwo Edition #1. The dealership was supposed to take my 2012 Smart as a trade, but gave me the trade-in value and just let me keep the car, anyway. Suddenly, I had two cars despite having only planned on having one. Since then, I have purchased over cheap 30 motorcycles and over cheap 25 cars. Basically, I have dirt cheap rent and spend all of my money on cars. I would sell most of these vehicles later on, only keeping my favorites. As of today, that means 15 cars, 4 motorcycles, 1 bus, and 1 fiberglass camper.

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A Short-Lived Dream

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One of my favorite purchases was this 2002 Audi TT Quattro. I picked it up in late 2020 and this car was another piece of physical proof that dreams can come true. I’ve loved the first-generation Audi TT ever since I drove one in Gran Turismo 3 some 22 years ago. And yes, this one was in a sort of weird configuration of having the 180 HP engine and Quattro. Countless people have called me stupid saying that such a configuration doesn’t exist, but they’re wrong. I love the TT so much that I bought a ZipZaps version of it.

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Remember RadioShack’s ZipZaps? My enjoyment with this car would be short-lived and the vast majority of my near three-year ownership of the car was like an albatross around my neck.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, I got laid off and suddenly found myself with tons of free time. I decided that instead of moping around my tiny apartment, I’d make my automotive desires come true. I picked up that Audi TT, a Buell Lightning, a Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI, another Smart Fortwo, and even a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Of course, 2020 is when I met my wife, Sheryl. Our second real date (or what we call our second real date) was a 5,000-mile road trip across the country in a little four-cylinder Ford Ranger.

Against the odds, 2020 was looking great. I even picked up a beat-up Volkswagen Passat W8 with a manual transmission as a restoration project. And my off-road rig? A 2006 Ford E-350 Power Stroke van.

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I loved that van. It was one of the seemingly few 6.0-liter Power Strokes that worked well and its limited-slip differential made it unexpectedly decent when the going got rough. Sheryl and I took it on a Gambler 500 run, but not before giving it a parody NASA theme complete with “Free 10mm Sockets” spray-painted on the side. Little did I know that this van would kick off a series of unfortunate events.

My Nightmare

My problems started when I brought the van home with its new livery. The apartment complex that I live in does have an association, but the rules here are bizarre for what’s more or less an HOA.

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There’s no rule about how your car has to look, but the association says that it has to run and drive. You also cannot have a vehicle with more than four doors. What qualifies as a door? Minivans technically have five doors if you count the tailgate. A Chevy Astro or any van with double doors also has five doors. This rule has never been explained. Another rule is that the vehicle parked at the complex cannot have business markings.

Knowing the bylaws, I figured I’d be just fine parking my rally van at home. After all, there are no rules against having an ugly car! My neighbor disagreed and was apparently offended by “Free 10mm Sockets” joke painted on the van, thinking it was some ploy to draw in children. At any rate, this neighbor also calls me “it” so her complaint about the van was likely a cover for what she really doesn’t like about me.

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Anyway, she called up her friend at property management, who called up a tow company. That tow company dragged away three of my cars and tried to take a fourth.

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Every reason given didn’t make sense. The association said that the van had graffiti on it, my Passat W8 supposedly didn’t have a parking pass, and my Passat TDI wasn’t even given a reason. In doing these tows, the association also broke its own rules, which state that a vehicle’s owner is to be contacted and warned before a tow. I only discovered that my cars were disappearing when I went outside to take pictures of the W8.

Retrieving the vehicles was another hassle. All of the cars were towed either in park or in gear. The W8’s clutch was seemingly fused engaged. I tried a bunch of troubleshooting, including an on-the-spot fluid flush, but the clutch just wouldn’t let go. And the other Passat wouldn’t engage drive. Only the van moved under its own power.

My wife (then my fiancee), the attorney that she is, saw all of this to be too suspicious and recommended that I take legal action. After all, the reasons given by the condo association didn’t make sense and the tow company seemed super sketchy.

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To illustrate how crazy this was, up above are my three cars in the “tow yard.” Yes, that’s a residential backyard. There were no fences, gates, or signs. There was even nothing stopping me from just hopping into any car and driving off. Heck, there weren’t even any cameras.

Through the case, we learned that the tow company didn’t have a yard (that part was obvious), a license for the truck, or a business license, and the guy who performed the tow wasn’t even an employee. Its insurance documents weren’t legitimate, either. In other words, some guy essentially winched my cars across a parking lot and took them to his mom’s backyard.

The cases raged on for over a year and I learned more interesting things. We identified at least 50 vehicles breaking the bylaws, but curiously, they’ve never been towed. To this day, there’s a van with plates four years expired, four flat tires, and a family of creatures living under it. It’s never so much gotten a warning.

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How My Audi Became Illegal

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Eventually, I settled my cases, collected my payout, and bought more dream cars. The litigation wasn’t fun. Lawsuits are never as quick and simple as they seem on television.

While the suits were ongoing, I received death threats from friends of the tow company and my cars got vandalized multiple times. A quartet of meth heads also stole all of my tools, a brand new set of mud tires, and that Power Stroke van. And they did it all in -20 degree temps in the middle of winter. When the van got stolen, the meth enthusiasts spray-painted the wheels a different color and then parked it just 200 feet away from where they stole it. They then turned it into a rolling meth lab and tried upgrading it like a discount version of Overhaulin’.

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When the van was recovered, the police couldn’t believe that anyone would be so stupid to steal such a crappy vehicle. That night, I found myself in an interrogation room for over an hour while officers told variations of the story that I told them, with critical facts wrong. Sheryl tells me that they were trying to catch me in a lie about the theft. I didn’t lie, some jerks really did steal my shitbox! After that night, I ran a FOIA request on my city and learned that the meth heads told the police that I gave them the van. Police thought that the van theft was so dumb that I had to be a part of the meth ring somehow.

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Anyway, while all of that was happening, these fiends tried stealing my Audi TT.

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They pried out one of the windows, stole all of the vehicle’s documents, stole my Gambler 500 ring, and tried to make off with the car. Thankfully, my laziness paid off because the car had a bad starter that I hadn’t gotten around to replacing. Doubly thankfully, the goofs didn’t know that bump-starting is a thing that you can do with a manual transmission.

On their way out, the thieves also made off with one windshield wiper and the car’s battery.

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Stealing the car’s documents put me in a tough spot. I don’t remember why, but for some really dumb reason, I had the car’s title in the glovebox. Yes, leaving the title to your vehicle in the vehicle is some smooth-brain stuff. I know, I learned the lesson the hard way. Anyway, they made off with the title, but not the car. The local police said that they would report the vehicle as stolen so that the thieves couldn’t transfer the title. At the time, this seemed like the best plan.

Not long later, one of the thieves set his girlfriend’s car on fire. Police found him living in the rafters of a nearby garage that he broke into. His buddies were also caught and all of them are still in prison today. My tools and tires were found in that garage and I bet my title was there, too, but none of it was ever returned to me.

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Just to twist the knife in a little further, the meth heads had destroyed the van’s ignition so badly that it no longer started. When my court cases concluded I scrapped it for $400. The Illinois Secretary of State (our DMV) was no help in making the Audi legal again. Every DMV bureaucrat that Sheryl and I talked to said that the car is still stolen and I cannot get another title for it. Sheryl spent a year trying to lawyer the car into legality again.

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Eventually, she found a path to make the TT legal again, but it would have taken tons of time and around $2,000. I’d get a registration, but I’d have a TT with a damaged A-pillar, a branded title, and I’d have to deal with the deterioration caused by the car sitting for two years. Oh, and it was time for a new timing belt. I decided it wasn’t worth it and had her list the car for sale.

What’s Wrong With People?

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Somehow, the misery with this car still wasn’t over. As I said before, I’ve bought and sold over 50 vehicles; most of those purchases and sales happened on Facebook. If you’ve never sold a vehicle on Facebook or Craigslist before, consider yourself lucky. Sometimes, things have gotten downright toxic. In early 2019, I listed a project Suzuki GSX1100G for $500. One prospective buyer asked to come over to take a look. I gave him my address, but he decided to offer me $200 before even leaving. I declined and told him that my price was firm. In response, he threatened to kill me. Thankfully, I wasn’t murdered! The motorcycle was sold to someone else for my asking price.

That kind of stuff I’m used to. I’ve gotten enough death threats that I try to do all sales at a place I don’t live. People, even readers of Jalopnik, have sent me enough threats that I don’t even use my real city on Facebook. So, I thought I’ve seen it all, but things have gotten really weird lately.

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This is what happened last month when my wife tried to buy a cheap set of 5×112 wheels for one of my Jettas. There’s a whole conversation there, but the seller said things that I will not show here. Just know that it was disheartening:

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Some Facebook stalking revealed that this wasn’t a troll, this guy actually believed what he was spitting out. This wasn’t our first rodeo with messages like these online, but it was new to find it when trying to buy something. I chalked it up to a fluke. You know, we just so happened to find the weirdo who doesn’t want money for very little effort.

Then I got a weird insult about my identity when I tried buying a Smart Fortwo Cabriolet. And the messages we got about the TT? They were so bad that Sheryl deleted most of them and blocked the people. One of the blocked people went as far as to use a fake account to spam my Facebook and Instagram. Apparently, he then spent quite a bit of time messaging similar messages to my friends.

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Honestly, it dragged me down from my normally bubbly state. Over the past year, I’ve felt like people in my local area have been getting a bit more hostile towards trans people, but I’ve been thinking maybe I’m just imagining things. Well, maybe not. I just wanted to sell my own stolen car! Buy the car or don’t, there’s no need to write thousand-word screeds about what’s in my pants.

A Happy Ending

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At one point, I was getting ready to call up my favorite scrapper. I would have gotten something like $250 and the car would have seen the business end of a crusher, but at least I would have been rid of the car. But, I wanted to see the car live on, somehow, so we put up with it a little longer.

Thankfully, a buyer showed up with a great idea. He has a Volkswagen Squareback at home with a rotted-out floor. Instead of replacing the floor, he wants to cut the floor out, cut everything off from above the floor of my TT, and mate the Squareback body with the TT’s pan, thus making a 180 HP Quattro Squareback. [Editor’s Note: Hot damn! – JT] This is sort of what I was thinking. The TT may never be road legal again, so I was hoping it would become a racecar or a project. The buyer showed up, gave me a wad of cash, and dragged away his loot. He was even able to get it started and drive it home. Hopefully, the car will serve him well.

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I’d long thought that I’d be sad to see the Audi drive away, but I was really happy. Finally, after over two years, I’m finally done with this stupid saga. I feel like I can finally move on from this dark time in my life and not have a daily reminder of the past. Even better, the car’s going to live on as a crazy build. The Audi TT remains one of my dream cars, so I will be getting another. If I’m lucky, my next one will be a convertible with the baseball glove seats, and it won’t be stored anywhere near my neighbors.

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Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 year ago

People suck

CarSick
CarSick
1 year ago

Wow, what an awful experience! I hope you never ever have anything like that happen again.
While I will never need an RV, I like seeing examples of creative use of small space. Your articles are great for that.
I appreciate your writing, and I wish you and Sheryl the absolute best of luck with the firehouse! That sounds like a great situation AND a fun project!

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
1 year ago

What a crazy ride! What you’ve been through is just beyond ridiculous to say the least. What is wrong with people, indeed – the struggle with dipshitery is very real. Having been a small-time landlord for quite a while now, my faith in humanity has been steadily diminishing and I haven’t had to go through anything on par with your experiences, I’ve only been an observer for the most part.

Meth heads are simply the worst – I had one dealing out of the back of my complex across from an elementary school. He was friends with one of my tenants and when I kicked her out because of the obvious, they managed to break off a toilet at it’s base, royally screwed up the plumbing in general, completely trashed the carpets, and stole three of the interior doors just for good measure, ripping the hinges clean out of the wall in one case. He’s now in jail for life with no chance of parole and I think she might be dead.

Another disturbing example of the ever increasing amount of fuckery I’ve been witnessing is the casual racism and nasty homophobic things (why not both?) some of our neighbors and tenants have been saying much more openly over the last few years. For example, one of the more prominent members of the community is gay and happily married to another man, so of course that gets brought up in the worst way possible – lately with the logic-less mention of “parents’ rights” thrown in for some reason. And then there’s the noticeable uptick in people cheerfully tossing the N-word around in casual conversation when they know full-well my wife is black. It begins to wear on a person after awhile. No death threats (yet) though.

Thankfully, not all of our neighbors and/or renters exhibit those qualities, and there is the shiny and chrome lining that our neighborhood completely lacks any sort of HOA. There are enough libertarian types around to keep that from ever happening, so my collection of vehicles are free to completely D. Tracy-ify the adjacent property values.

I’m an optimist at heart and for what it’s worth there are also the things that restore my faith in humanity. That would include this website, your articles, and these little windows into how much ass you and your wife Sheryl have kicked along your journey. I say have a shot of Malört and continue your admirable practice of not letting the bastards grind you down!

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 year ago

Mercedes, one of the high points of this year (so far) was being able to tell you to your face at David’s moving party how much I appreciate your representation and your voice on this site, and in the world generally. That you have to endure so much nonsense here in allegedly deep-blue Illinois is a reminder that much still needs to be done. Thank you for being here. Let me know if I can help hide a car from your neighbors.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

at David’s moving party

You were there, too?? Right on – that is definitely a high point of 2023 (so far). We might have chatted at some point. 🙂

It was great to meet Mercedes, Torch, and DT as well – even got a pic with them.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 year ago

Ouch! Sorry you had to deal with those awful people. Glad to hear that the car is gone and a reminder is no more.

Greg
Greg
1 year ago

This tale is like some classic tragedy. I’ve been raging at everything for so long I’ve recently stopped being mad and started just laughing at how absurd this world is.

What a story, what a world. gay, straight I don’t gaf, I just like your articles.

Last edited 1 year ago by Greg
Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
1 year ago

Oh wow, I’m sorry you had to go through with all that. People can really suck sometimes. Shame they had to ruin your dream car like that.

Ron Moore
Ron Moore
1 year ago

I’m so sorry you had to (and still have to) deal with assholes like that. You deserve so much better from the people who live around you. I love reading your pieces here, and even seeing your comments back in the day on the old German lighting site!

I don’t comment often here or on jello-picnick but I wanted to echo greater Autopia’s support. Seeing that you were one of the first hires here really solidified that I was going to become a daily reader, and eventual member.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron Moore

Here here!

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago

Mercedes: They say that one negative comment has the power of 20 positive comments. I just want to say, “ You’re awesome!” (It’s true!)

Hope that helps.

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
1 year ago

As a straight white guy, im genuinely sorry about all the crap stupid people put you through. All i can say is I literally don’t care about race, creed, orientation, who you love, or what you call yourself. You like cars and motorcycles? Good enough for me, let’s talk!

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
1 year ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

Don’t forget the campers!

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
1 year ago
Reply to  FloridaNative

And busses! I really want to convert a detroit powered bus to an rv sometime. I even have the special tools for tuning a 2 stroke detroit 🙂

Jb996
Jb996
1 year ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

Exactly. I can just never figure out how the way someone else chooses to live their life could possibly effect me. I think I’m naive, but I just really don’t get it. Live and let live.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
1 year ago

Mercedes, the way you have been treated for being you gives me the sads.

I know it’s not an option for everyone, and there’s points to be made about fighting the good fight, and not letting horrible people push people around but at this point we’ve just decided to write off the parts of this country where larger concentrations of ignorant, bigoted people live.

Nowhere is perfect, but living in a state and community where the majority of people at least make an effort at decency, and where the laws and politicians actually work to protect vulnerable people has now become a requirement for me.

If you don’t mind the snow, Minneapolis/St. Paul is one of those places, along with many other towns in Minnesota and Michigan(and maybe even Wisconsin is coming around!). Cost of living is worse, but same goes for a variety of locales in the PNW, California and Colorado.

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
1 year ago

Yep, we’d be happy to have you up here in the PNW. For cars, it’s the land that rust forgot. No road salt!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

Many others here have well voiced our general disgust over the uncivilized manner in which some people conduct themselves, but I’ll just add how sad it is that despite commonly-heard rhetoric, some Americans don’t seem to actually believe in the concepts expressed in our nation’s founding documents (or maybe they believe they only apply to themselves), the blueprints from which we built our hotrod of a country.

But on a positive note, the part I liked was…Mercedes’ wife goes out and shops for car wheels!? Wow that’s cool.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago

Those texts from Jerry G. remind me of a line from a movie:

“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

It appears the world’s asshole ratio is getting out of control, but all of us Autopians think you’re awesome. Keep being you, and don’t let the world’s assholes get you down!

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
1 year ago

Mercedes I had the pleasure of meeting Jason at the Amelia Island Concours and one of my first gushing statements to him was how proud I was of you, David and Jason for successfully firing up this fresh, new automotive enclave known as The Autopian.

You’re a fantastic iconoclast with a knack for telling stories and the haters are, at best, absolute losers. At the end of the day you can reflect on the people you’ve brought joy to with your witty observations and the haters can … die on a toilet I guess.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a mint condition Ford Ranger w a stack of recent receipts in my driveway I don’t need and I’m not looking fwd to the hassle of selling it to my local Tampa natives for all the obvious reasons you’ve noted.

Torque
Torque
1 year ago

Perhaps an enthusiast site like Cars & Bids would be a better fit for selling your ranger? I know it is ‘just a normal car’ however small utility trucks like it are really not sold any more I’m sure you could find a fellow enthusiast buyer that would love to be the next caretaker

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

Ah, the crap we’ll endure for the sake of dirt cheap rent.

Turkina
Turkina
1 year ago

Perchance, did you rent a cheap space down by the river? For your van. And you, of course.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago
Reply to  Turkina

I’ve been down by the river many times, but always free.

Dustin Driver
Dustin Driver
1 year ago

My goodness my heart goes out to you.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
1 year ago

Mercedes, I love your writing, your perspectives, your insights, and your stories. I’m glad you share with all of us. Sorry people are dicks. Don’t let them bring you down and please keep motivating and inspiring people!

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
1 year ago

I *wish* you could have been imagining the hostility, but now we have an entire political party obsessed with delegitimizing your existence. I’m sorry you have to deal with all that shit, but I’m glad you write!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

Wow, that must be REALLY cheep rent…

Greg
Greg
1 year ago

if you aren’t opposed to selling meth, it sounds pretty lucrative place to live.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

I was fuming reading about the amount of transphobia you’ve had to deal with…as a gay man in Kentucky I’ve heard a lot of dumb shit but fuck, you’ve encountered the very bottom of the humanity barrel. But hearing what will become of the Audi put a smile on my face, that thing is gonna be bitchin when they finish it.

And thank you for dealing with it all and still doing what you love, even when it puts you in contact with lower life forms. Rock on, Mercedes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Clark B
Edward Hoster
Edward Hoster
1 year ago

You write the BEST articles! Thank you, Mercedes!

C.A.R. Doctor PhD
C.A.R. Doctor PhD
1 year ago

Mercedes, I know you’ve written about some of this before, but damn, it makes me angry reading it every time. Hell, it would be bad enough if it was just an annoying neighbor who was actually mad about the cars getting them towed. But that’s a whole lot of stuff no one should have to deal with.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago

I don’t even have the words to respond to how much homophobia and transphobia you and your wife endure. It’s sad that, in 2023, this is still where we are.

As for the car situation, if I had access to as much space as you do, I’d have done the same thing. Acquired a bunch of cheap cars. As it is, my driveway can practically hold three or four without having to move things, and a fifth in my garage (which is actually a two-car garage, but a short one with complicated ingress/egress procedures.

The 2010 Range Rover Supercharged met its demise when I smashed it into a tree (note: if you encounter a deer, hit the deer, and not a nearby tree). So now I’m down to three:

  • 2000 BMW 528i 5MT
  • 2013 Audi A8 L 4.0T
  • 2022 BMW X5 xDrive45e

I need a sports car.

NotFlyingIsNotTrying
NotFlyingIsNotTrying
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

HA to the deer and tree thing. When I was 17 and insuring my first car (1988 Audi 90) my insurer told me directly, “If a deer runs out in front of you, don’t swerve; brake and hit the deer if you have to.You’re not covered if you hit a tree, but hitting a deer is.”

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago

In my case, I was covered, but the insurer considered it an at-fault accident for “loss of control.”

If I had hit the deer—which likely would not have deployed the airbags and totaled the car—it would have been a not-at-fault.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

ALWAYS hit the deer; I’ve seen too many injuries (and one death) from swervers hitting trees, them fuckers don’t give like a deer does.

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

Nice to see you here vs TTAC Kyree, always enjoyed your commentary and stories.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago

Well thank you kindly!

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
1 year ago

I just want to say that I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. It’s f*cking awful, and I just hope things get better.

Thanks for sharing your story…glad there was a bit of a happy ending in this case at least.

Get out of that HOA and never join another one!!!!!!!!!!!

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago

I live in a progressive area and I still prefer the noisy animals that come with being surrounded by nature to human neighbors. People are the worst.

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