How I Got My Start Part 1 – First Volkswagen & Dealership

I’ve always been into cars, all of my friends know it. Though I never really got in-depth with cars, that all changed back in late 2009 when I landed at my first dealership job as a service runner/lot technician at Inver Grove Volkswagen in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.

Back in mid 2009 I purchased my first car by myself, a 1996 Volkswagen MkIII Jetta GL with the ABA 2.0 Inline-4 and a 5-speed manual in (this is the official color name) Black.

My late 1996 Volkswagen Jetta GL.

It was a wonderful car I got from a used car dealer, and as my first manual car, “Jenna” has sentimental value. However — also as a first car, she came with her foibles. The headlamp switch on the dash malfunctioned so the lights stayed on; like ALL THE TIME. The clutch was starting to wear shockingly thin (partly — mostly my fault), the antenna mast on the driver’s front fender was broken and barely picked up a radio signal, the lock for the trunk didn’t work so anybody could open it (though the vacuum locks on all the doors worked!). The tie rods were absolutely shot and ate though a set of tires in about 7000 miles. One frigid winter day at the Mall of America, she didn’t start at first, finally started and I drove her home. Parked her overnight and tried to start her and alas, no start (ended up being a coil pack). Lastly both front doors leaked air and water like it was going out of style. During a car wash or a torrential downpour both front windows would start to have water dripping from the top down.

Booty pic showing off the “OMG Genuine Volkswagen Service and Parts” bumper sticker.

Even with her foibles, she had a lot of good points, too! Fuel economy averaged 30mpg in mixed city and highway, for the most part has always started and drove, had frigid A/C and horrifically hot heat, was pretty decent in winter considering the P185/60R14 tire size. Modifications and repairs were pretty simple since everything was for the most part pretty accessible.

In fall of 2009, I was getting my Jetta serviced at Inver Grove Volkswagen. I asked a manager to see if they were hiring, since I needed money, I figured why not? Turns out they were looking for a lot technician/service runner for their quaint little dealership. I filled out an application, and the job was mine.

The view from the customer lounge the very day I filled out the application for employment. Circa September 2009.

I had absolutely no clue what the hell I was doing, constantly asking what I should do, what I needed to do, I quickly got the workflow down. My job was to line up cars on the sales lot, keep it organized and restructure as vehicles are added and sold, keep the lot clean and tidy from trash, bring up cars for sales people to show to their clients, washing cars as they become dirty and brooming off cars as they become covered in snow.


All of this, it’s all gone. Inver Grove Volkswagen who was owned by the Pohlad Group in the Twin Cities sold the franchise to Twin Cities Automotive; then Twin Cities Automotive laid us all off as they transitioned Inver Grove Volkswagen to their own Saturn of St. Paul building as Saturn was phased out by GM to be run by their existing employees and renamed to Volkswagen of Inver Grove.

This building has gone through different companies since we’ve left. First it was LaMettry’s Collision, then a storage lot for Toyota of Inver Grove, then through a major renovation of the front entrance has turned into Morrie’s Inver Grove Mazda. The building for the most part still looks the same with Mazda’s corporate flare at the front.


Gettin’ the wheels turning…

I’m finally just getting a DSLR camera. I got it during a tent sale at National Camera Exchange in Golden Valley, Minnesota. What was purchased was a refurbished Nikon D3400 2-lens kit with 18-55mm and 70-300mm glass. I’ve been playing around with it for a while. Slowly learning about the exposure triangle with ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Nikon D3400 DSLR with the two lenses that came with it. Taken with my BlackBerry KEYone inside Caribou Coffee – Clydesdale Marketplace, Medina, MN.

Though this is a work in progress, I think I’m getting pretty good. These photos have not been edited yet. What do you guys think?

I’m going to try and create content once a week or once every other week. Have some ideas coming down the pipeline on cars and people to feature.

At least though big purchase #1 of 4 is out of the way. Next up is a 13″ MacBook Pro then my Passport then purchasing my one-way airline ticket to Australia.

A little introduction

Here I am, sitting in a Caribou Coffee, trying to channel my inner ‘creative hipster’ self. Thinking and daydreaming about my future career.

Working at what seems like a dead-end job, I, like everybody else whose feelings mirror my own began to think about what the hell we’re doing in our lives. Some people work that quintessential 9-5 office job; blindly churning out Microsoft Excel reports and presenting PowerPoint slides like they’re going out of style.

Myself? I currently work in the automotive industry. Working for a large family of dealerships, which surprisingly doesn’t suck. However, the line of work I do, really does suck. It’s the equivalent of getting life’s happiness sucked right out of you on a daily basis through consistent bitching from customers who feels entitled to anything and everything under the sun for free or at little cost. So what exactly do I do? I’m a Service Advisor or Service Writer in different markets. We are the people who regardless of how rude and inhumane the previous guest was, greets you with a smile; and in return, we hope to have built rapport to earn your trust in us and our shop in repairing your vehicle.
Contrary to popular belief, we are humans too. I get and understand it; it’s difficult to make whoever shows up in your garage happy because they’re there to fix their expensive car with an expensive repair to get their life back onto track. It’s like playing that old Microsoft game, Minesweepers. You try to not pick the bomb. If you do, you’re screwed. The managers are pissed, the customers are pissed and your CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index [i.e. how likely are you to keep your job index]) drops off the face off the earth. I’m stuck in a position where there’s little to no advancement for somewhat decent pay. All I have to sacrifice is my time, my happiness and faith in humanity.

Hi, my name is Kevin Tran, and I love to travel! Specifically road tripping.

In just about 4.5 years I’ve put on 195,000 miles and counting on my 2012 Mazda3 hatchback. That’s an average of 43,333 miles/year!

There’s something about being alone in your car with nothing else but the clothes you’ve packed, your car, your tunes and the road ahead. No agenda, just go. I think it’s the amount of peace one achieves with oneself. You have all the time in the world to think, to process. You learn to live with yourself, to accept yourself and all your foibles. I think that’s what really makes travelling so attractive to me. You become centered, more calm. You become happy again.

Before I get into the reason for this blog, let me give you a little background story…

Here I am in front of the main entrance of the old Mazda North American Operations headquarters in Irvine, California.

Just several days ago while bumming around at home like I usually do after work, I’m watching YouTube. Came across a video on how to speak English — with an Australian accent. I was literally spending HOURS on trying to pronounce the words “though, know, foe and blow.” I didn’t sleep until 4am that evening. I woke up around 10am the following morning and continued to watch these lessons. Then I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called “PsychoTraveller” made by a woman named Ali. The video I found was “Planning A Working Holiday In Australia Part 1.” As I was watching, I became so glued to my computer screen. I never knew such a thing existed. Get your passport, travel to Australia for up to a year and while you’re there save money by working to continue your travels? That’s awesome!
I’ll admit, at first I wanted to simply just move there. That wasn’t going to happen. It’s so damn expensive to do so, plus you must have a skill that’s needed in Australia in order for you to even think about applying for a PR (Permanent Resident) Visa to Australia. I was crushed. I didn’t have any of these skills these Australians are looking for, nobody to sponsor me to make my trek over the Pacific permanent. However, Ali’s videos on YouTube continued to have me glued to my laptop screen. Then I found another YouTuber called Chris The Freelancer. He then lit a bulb in my head. It suddenly hit me that what Chris and Ali were doing were the same! They’re both Digital Nomads.
Digital Nomads are people or a group of people who work on the go, no matter where their destination is, they’re able to work and obtain an income via the Internet. All they need is good content for their blog, photography site or YouTube channel, monetize said websites and they’re set! Brilliant!

Why not combine my love for traveling with creating content? I’ve traditionally haven’t created content. Good content at least. Have always had a knack for photography. I’m not very good, but the fire to learn and produce good photos is burning brighter and stronger than ever before. I’m looking to purchase a DSLR camera with a fair amount of gear, I’m already taking photography lessons on Skillshare. This is happening.

Enter: the reason why this blog exists. Simple. I want to write about my experiences abroad, share my photography with the world for everybody to enjoy. I need to target a specific audience though. Travel is such a broad category that I’m just going to get lost in the shuffle. Why not combine travel with my love of photography and cars? Yeah! I’ll blog about the people of different countries and cultures and tell their stories with their cars. Grab a snippet of the local car scene if I can find it and tell the story about these car owners, motorcycle owners. How they got into what they’re into, what type of work they’ve put into their car or motorcycle. A unique and interesting story that nobody else in the world has, but them – and I’m going to capture it and share it. It’s a beautiful story that needs to be shared and enjoyed.

I’ve Googled the shit out of this type of blogging, there aren’t any notable ones out there. This is a pretty untapped space. I know there are plenty of people who love reading automotive content such as Jalopnik and CarThrottle. None of them really travel to the extent of a nomad. I’m looking to bridge that gap.

I’m hoping to create some pretty badass content for you in the future. I’m not going to be just any nomad churning out posts on how to backpack on a budget or any of that jazz. That’s been done. Way over done, actually. I’m going to defy convention of the typical Digital Nomad.

My name is Kevin Tran, and I’m going to be your automotive Digital Nomad of the future! (Just need to get my finances sorted first before I take off. God damnit.)