Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ode To An Old Ford Truck

Recent politics make an unwilling participant pine for the good old days. Many of mine fortunately comprised a smooth bench seat, flimsy lap-belts, and a sightly lass crowding me in a Ford truck. This Craigslist ad for a '65 F-100 transcends its genre by a far piece, so far it's told with a sigh, ages and ages hence, with fitting humor and honesty. Pics of a vehicle less traveled:

(Hat tip to Blunt Jackson)

FOR SALE: 1965 FORD F-100 PICKUP. RUNS.

The late Dick Helmold, of Helmold Ford in Raleigh, told me that in 1965 the Ford Motor Company began to use inferior steel in their truck bodies. Weakened the stock, he said. I'm pretty sure he was correct.

More rust than paint, dry-rotten tires, one missing and three mismatched hubcaps, a gas pedal that sticks and brakes that fail (DOT-3 is my co-pilot), no radio, interior lights, or heat, but with a three-on-the-tree gearshift and an amusing horn, this heart-breaking truck is difficult to give up, or even to give away. The driver's door opens only from the inside, so you must enter the vehicle through the passenger side door. Fortunately, the bench seat makes it a breeze to slide across. You may exit via the driver's door, but please don't slam the door shut, or the window will fall down the well and I'll have to take the door panel off to pull it back up and re-engage it with the window knob linkage thingy.

I have owned this dysfunctional vehicle around 18 years. I promise it starts; you'll just have to be patient. The application of jumper cables is a given, so you will need another vehicle for that, and a little cleaning solvent sprayed in the carburetor helps, as long as you don't overdo it, because then flames will shoot out of the engine compartment when it kicks over. If it finally does start, on the 14th attempt, the neighborhood children usually stop what they're doing, because they know that as I crawl up the street in first gear, I'll be laying heavy on the "ahh-OOOGG-ahh" horn and embarrassing their parents who should by now be inured to this spectacle.

This truck can only live in Carrboro. I can't remember the last time it went to Chapel Hill. It is so not Meadowmont. If it showed up in the Oaks and leaked fluid on the golf course, someone would call 911. If it tried to drive up and down the hills of Lake Forest, it would get sick and throw up.

When you see it on the street, though, this rattling deathtrap is a quite the head-turner, even as it tends to slip out of first gear with a loud bang, as if the non-committal transmission is in active rebellion against any rules of engagement, and must be coaxed gently back in as soon as the gears stop whining and grinding and throwing their little tantrum. This is most likely to happen at noon in heavy traffic, in the middle of a left turn at a traffic signal, downtown. I'm not proud of it, but I admit that I bear some personal responsibility for many of the multiple-light-cycle delays in Carrboro since 1991. When the bed of the truck is overflowing with three cubic yards of mulch or groaning under the weight of the rocks from a dismantled farmhouse chimney, I can swear that the leaf spring suspension is literally cracking in two beneath my bench seat as I motor slowly along the two-lane road while the other drivers line up behind me, waiting for their chance to pass. Some of them give me a happy thumbs-up gesture, or roll down their windows and shout "I love your truck". The others, I assume, are silently wondering what kind of jerk would over-compensate for his shortcomings by foisting this ersatz mockery of a truck upon the rest of the driving public. Honestly, though, am I really so different from the farmers who used to drive their tractors into town for a haircut at the Friendly Barber Shop? Well—yes, I am. I grew up in suburban New Jersey for starters, and have a couple of college degrees, so I don't exactly have my rural bona fides. Luckily, to date, nobody has actually yelled at me, "I hate your truck".

I first suspected something was strange about this truck twelve years ago, when it decided to sit in our yard on Maple Avenue for the entire month of December, dressed effeminately, draped in foliage and refusing to do any work whatsoever. This truck loved Christmas; it truly lived for the holiday. It would get all giddy around Thanksgiving, pulling old boxes of its grandmother's Christmas lights out of the attic. At first, I was embarrassed—what would the neighbors think, and all that stuff that tells you more about my own fears than anything else. I must have thought it was just a phase, but in retrospect, of course, I was in complete denial. And even if it was the truck's idea, I was definitely an enabler. My wife said, "Let it do what it wants to do. It's not hurting anyone." And in time, I realized that I still loved it, that being different was okay, and who was I to tell it not to follow the internal combustion engine at its heart?

But the truth was that over time, the truck had become increasingly unreliable. Like Lindsay Lohan, this baby is one hot mess.

For the past two years, I've kept my increasingly unstable truck in a kind of halfway house, sort of a "Club Chevy Nova". I've left it parked on a lot I own along the hill on South Greensboro St, below the road grade. The only way out is a steep incline to the street. You know what they say: out of sight, out of mind. It wasn't invited to my stepdaughter's garden wedding at our house in May—it just sat and sulked, full of bent-up metal poles, a discarded lawn mower and cans of old paint. I won't even try to take it out without getting a spotter to halt traffic in both directions while I burn out the clutch climbing up the driveway. The last person to perform this duty was a wide-eyed impoverished sculptor (you know the Carrboreal archetype) who claimed to love the truck just as it is, and likely only agreed because he wanted to buy it from me, but I don't think I dislike this young artist enough to do inflict any more suffering upon him. Maybe if he wants to just plant it in his yard and nurture it...

So over the last 18 years, this truck has consistently passed, albeit with a D-minus, every test I have devised for him. And now, as much as any under-performing teenager with a mohawk, eyeliner, and a bull ring in his nose, he needs to leave home and find his place in the world. I have turned his plates in, I'm no longer paying his insurance, and he is technically no longer my dependent. I will either donate him to Durham Tech or to the local high school, where I hope he will at least take some shop classes, maybe get his GED, or learn a useful skill. He says he wants to design sport roadsters in Italy. If so, wonderful. For all I know, maybe he'll end up opening a tattoo and piercing body shop on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh and hanging out at Sadlack's, and I'll be okay with that.
I'll still love him. But for now, I think he's spinning his wheels drinking coffee at the Open Eye, buying American Spirits at TJ's, and hooping at the Weave on Thursdays. He just needs a little push, is all.


28 comments:

A. Peasant said...

special, but inconvenient. the fatal flaw. the truck will be in the junkyard soon.

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The blogosphere is all the poorer. Pray tell which other sphere is the richer, during your silence. That is, if you haven't stopped reading comments as well?

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