Car enthusiasts can be a fickle and judgmental lot when it comes to passion for things automotive. Certain types of vehicles are expected to be driven by a person who wishes to appropriate the label for themselves. Do you drive a Miata, S2000, or one of the original British sports cars that they echo? You can lay claim to the title of gear head or enthusiast without being challenged. Have a foreign car, especially a European one, that costs more than a Midwestern starter home? You probably won’t be called a poseur if you show up to your local cars and coffee gathering. Then, there are people who love trucks.
I yield to no man in my love of the sporting automobile. I’ve got a muscle car of my own tucked away in my garage. There’s nothing finer than a Saturday morning drive through the Kentucky hills, taking corners with more enthusiasm than talent, and feeling the wind buffet through the open T-tops as the V-8 drowns out the chorus of Springsteen’s Born to Run. But put a gun to my head, order me to choose between my Camaro and my 2001 Silverado pickup with the caveat that the vehicle I don’t choose will be set on fire, well, then I guess we’ll enjoy some F-body flambe.
Grandpa Lonnie Hester only owned three vehicles during his slightly more than four-score and ten on this earth: all of them pickup trucks. The first was a Ford Model A that was replaced in 1949, the year my father was born, with a dark green Chevrolet. Grandpa Lonnie was tight-fisted and the only option on the truck was a heater because my Grandmother Ruby believed that riding around during the winter in the unheated Model A had contributed to my Aunt Jean’s early death. Grandpa ran that truck into the ground until Grandmother convinced him that not only did he deserve a new truck, but that it would also be a great help to my dad if he passed the ’49 on. That truck stayed in the family until I was nine.
The first vehicle I ever drove was the truck Grandpa bought to replace the ’49: a powder- blue 1973 Chevrolet. I was eleven when my father took me out into the pasture behind my grandmother’s house. I jerked and lurched through the field as my dad instructed me on the finer points of working my way through a three- speed on the tree with the occasional reminder that I needed to steer right… steer right… GO RIGHT OR YOU’LL HIT THE (thump) hay bale.
Three years later, and I was introduced to the time-honored tradition of cruising. Still not old enough to (legally) drive, I rode shotgun with my buddy Paul in his black Chevy S-10. He had tinted the widows way past the limit, installed the fat double- bladed wipers all the cool kids had in the late eighties, and mounted an enormous pair of speakers behind the seat. We terrorized the streets of Oxford, Alabama, after Wednesday night youth group, hollering at girls, conducting Chinese fire drills, and alternatively blasting Tone-Loc, AC/DC, and Charlie Daniels at volumes that today would definitely get kids written up for violations of municipal noise ordinances.
The three-across bench seat was perfect when one or (Score!) two girls needed a ride, particularly since everyone had to crowd more towards the passenger side in order to be out of poor, lonely Paul’s way so that he could shift. If more girls needed a ride, there was always the open bed in the days before mandatory seatbelt laws. I would occasionally ride back there myself (to keep them company, you understand) even though it would have simply killed my mother to know that I ever went anywhere without a seatbelt on. Doing things that would cause your mother to die if she knew is part of being fourteen. (Sorry, Mom.)
Despite all of this early exposure to the advantages of a pickup, I never considered one for myself and chose a two- door Chevrolet Beretta for my first new car upon graduation from high school in 1994. A few years later, flush with a steady paycheck from my first full-time job, I again failed to consider a truck and bought a used ’96 Firebird Formula two months before my wife became pregnant with our daughter. If I needed a truck, my dad always had one. When we bought our first house in 2000, I borrowed my dad’s ’94 Ford F-150 for a couple of weeks so I could move odds and ends from our apartment to the house while he got to tear around in my Firebird.
Over those two weeks, I came to truly appreciate a pickup truck for what it could do, besides haul girls and survive low- speed farm collisions without damage. The space. The view over traffic. The ability to just go and get large stuff on my own without having to bum a ride from a friend with a truck. My wife and I had been wrestling our infant daughter in and out of the back seats of two-door cars for over a year. With the truck, the car-seat was level with us. Sure, it was a tight fit in parking lots and it wouldn’t win any drag races, but a truck just made so much more sense than a coupe.
A few months later, the Firebird was traded for a lease on a new 2001 Sierra. I’ve had trucks, new and used, ever since. Sure, I could hitch a trailer to the wife’s Odyssey, but then my truck always has a trailer attached to it. It’s called a bed. If I want to go buy an $800 elliptical machine that some guy is giving away for $40 on Craigslist in an attempt to screw over his ex- wife, I can just hop in my truck and have it loaded it up before the other vultures, who had to attach their trailers or beg a pickup, get there. If my brother needs me to haul a load of mulch (and Black Widow spiders, belatedly discovered after we had spent about thirty minutes shoveling said mulch out of the bed) for him to his rental properties, I can do it. A truck of my own simply represents freedom better than my low- slung, totally impractical Camaro.
A couple of years ago I let my daughter drive in a field for the first time. Coincidentally, her first time behind the wheel was also in a blue Chevrolet pickup truck. In another couple of years, she’ll get her permit and I plan to make her learn the basics of car control in my Silverado so that she’ll never be intimidated by large vehicles. Kids today don’t cruise the way my friends and I used to, gas prices and graduated driver’s licenses being what they are. It’s just as well. I can’t imagine letting her go riding around at the age of 14 the way I did. But if she ever has the opportunity, I just have to ask her to do one thing for me:
Don’t ride in the back of any pickup trucks. It will simply kill your father.