It will come as no surprise to you that I love my truck.
What's not to love, after all? It is big. And steel. From a time and a place where automobiles were made of real metal, and driving was more of a visceral, participatory experience than it has become today. I love everything about this truck. From the metallic 'creak-slam' of the door closing, to the wide, peeling vinyl-covered bench seat to the fact that it came with a rifle rack and an NRA sticker.
There is never a time when you are in the truck that you do not feel connected to the road beneath you. The throaty growl of the engine (a little louder and throatier because there's a crack in the manifold, my mechanic tells me. I don't really know what that is. I just try and nod when he signals me that it's time to do so, and give him money when he's finished), the steering column-located shifter ('3 on the tree') that confuses the poor young buck at the vehicle inspection station every year, and the way the steering wheel rocks back in forth in long arcs as you drive down the freeway (if the steering wheel was a clock face, you could spin the wheel back and forth from around 11:00-1:00 without altering the direction of travel in the slightest). Manual steering and manual brakes take you back to the days when Detroit assumed that Americans were made of muscle and fiber and a Protestant Work Ethic, and wanted to drive like it.
Ok, so there are a few things that can be inconvenient. No radio? I will hum for you. No air conditioning? The windows roll down, if you spin that handle with enough strength. Want to make a phone call? No you don't. The cab is too loud for the other person to hear anything besides a windy roar when you talk, even on hands-free. Besides, you should be paying attention to the road anyhow. Forgot to pull out the choke when you started it? It will sputter and die to remind you of the proper steps for starting a vehicle. No defrost? Not true! Let the engine warm up for 20 minutes or so, and you can pull a knob that directs some of the warm-ish air off the top of the engine block and into the cab, up at the center of the windshield. It's enough to de-ice a toddler-sized clear patch, about 10 inches to the right from where the driver sits. It was good enough for Henry Ford. It's good enough for you. That's why you have a bench seat, to scoot over where you can see. Seat belts? Grow a pair.
By contrast, because I rent frequently as I travel, I've driven any number of other sedans, station wagons, coupes, hatchbacks and SUV's over the last several years. Almost without fail, the majority of cars on the road are bland and dull, forgotten as soon as I step out of them. Once, I was given a Prius (I was in San Francisco. I suppose it was assumed that's what I wanted.) I have friends who own Priuses. Friends that I like very much. No offense to Prius drivers. But the Prius is about the furthest thing from driving that you can do with a steering wheel. The shifter was a little widget above the air conditioning vent. The noise was almost completely gone. The dashboard contains a video game that challenges you to operate the vehicle as efficiently as possible, rewarding you with Smug Points you can trade with your friends over your grande soy-whip peppermint pumpkin mocha. 'I got 51 on the way in today!'.
I could see the appeal. In the same way I can appreciate the skill required to play modern experimental jazz. I don't want anywhere near it when it happens. But I can appreciate that some people are really into it.
About a year or 18 months ago, I did notice that my truck's fuel gage stopped working, mostly. Just hanging out below the "E" even when I fill up the tank. Every once in a while, it'll pop up and tell me how much gas remains for a little while. And then it'll drop back down again. The last time it worked was about 2 months ago, I think. Just for a minute. But it was nice to see it was trying. I just compensate by filling up the tank with fair regularity. So far, I've not been caught up short. Though it's been a close thing once or twice. This did add a special bit of adventure when took a roadtrip to the coast of Maine this past summer.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't shift with the clutch anymore. Fortunately, I was only a couple of miles away from the office, and able to shift on the fly as I drove the last minutes. Do they even teach that skill anymore? If you have a vehicle from the golden era of motoring, this was an essential trick to learn. I'm guessing that has probably been CGI'd out of most modern vehicles.
When I got it to him, my mechanic told me that "the clutch plate was gone, and something something seals something something leaking like crazy something something have to lift the engine block out to get to it."
I just nodded and asked him how much.
The most expensive work I've ever had done on the truck before this was a bit over $500. And that included new tires. But ok. Treat my baby well. See you in a few days. (Consider that when my Bride lost her Volvo's key, it cost $450).
About a week later, my truck showed up in my driveway again, with a bill for just under a thousand dollars. (or about 60% of what he quoted me).
"...<shrug> It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be."
I've said it before, but holy honest-injuns do I love small towns.
With my new job putting more miles on my vehicle, though, I've noticed it wearing down a bit faster than I would like. The rust is showing more (salt on the New England roads in the winter), and it just takes a little more to start and go each day than I'd like. With winter coming on full here in the next weeks, my Bride and I decided it was time for a new commuter vehicle. Something a little more practical and zippy to get back and forth. I'd been postponing this for years, frankly. So finally, I put in the order.
I'm excited that my brand new Mini Cooper S is now built and sitting on an English dock, waiting to be loaded and transported across the pond. I am more excited about this new car (radio! heated seats! dashboard gages that work! seatbelts!) than I would have imagined, and having test driven a couple of them in the process, I'm really looking forward to driving it on a daily basis. Where I drive my truck as if I don't really care what time you get there, I drive the Mini Cooper as if I stole it. Hmm. That could be a different kind of problem.
But I'll be keeping the truck for the forseeable future. I need to occasionally haul things, you know. And I don't think I'll ever be able to replace that glorious feeling of cruising down the road with a battleship's worth of steel surrounding you, ensconced in the truck-musk smell of hot, sun-degraded vinyl and exhaust. If I can teach my kids to drive this truck, I know that they'll be able to drive anything they sit in later in life.
It is a thing of beauty.
9 November 2011
To the Editor,
I want to congratulate the planners and all who had input into the design and presentation of the new CCHS facility. It's clear from the overwhelming support that the community is in clear agreement on the need and solution to secure the future education of our students. I was among the supporters in the crowd at the Town Meeting, and impressed again with the preparation involved.
However, I also want to reflect that the impact of this and the Carlisle school project combined is a significant new burden for many of our residents, and harms our ability to create an affordable community for our neighbors and newcomers. It will be difficult to offset the significant increase in property taxes that we will all bear. In every responsible household and business, we plan ahead for big purchases, set aside a little each month, and save up for what we know will be the big expenses, to reduce the painful impact of those purchases and live within our means for the long term. If we had, for example, agreed to a $100 or $150/year average increase in our property tax per household for the last 20 years as a set-aside for major improvements, we could have avoided altogether the need to see those taxes rise by $600-$1,600+/year to pay off this loan. This is the same principle underlying the Community Preservation Act, setting a bit aside each year to ensure we create and preserve a town worth living in. Why wouldn't we do the same to ensure we can affordably pay for major school & civic investments?
It doesn't take a crystal ball to know that there will be other bills due: maintenance, upgrades and replacement of other aging parts of the Carlisle school in coming years. I would look to the Carlisle Long Term Capital Requirements committee to take the opportunity now while these costs are still fresh in our minds to bring forward alternatives to see that we do not ever have to bear such a painfully sharp and beyond-our-means expense again, be it 2 years, 5 years or 50 years hence.