I don’t like your truck

I had to rent a pickup truck last month. I needed to haul some lumber and while I can fit a surprising number of pressure-treated 2×12’s into my Prius, its not a surprising enough number to finish my project. I grew up rural. I know trucks well enough to know what to expect. I expected four wheels, a nice roomy bed in the back, and an engine to get them around.

In the back of my mind, I knew that’s not really how they do trucks anymore, but it wasn’t until I reached the rental car lot that I realized how irritatingly off base my expectations were. It was a small lot on the edges of town and they had three pickup trucks to choose from. They all had essentially the same features: a massive double cab with too many seats, air conditioning, bluetooth enabled radios, other modern frills and fripperies… and a six foot bed.

The lumber I had ordered was eight.

I didn’t need a bluetooth enabled radio. I didn’t need room for five people. I didn’t need air conditioning (it had windows, after all). I didn’t need seat heaters or an electric key fob or a backup camera or any of the crap in the cab. I needed eight feet of truck bed.

“How?” I wondered to myself. “How can a vehicle be simultaneously too big AND too small!?!”

Sighing with irritation but without a better option, I took it. Clambering into the driver’s seat, I flashed back to my first time driving a pickup.

I was twelve and a horse girl, like you do when you grow up rural. Horses eat hay so once a year or so we had to go get it. Hay is cheaper when you go get the bales in the field instead of having them brought to you so that’s what we did. As the youngest (and the shortest and the weakest), my job was to keep the truck moving, slow and steady, as everyone else shifted bales up to the tailgate, then mom tetrised them up, four hight and five deep into the bed. I couldn’t reach the pedals without tying 2×4’s to my feet, and that’s with sitting on the very front edge of the seat. Once we had as many bales as we could wedge in back there, I clambered over the front seats to share the two tiny seats with my brother, several beat up tool bags, and a layer of gloves, hats, candy wrappers, receipts, shop rags, and other detritus I find inseparable from a working vehicle.

That truck features vividly in my memories of childhood. It hauled fence posts, heavy machinery, ran the plow in the winter, and brought home at least a dozen Christmas trees before it went to the big racetrack in the sky. It was white and had a hydraulic lift on it. It was scratched, dented, filthy, and beautiful. It was made to haul stuff, not people, and it did it’s job exceptionally well.

I felt the same sense of smallness in this chonky, shiny rental, but without the accompanying comfort. It should have smelled like degreaser and sweat. It should have had room in the bed for everything I needed. It should have been easier to get into. I only ever drove that truck a few times, but riding in it over and over made it comfortable. This one, so much bigger than it needed to be, and yet not big enough for what I needed, didn’t feel right.

Another truck that looms large in my childhood memories was older, but came along a few years later. With a cab even more spartan than the work truck, it got cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The shifter must have been a solid foot or so long and emerged from bare steel to sit directly between my knees whenever we had a second passenger. My short legs meant I always wound up (still do) in the smallest seat, the shortest one, the one with the least room in any dimension, and in that big old Clifford-red ford, that meant the center of the bench seat with one foot in the driver’s side footwell and the other in the passenger side.

The red ford became my brother’s primary ride, and part of the deal was giving me one to school every day. It was how we got to friend’s homes, and how we got them to the creek on hot summer days. This truck was all bed, no cab. Whoever he had a crush on got to sit in the front and the rest of us rode in the back, hot wind whipping past us, each bump in the road jostling us, giggling, back and forth.

Neither of these trucks had a backup camera. You had to learn where your ass was and try to keep it where it belonged, or get a friend to stand in your rear view and wave you back and forth as you wiggled your way back into wherever you needed to be.

Which is good, because that backup camera I mentioned earlier, the one on my fancy new rental? Yeah…. It’s mounted on the tailgate. Which is great! Unless the bed is too short to hold your lumber, and the tailgate is pointed at the ground.

The one and only time I needed to back up that stupid truck, the singular moment when a camera might have been a handy gadget, it was useless. It would have been better if it hadn’t been there are all, considering how distracting it was to have the screen tugging at the edges of my vision while, as I learned to do 23 years ago, someone stood in my rear view and waved me in.

Before this, I already had some strong opinions on people who drive pristine pickups. I feel like I’ve been seeing them everywhere: glistening late model 4x4s with lift packages and exhaust pipes in improbable places. My uncle joined the club some years go with a precious baby that runs on batteries as much as fuel, comes with a push start and an app, has every possible climate control and comfort option in the massive cab…. And hauls a boat twice a year. The driver’s hatred for millennials is probably the heaviest cargo it’ll every carry and god forbid it get a scratch.

These people, folks who value the appearance of physical labor, but don’t actually perform any, fall into the same category as people I call “cowboys with no cows.” Posers who adopt the trappings of people who actually work for a living, claiming the music, the style, the stuff, but none of the hardships, annoy me. There’s a reason cowboy boots have a heel. There’s a reason to drive what is essentially a big-ass wheelbarrow. There’s a reason to have a massive and powerful engine. Those reasons outweigh environmental damage, the space they take up, and some discomfort, but without them, these sorts of things are just a big old fuck you to everyone else. And to try to shoehorn a monster truck into a city lifestyle is just plain stupid.

I like hybrid vehicles, they’re better than the alternative. I like climate control, though opening a window is still the OG AC. I like having the means to build and move and shape, which means I like that trucks exist. And honestly, I probably like your truck, because if you’ve met me and you have a truck, you’re probably the kind of person who has it for a reason.

But I’ve been keeping an eye out, since my rental, and fuck me if I don’t see an awful lot of special snowflake pick trucks whose only serious cargo is the driver’s ego. If that one is yours, my friend I can tell you this: I don’t like your truck.

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