“You know,” I said to Mark at breakfast this morning, “You’ve never given me a ride in the truck.”
There was a pause, and then Mark clunked his mug deliberately down onto the table. He sighed, and he turned his head toward the carport, where the big-ass silver Chevy Silverado hunkered like an elephant in a dog house. He stared out the bay window for a long minute, and then he turned his head and looked at me.
“Okay, yeah,” he said, and his mien was smooth, but his voice was laced with either bitterness or grief. “Oh, yeah. NOW you like the truck.”
Wait, I thought, startled. Did I ever say I didn’t like the truck? But before I could pursue the subject, Mark heaved himself out of the chair and headed off to iron himself a shirt. I turned the page of the newspaper, and I happened on a big spread, an ad for new trucks. A truck like the one Mark is driving, I learned, would cost, brand-new, just about what we paid for our former house.
It probably wasn’t, I considered, the best time to point this out.
This started when Mark came home from the rental car company driving his loaner, the vehicle that would get him through until his Impala was repaired. We’d expected a nice small to mid-size car,–a Chevy Cruze, maybe,–but here he was with a gleaming pickup.
“Whoa!” Jim said when he saw his dad pull in, and he slammed on his shoes and ran outside. I watched as the two of them hopped into the cab and out of the cab, and then they hopped back in. Then they got out so Mark could snap some pictures and send them off to friends and brothers…and to his first-born, Matt, who replied immediately.
“Dad!” texted Matt. “You got a TRUCK! I am so proud of you!”
It was deflating, I think, for Mark to respond, letting Matt know it was only a loaner. But still: look at that truck in the driveway.
Right after dinner, Mark and Jim came up with a plausible reason to go to Kroger, and they ran out and took off in the truck.
The next day, Mark came home for lunch and said, jokingly, that one of the women in his office had asked if I was going to let him keep the Silverado.
“Hey,” I said, “you can drive whatever you want, as long as you can afford it.”
“Oh, sure,” said Mark (and, come to think of it, maybe that was the first time I heard that little edge in his voice.) “Oh, sure. It always comes down to THAT, doesn’t it?”
The body shop folks called that night and said it would be a good two weeks until the car could be fixed. Mark, his voice appropriately regretful, told them that would be fine, and he told them not to worry.
And certainly, not to rush.
Suddenly, there were tons of essential errands to be done using that silver pickup, and suddenly, Jim was kindly offering wing-man services.
On Saturday, while the boyos efficiently prepared to do their weekly recycling and visit to the big-box hardware store followed by lunch, I asked Mark if he’d mind running my car through the car wash while they were out. We were picking up a friend to go to dinner the following day, and the car was crusted with street salt and splashed with dried slush.
Both Mark and Jim froze on the cellar steps, each with a foot poised to ascend, their hands clutching handles of big blue plastic recycling totes.
“Take the HYUNDAI?” Mark asked. He and Jim looked at each other.
“Well,” I said, “if you wouldn’t mind.”
There were sighs and mutters, and they slammed out the door, slammed the bins into the car, peeled out of the driveway. The idle Silverado stared blandly at me from the carport. The boyos were home in record time; the Hyundai was sparkling, and they quickly remembered something they’d forgotten to do.
As they backed the truck tenderly into the driveway, I swear the Silverado was smirking.
What IS it with men and big-ass trucks?
I remember watching tiny, pre-verbal James picking up a Matchbox car, or a Tonka truck, or a box approximately shaped like a sturdy vehicle, to drive it down roadways worn into the carpet. “Vroooom,” he would mutter, totally absorbed. “VROOOOM!” And the truck would accelerate, taking sharp turns with ultimate skill. (What did little boys play in the days before Henry Ford?)
Sometimes Matt would hunker down with Jim encouragingly, racing another vehicle toward him. Sometimes Mark would get down there too, and three male voices would be rumbling along the faded peach carpet in the living room. “Vrooomvrooomvroom.”
A primal sound: something, it seemed to me, unlearned, inborn. An inarticulate articulation, a way of saying, at a tender, budding age, “I love trucks.”
Explain this to me, I think, and I type, “men and pickup trucks” into a search engine. Oh, the results are deep and multitudinous. I wade in.
Tom Purcell, in the online version of the Athens Banner-Herald, writes about a survey a company called Insure.com conducted in 2015. They asked 2000 people what an attractive potential romantic partner would drive.
When women discussed attractive men, the results were pretty specific: they’d drive a big, black, Ford truck.
The very next article, by Linda Holmes on NPR’s site (“I Like Big Trucks and I Cannot Lie: Cars, Trucks, and the Lady Brain”) cites the same survey. I look at the next two articles on the list. They refer back to that survey, too.
Women like men with big trucks, says the survey, but I think now that maybe that was a given before those results went public.
I morph the search slightly and open an article called “How the Car You Drive Impacts Your Image/Vehicles Reflect a Man’s Style.” It’s on realmenrealstyle.com, and it reiterates that people judge men–that, in particular, WOMEN judge men,—by what they’re driving.
And now I remember back to the law school days, when everyone was broke and struggling along, and when one of Mark’s young classmates showed up at school in the only car available in an emergency situation and in his price range: a cute, tiny, purple Ford Escort. He was a tall man, that classmate; driving along, he looked as if his knees were brushing his chin in the little car.
His classmates, male and female, were merciless in their glee; they laughed and laughed and made jokes about grapes and about fragile masculinity. I can’t remember that sweet young man’s name. I remember his ride, though. It was not what you’d call a chick-magnet.
I think, too, of young men I’ve taught, gallant boys who were scraping through college on tiny incomes from late-night jobs, taking heavy course-loads to get done sooner, shouldering loans and going hungry, giving up burgers in the cafeteria, borrowing textbooks from the library on long-term loans, and living with their moms and dads because they couldn’t, while the degree was pending, afford rent. I would see those dedicated students in the parking lot after class, where they would rear up and take off in loaded, crew-cab pickups. They HAD to have those pickups; they saw no irony in the fact.
The article on realmenrealstyle.com digresses when the unnamed author shares a picture of a Chevy truck that looks just like the one Mark is driving. It has a double cab, with room for six people, great hauling capacity, and the ability to navigate through all kinds of weather. “Chevrolet–if you’re reading–email me,” the writer suggests.
Then he adds some advice about selecting a vehicle. Keep it simple, he says–no weird, off beat colors (lime green is bad, and so, he says–woe to that young law student,–is purple). Keep it clean; piles of aging debris are not sexy. And keep it practical.
“Buy the right car for your lifestyle and take care of it, as the vehicle reflects your image,” realmenrealstyle advises.
But, as that author himself demonstrates, there is more to vehicle ownership than practicality. On therichest.com, an article called “What These 8 Cars Say About The Men Who Drive Them” (Debbie Bruce), tells me this: “…a man’s passion for his vehicle is typically primal and unwavering. The relationship between males and their cars is an intimate experience that is blissfully low pressure, undemanding and pure.”
(A truck, I guess, unlike a wife, does not pose annoying questions. Does a truck ever say, “Well, can we AFFORD it, honey?” I am quite sure it does not.)
So the vehicle makes a statement, and that statement reflects upon the man who drives it. And that vehicle needs to be worthy of that man’s love and respect.
How long, I wonder, has this been going on, this man-car relationship, this reflected and shared machismo? I pull up “The Illustrated History of the Pickup Truck” on http://www.caranddriver.com. The author introduces a historical slideshow by saying, “It would be hard to argue that any type of vehicle is more uniquely American the pickup truck.” So add a veneer of patriotism to the reflected glory and the love United States drivers feel for their trucks.
The illustrated history tells me that Henry Ford marketed the first pickup truck in 1925; he came up with both the concept and the term ‘pickup.’ Ford and his assembly line had put the Model T in the reach of many average Americans from 1912 on. Those who were farmers, or builders, or people with a regular need to carry large loads, had immediately set about morphing their cars into vehicles with hauling capacity. When Ford followed suit, he quickly sold 135,000 of his new pickup trucks, “beginning,” the article says, “an American love story and putting untold numbers of horses out of work.”
A component supplier, Marmon-Herrington, offered, starting in the mid-1930’s, to convert Ford pickups to four-wheel drive. Many people took them up on that offer, and manufacturers took note. Dodge’s 1946 Power Wagon offered 4WD as a standard feature. Military personnel returning home from World War II had learned to love four wheel drive, and they welcomed it in their personal trucks. And men, it was clear, didn’t have to be in a line of work that required heavy hauling to want to drive a pickup.
As pickups continued to “find their way off the farm and into the suburban driveway,” The Illustrated History of the Pickup Truck tells me,” buyers began to demand more style and amenities.” So in 1955, a Chevy pickup lost its rear fenders, sporting, instead, sleek, smooth sides. Inside, its upholstery was wrought in two vivid colors, it had armrests, and sun visors shaded both the driver and the passengers–truck luxuries unheard of until then. Ford and Dodge jumped in to update their designs, and by 1960, pickup trucks all offered the same sleek styling.
International Harvester, I learn, was the first company, in 1957, to offer the crew cab. Their three door truck could carry six people with no problem. Soon Dodge added a crew cab to its line. At first, the expanded seating allowed crews to travel together back and forth from work sites, but families soon adopted the crew-cab truck as their vehicles of choice. By the late 1960’s, many manufacturers were building trucks with four doors, front and back seats, and all the bells and whistles a fancy car might offer.
Big block engines were first installed for folks who wanted to haul trailers or campers; Silverado added the powerful engine to its regular line in 1990. Others quickly followed. As the manufacturers ramped up their engine capacities, they incorporated aerodynamic details, too, until, in 2004, the Dodge SRT-10 could easily travel at more than 150 miles per hour…and it could go from a dead stop to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. (“When would you ever need to DO that?” I ask Mark. He looks at me pityingly, and he shakes his head.)
I read about diesel engines in pickups, convertible pickups, and pickup-SUV mash-ups, which turned out to be fad rather than innovation; by 2013, that was over. I learn that the Ford F series has been the bestselling brand of pickup trucks since 1982…but that there are many other pickup trucks a man could learn to love.
“Do you know what it costs to fill the tank of a Chevy Silverado?” Mark chokes out. I do not know, but I can see this startling fact might make it easier to send that truck back to the rental car store.
So Mark navigates the end of the week in a little haze, the kind of fog that descends when one knows a well-loved friend, after a wonderful visit, must soon depart. He is trying to enjoy these last days of the truck, but the knowledge of separation flavors every ride.
I understand, I want to tell him: that vehicle is his reflection. But the Impala: well, that’s a good looking, efficient ride, a smart car to drive with a hint of luxury built in. Good-looking, efficient, smart–much like the man who drives it.
And maybe, if we start saving now, there could be a truck in his future, perhaps even a splurge to celebrate a smart, good-looking, efficient man’s retirement.
But I turn to see Mark, unguarded, staring out the bay window and sighing. And I hear Jim’s echoing sigh from the living room.
“A man’s passion for his truck is primal and unwavering,” I remember, and I clamp shut my mouth, putting a comforting hand on Mark’s shoulder, and I head off to rub the pork roast.