I’ve known Bill for nearly fifteen years now, but his 1996 Isuzu Hombre truck is even older than our relationship. One sometimes wonders about a man’s attachment to his vehicle. He has been as reluctant to say goodbye to the Truck as if it were an old girlfriend. I have no problem with this, except that it has become a HIGH-MAINTENANCE old girlfriend.
And it doesn’t like me much, even though I’ve saved its sorry ass a few times. Although Bill swears it is easy to drive, its shift throw (at least in my hands) is painfully long and circuitous, its clutch is stiff and balky, and, as I’ve said, it doesn’t like me much. I haven’t driven the thing in at least ten years. I’ve explained to Bill that I simply can’t drive it, though a stick shift is not beyond my driving skills.
What is it about our vehicles that takes us right back to the days when our mode of transportation was a living, breathing creature? When I finally had to junk my red Honda Civic, in which I celebrated the passage of 200,000 miles, I watched her being towed away with tears in my eyes, her tattered owner’s manual in my hand. I felt as if the knacker had come for Ginger in Black Beauty.
You see, the tenure of the Truck has traced the entire length of Bill’s and my time together. When I first flew down to Florida to spend a weekend with Bill, it was the Truck that picked me up at Tampa International Airport. It was a trim, teal-green little dude then. I learned how to relax into the Florida lifestyle in it. I propped my sandaled feet up on its dash as we drove to Orlando, to Mt. Dora, to St. Pete Beach. And I had my first chance to save its ass when it broke down on the way back from Madeira Beach, while “I’ve Seen Better Days” played with upbeat irony on the radio. My AAA account covered us, even though it wasn’t my vehicle. In true Florida style, we waited for the tow truck in a bar near where we broke down. The tow truck driver was delightful. It was the beginning of a great adventure.
The truck mouldered with Bill’s mechanic Dave in Tampa until long after he had driven to Massachusetts to live with me, in an ancient blue van borrowed from his best buddy, in which all his possessions and a family of Haitians traveled through Hurricane Dennis. The Haitians’ own car had broken down somewhere in Georgia, and Bill drove them most of the way home to Connecticut. I believe they still owe us a roasted goat.
About a year later, we made an epic drive in the blue van, from Wayland, Mass., to St. Pete, where we returned it to its owner and got the truck out of the shop. This was the trip when we had Easter dinner with Bill’s mom in Spring Lake, NJ; first visited Savannah; and stopped at a revival meeting in South Carolina on the way home.
Our mini-Aussie, Dingo, had a history all his own with the Truck. Dingo loved to ride in the front seat with Bill. After a skunk encounter that ended badly (don’t they all), Dingo went to the vet in the Truck. Because its cab is small, all odors, all air conditioning, and all heat always end up concentrated in that compact box of a space. For reasons known only to him, Bill stopped at Market Basket on the way home from the vet that day. As he stood in line, those in front of him slowly swiveled around, one by one, sniffing. It was like “Slowly I turn.” The cashier’s eyes began to tear. “Okay, I’m sorry!” Bill blurted. “My dog got skunked, okay?” It took a year and a couple of cans of Febreze before the Truck was finally deodorized.
Dingo loved to get loose when he could, which is what led to the skunk incident in the first place. If somebody left the front door even slightly open, he bolted. He'd stretch out his little legs and run like the wind, in big circles around us or the house, like he was herding sheep. The only thing that could call him home was Bill saying, "Go for ride in the Truck!" When I gathered up his broken body to bring him home the last time, it was "Go for ride in the Truck” that I whispered to him.
When we were forced to pay outrageous legal fees to bring my never-ending divorce to a conclusion, the Truck helped Bill deliver newspapers in the dead of night to help pay them. It bore masking tape, markers, and baggies on its dashboard, maps on the front seat, all in support of a system that Bill had worked out for the job. Newspaper delivery has no sick-time excuses, so it was the Truck that saved Bill’s neck one night during a blizzard in which he careened backwards down an icy hill into a snowbank overlooking the Piscataqua River and drove, blind, between honking semis on an unplowed Route 101 between Portsmouth and Exeter.
The Truck has moved our belongings six times, from Wayland to Holliston; from Holliston to Marblehead; from Marblehead to North Conway, NH; from North Conway to Portsmouth; from Portsmouth to Exeter; and from Exeter back home to Florida, there to rest its weary bones.
It has a hidey hole next to the map pocket on the passenger side, where contraband may be stored.
Its clock cannot be reset without consulting the owner’s manual … every time.
At this point, there is little left of the driver’s side seat, now reduced to exposed foam padding and a metal skeleton. In the craigslist writeup, the front seat is described as “rough.” The dashboard is brown with coffee and cigarette stains. The radiator has a relentless leak; the oil pan is held together with chewing gum and solder. Even the Ron Paul and custom-made “Save the Big Easy” bumper stickers are fading.
But when some yahoo comes to pay $500 and drive the Truck away for scrap metal, I’ll be in the house crying my eyes out.