I posted this on September 22, 2011:
Those who know me also know that I am not the kind of guy who needs an oversized, tricked-out ride to be macho.
Then I drove a big truck for a while, and I discovered that I am the kind of guy who needs an oversized, tricked-out ride to be macho.
It was serendipity. It happened when I flew to Boise this summer to spend a couple weeks with friends and family. My flight there was delayed, and when I arrived at 1 a.m., the rental car rep told me that all the cars were out. The only thing left was a pickup. Because of the hour and because I had been expecting the smallest, most humiliating heap Hyundai makes, that sounded just fine to me. It might be fun to drive an Isuzu or Nissan Titan for a while.
People can often recall every detail of the moment they first encountered a love.
That night was hot, but unlike where I live, Washington, D.C., Boise’s air smelled arid and sweet. You could see hundreds of stars. So I didn’t mind that I had to cross the entire rental lot, which by then was empty of vehicles or life.
From a distance, I saw my rental. It was under a lamp. It grew bigger and bigger as I got closer. My head was buzzing from the 2,800 air miles behind me, so I wasn’t entirely confident in my senses. But could it be?
Yes it could. When I got closer I froze, and that was when the fireworks exploded in the sky and the choir and harps began their song.
It wasn’t a pickup. It was a Ford F-150. Extended cab. Four doors. White, with kick-ass blue stripes down the sides. I threw my bag in the bed and stepped up to the cab. The delicious smell of rental car interior everywhere, and the paper mat under my feet.
When I drove it out of the rental lot, I experienced a kind of elation and power that I had never known before. The engine block was massive, and I felt like a 12-year-old sneaking dad’s car out of for a driving, having to stretch my neck just to see over the steering wheel. The hood was fat, and it poofed up in the air and across the horizon. I’m here, the engine was telling me. What can I do for you?
Not only did I feel like a 12-year-old sneaking dad’s car, I drove like one too. Part of it was the sheer excitement of having this rig at my disposal. But most of it was adjusting to the size. I’ve driven big trucks before, but this was like driving a brick shithouse. For a while, I clipped the curb on every corner I turned. But then I got used to it and went for a little drive. People were still out at the bars downtown, walking in the streets, buying a sausage at the stand. There wasn’t a one of them that didn’t stop and gawk at that phantom F-150 as it drove by. Who could blame them?
I drove to my sister’s house, where I was staying, parked, stepped down from the cab, and it was like repelling from a cliff. For the next two weeks, I didn’t so much as walk across the street. Anybody need a lift? No problem. Everyone loved to ride in it. Even my tallest passengers marveled at the leg room in the back.
The dash had all kinds of candy, including a screen that lit up with a message when you started the engine. “Built Ford Tough!” I often pulled over and turned the engine off and on, off and on, just to see it. The dash also had a gas mileage meter, and sometimes it showed as many as 18 mpg. Tough and green.
I pulled up to stoplights next to inferior cars. Rolled down my window and stared at the driver in the Jag next to me. Revved up that monstrous engine. Want some? Yeah, I thought so. There’s only so many of us that are built Ford tough.
I took it to Canyon County, west of Boise, farm country with miles and miles of beets and corn and potatoes. I saw many other F-150s, gave all their drivers my thumbs up. Most stared back with blank expressions, but I knew they understood. It was nice to be around my people.
I went from driving with both hands at 10 and 2 to driving with one finger at about 5:30. Felt good. Like and extension of me.
After a while, it was over and time to turn the F-150 back in. I left early in the morning. The sun was rising and already hot. I pulled into the lot, turned off the ignition, took one more look, and then left the key in the night slot. Our friendship ended like too many friendships do: at dawn, at the airport, in a fog of insufficient sleep, when you say goodbye and know you’ll never see each other again, and then you turn to face the anonymity and coldness of a day on airplanes, knowing it would never be the same again.
Before I left, I said goodbye my sister and thanked her for letting me stay with her. I told her I’d miss her. But deep inside I knew I’d really miss that truck.