In one of my favorite episodes of King of the Hill, the main character, Hank Hill, wrestles with his feelings about the looming mechanical mortality of his truck. He projects these emotions through his sadness at the end of an obviously over the top romantic drama, and continues to misdirect and avoid addressing his fears and despairs until the ultimately untimely end of his beloved truck at the hands of an engine breakdown precisely as Hank is driving over a railroad track with a train approaching in the distance. The truck is of course obliterated, leaving Hank to wander amid the wreckage of his pickup, his feelings scattered like the so many pieces of his truck on the road. In the end, Hank comes to terms with the finality of his truck and returns to the dealership that fated his truck’s demise to find a new pickup he tentatively gives his affection, as one is want to do when beginning a new relationship.
I remember watching that episode as a kid and feeling both amusement and confusion. I found the premise of a grown man shedding tears over the loss of his truck mildly hilarious, and was equally confused that he wouldn’t jump at the opportunity for a new one (especially since the animators’ rendering of Hank’s new truck looked strikingly like the Ford Super Duty). For many years Hank’s dilemma seemed like a no brainer. Why waste money on a doomed vehicle, on an aesthetically aged truck that put off an appeal of dereliction when there new trucks to be driven? I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it as a kid. I didn’t get it when I got my first truck and longed with envy at my classmates who drove pickups with sticker prices higher than the house I lived in.
I get it now. My own truck is twelve years from its construction, nine years into me owning it. It’s full of dents, dings, deformities, scratches, scrapes, and scuffs from a decade and 170k miles spent with me behind the wheel. It doesn’t accelerate like it used to, and the wheel pulls to the right from either several too many popped curbs or a couple crashes that didn’t properly get checked out. The interior is ripping, one of the back doors doesn’t work, the driver’s window stopped rolling down over a year ago, and I think the passenger will be in the same position by the end of the year. I’m afraid to drive it more than 50 miles at a time (really more than 50 miles a day) because during the summer it overheated twice and I’m worried the next time will be the last. I might be imagining things, but I think there’s just the faintest smell of burning oil, though I try to ignore that when I get out of it.
But for all that, for all the reasons why I should put a for sale sign in the window and take the first cash offer I get, I cant. It’s taken me to college and back three times, hastened me home when I was called, swept me to the heart of a love when I couldn’t bear the distance any longer, and hauled me through countless moves where the only thing I knew was the address of my new residence. It was what I drove to Dallas when I spent $50 to buy the best cowpup that’ll ever walk this Earth. It’s the bed I’ve used when I couldn’t bring myself to go inside, or to get out and face the reality of the world, or, when I was too fucked up to walk let alone drive. I’ve eaten enough meals in it I think I need to get it HHS certified. I’ve worn the speakers down to about half what they used to be, and filled it with enough shit it’s a daily wonder it doesn’t get robbed (it did get robbed once). All my biggest moments are in some way connected to that truck, and for the first time I’m realizing I’m not going to have it forever.
A few weeks ago I had to put it in the shop to get a new tire and an oil change. Because this is Austin, TX and nothing in the history of this town has ever been done fast, it took the mechanics about a week to get my truck taken care of. During that time I drove my mom’s explorer, a vehicle I’d recently inherited and up until a couple months ago, envied for its appeal, smooth run, and modern additions. Yet for however long I’d spent pining the fantasy of her getting a new car and gifting me the explorer, when I became the full time guardian of her car I couldn’t have wanted to drive it less. Being in it felt so foreign, like trying to find comfort in a hospital room. I ached for the familiarity of my own pickup, of sitting down in the seat and immediately feeling as if I’d just donned myself, as if I’d become a vehicular embodiment of me. When I finally got my truck back I vowed a silent vow to never get in that explorer again unless I absolutely had to, and to keep my truck for as long as possible, because it was obvious I was in no condition to lose my two ton memory vault.
I don’t know how long my truck is going to last. I know I can’t really afford to replace it right now, but I’m worried I won’t be doing an anniversary follow up to this piece in 2019. I’m honestly a little scared about not having it anymore. There are so many things tied to that pickup and as unhealthy as it is to cling to the past and obsess over the comfort of the familiar, I don’t care. I like sitting in it and immediately knowing, no, sensing every inch of it. I like feeling like the steering wheel is an extension of me, even if it’s warped from being punched so many times. I like my truck, and now that it’s old I don’t know how I feel about it.
If you have a favorite vehicle you want to share a story about I’d love to hear it. If you think this piece is an unhealthy cry for help and know a psychiatrist I should see feel free to let me know that too. Hopefully though you liked the piece and will share it. As always if you’re so overcome with appreciation you have to express it monetarily as quickly as possible, simply use the link below.