Posts Tagged With: Truck

In the Clutches of Independence

Nearly sixteen.


That meant getting a driver’s license. Which meant learning to drive.

Which meant learning to drive the vehicles my parent’s owned.

Dually or Van?

Parked in our driveway was a dual-wheel Clydesdale of a truck that had, in its former life, been a flatbed hay-hauling workhorse. Dad painstakingly and lovingly sculpted that behemoth into a very useful vehicle with a bed that contained the dual wheels within it, not jutting out like most trucks with four back tires. It was brown and big and serious.

Then there was the VW van. Classic. Red, with a skiff of white along the roofline, it was like driving a putt-putt car. Lots of room for all us kids, cold in the winter, probably got great mileage. The heater on it was pretty much useless in the snowy below-zero temperatures we had all winter long, so Dad had installed a small gas heater that vented to the outside, just behind the driver’s seat. Clever, that Dad of mine.

The Sweet Spot

English: Diagram of a Manual gear layout (4-sp...

Both vehicles had one thing in common. A stick shift, also known as a manual transmission. That meant understanding the workings of the combustible engine just enough to know when to push in the clutch with my left foot as I eased up on the gas with my right foot, wrangled the long shaft into the mystically correct position for the next gear up or down, and miraculously moved forward. Reverse, ironically, was the easiest gear to find. Finding the sweet spot of the gear I needed was usually an exercise in frustration.

Add in that we lived in the foothills, so that nearly every road was at an incline and learning to drive was adventurous, to say the least.

The Ins and Outs and Ups and Downs

Geared so low, I had to start that truck out out in second gear, even on hills. Memorizing the position of the gears, what pattern they lay in was not easy. Then manipulating that long stick into place to actually be in a gear was another trick. The truck required less finesse than the van. In fact, it almost needed a kick, like a horse to get it to settle into the correct gear. I sat at more than one intersection, engaged in a fight with that stick shift, often nearly in tears.

The van seemed easier to get the stick into place, but required more gas and quicker left foot action to get the clutch to engage. I was more confident driving that van. More certain of being able to get to where I was going without killing the engine, without grinding the gears, without embarrassment. It was a much easier car to drive. Sometimes too easy.

T2a Early Bay

(Photo credit: kenjonbro)

Not long after getting my license I was bringing a couple of  “Icee” slushes home from the Seven-eleven when one tipped over on the floor. (No cup holders back then.) I leaned over to pick up the spilled cup, while the van was still in motion.  Not a smart move, ever.

When I looked up a mailbox was coming at me. I swerved, just clipping the mailbox pole and ended up, luckily, settling the two-thousand pound hunk of metal I was driving into a bushy fir-tree, thick to the ground with soft branches and needles. I had knocked the mailbox off the pole. I got out, set the miraculously undamaged box on top of the pole, checked for damage to the van, and seeing none, drove home. I was lucky. Never told anyone about that. Until now.

I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed by now

After that I was a fully engaged, eyes-on-the-road-at-all-times driver. Careful, aware of the scary amount of weight and potential destruction I sat perched on.

Since those two vehicles, I haven’t had the chance to drive many other manual transmissions. It’s a skill that’s extremely handy. I can drive either automatic or manual and I’m proud of it. Relatively few people know how to do that anymore.

There’s something very freeing, controlling the rate and timing of the gears shifting in a car you’re driving. It’s a race-car kind of sensation. The sense of control, speed, and power is exhilarating. That car sound little kids make when they play with their toy trucks is the sound of a car shifting gears. RRRRRRRRRR….rrrrrrr….RRRrrrrr. That’s the sound you’ll hear on a race track.

To a sixteen-year-old driver that’s the sound of freedom.

Categories: Memory Lane, Traffic, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Gratituesday! Thank Goodness for Trusty Dusty

For the past three years I’ve driven a Toyota extended cab pickup truck. I don’t know the name of the model, or even the year. Here’s a photo of it. That should give you an idea of the year. Ish.

Trusty Dusty

As you can see, it’s not a newer model vehicle.

In fact, I was recently transporting several teenage girls one evening in it. As we pulled into traffic I rolled my window down, meaning, I turned the crank handle to open the window.

“What they heck did you just do?” one of the twelve-year olds said in disbelief.  “Did you just open the window by turning something?”

“This is a really, really old car isn’t it?” another one said.

Stunned into momentary silence I shook my head. I suppose the truck is probably older than those girls are. Strange thought.

I considered referring to the Flintstone’s foot-powered vehicles, but knew they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

But wait, there’s more!

My truck also has a cassette-tape player that works!  Luckily, the teens in my car didn’t notice that bit of antique hardware. I might have to show them next time we go somewhere. Won’t they be overwhelmed with awe! More likely they’ll be completely convinced of my total lack of coolness.

There’s also a back seat that holds three people with smallish legs. It’s only a two-door truck though, so getting back there takes some maneuvering and flexibility.

When I start the engine on this vehicle, you can hear it!  How’s that for amazing?

Sometimes when I drive my best buddy Kathy somewhere in her van, I inadvertently try to start it when it’s already running!  Oops. If I can’t hear the engine I assume I need to start it. That’s how mine works.

Her van, a newish one with power windows, power locks, powertrain warranty, and some get up and go is a delight to drive. In her van I can make left hand turns with ease and speed. In her van I merge onto the freeway without any puffs of smoke coming out the exhaust pipe.

My truck drives more like its get up and go has got up and went.  It wants to think about picking up speed. There’s some hesitation in its idling. If the AC is running while I’m stopped at a light, the cool air will stop and warm air will blow instead. Kind of temperamental, wouldn’t you say?

Is it wise to name your vehicle?

Kathy has named my little truck ‘Trusty Dusty.’ She named her van  ‘Chocolate.’  I’m a little jealous. But both names fit. Hers is smooth and delightful. Mine looks like it needs a wash all the time. In spite of its slowness and well-used looks, it gets me where I need to go.

I don’t usually take Kathy anywhere in Trusty Dusty because the shocks aren’t very absorbent, or whatever they need  to provide a smooth ride. Her bones can’t take hits from bumpy roads like my truck offers. So if her van is available, we drive that. (Well, I drive, she rides, let’s be clear about that, since as I wrote about in this past blog post, she shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car.)

We do own another car, but it decided to give out last week. It’s been on the brink for a while. In fact the mechanic had said, “don’t take it out-of-town, always have a cell phone with you and just drive it until it drops, then buy something else.” Three drivers, three work schedules, one vehicle makes for tricky math, but we manage. We have before.

I like my little truck. It’s handy. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve hauled stuff in it. Beds, appliances, camping gear, wedding decorations, food, top soil, bikes, plants, potting soil, water barrels, rocks, college kid supplies, moving boxes, even catering supplies and meals. It’s been ‘worth its weight in gold’ on many occasions. (I suppose if that cliché were really true I’d own some spiffy newer model year kicking it into high gear dual wheel truck with shiny all over it.)

Yup, that's over 200,000 miles your reading.

Yup, that’s over 200,000 miles your reading.

We thought last year that it was time to retire Trusty. I was sad and forlorn about it. Then my son decided he might be able to perform surgery on it and bring it back to life.  Our driveway looked a bit like Frankenstein’s laboratory for a few weeks. (Much to the HOA’s chagrin.) A spider took up residence between a wheel and the edge of the driveway. It thought it had found a permanent home, no doubt. But tools, skills, the internet, perseverance and desperation won out and Trusty revived for another 15,000 miles or more.

Sure I’d like to drive something sleek and shiny with a state of the art sound system, and all the bells and whistles. But that’s not really in the budget, nor has it ever been.  We paid cash for Trusty, so no monthly payments. That’s a nice bonus. Maybe someday I’ll drive something admirable and more reliable. Or maybe not. I’m just glad I have some means of transportation with AC for the desert heat.

Luckily, I can simply keep on keeping on! For the time being.

Categories: Humor, Traffic, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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