Out of our trucking minds

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I was stopped for a red light while on my way to the grocery store when it pulled up in the lane next to me. I heard its rumble and felt its shadow fall like a partial eclipse before I actually saw it. When I glanced left from the window of my medium-sized sedan, I was eye level with its underbelly — the pristine wheel wells, the giant tires, the gleaming chassis, a concentration of chrome like a buck-toothed teenager’s orthodontics. The reflections of my car and the car just ahead of me in its side panels didn’t even reach as high as its door handles.

It was a truck. Not a semi, not a dump truck, not a tow truck. Just a pickup, but a pickup so ridiculously oversized, jacked up and tricked out that I wouldn’t have been surprised if had reconfigured itself, Transformer-style, into a robot with death-ray eyes.

I managed to grab my cell phone and snap a quick photo before the light turned green and the 4-wheeled, candy-apple monstrosity roared down the road to duke it out with Voltron.

What is it with pickup trucks these days? How did they get so big? Why?

Everywhere I go, in Georgia where I live or anywhere out of state I drive, I see them by the dozens — pickups made by Ford, Toyota, Dodge, GMC and other manufacturers that seem as big as the average fire truck of my youth in the 1960s.

They don’t just block your sight lines on the road. They make backing out of a shopping-mall parking space a daredevil chore. They give their drivers a feeling of invincibility that seems to make many of them bolder and more aggressive. They get lousy mileage and put excess weight on roadbeds. Some have even been modified to belch clouds of oily black exhaust. It’s apparently meant as a political statement, a sooty middle finger to the EPA and namby-pamby people who drive hybrids and electric cars.

What say we start a movement to ban them? Far as I know, there’s no Constitutional protection for needlessly big-ass trucks.

I actually have a soft spot for pickups. My first car was a pickup, a 1953 Ford with a flat-head eight, the spare tire mounted on the side and cattle bars around the bed that my daddy welded and installed himself. We pulled stumps with that pickup; we hauled cows, hogs, and hay bales stacked 10-feet high. Our first pure-bred, registered bull, a black angus, came home to our farm in the back of that banged-up dark blue Ford. And it was only slightly larger than today’s Ford Ranger, which is practically a toy by current, oversized standards.

Explanations for this phenomenon vary. Articles and discussion boards I’ve looked at put forth these theories:

  • We, the American people, have gotten bigger and fatter since the 1950s and ’60s, so it’s only logical that vehicles have ballooned to accommodate us.
  • Everything has gotten larger, from drink cups the size of mop buckets at convenience stores to living room furniture seemingly made for people who walk around muttering fee-fi-fo-fum.
  • People have gotten paranoid about their safety as the number of cars in use has multiplied.
  • Auto manufacturers make a bigger profit on trucks with lots of extras than on simple, utilitarian models, so they push the extras-laden big ones.

Whatever the incentive to make and own these vehicles, there are too many of them. And what really bugs me is that way too many of these Tundras, Silverados, Rams, Leviathans and Godzillas look as they’ve never been on a dirt road, let alone hauled a load of fence posts or been christened with cow manure. They’re show-room shiny and bear nary a scratch. They’re status symbols, purchased for flaunting, not utility. On one web page that’s devoted to hashing this question, a truck lover who yearns for a good, medium-sized, no-frills pickup referred to the big ’uns as “soccer mom pimp-mobiles.”

There’s good reason to consider banning them, though I would make exceptions. If somebody really needs a monster pickup for the work they do, fine, but let them prove it with affidavits documenting what that work is and renew their permits annually with photos of the truck in service.

The rest? The showboats? How about buy-back programs like some police departments have instigated to get guns off the street? Round them up, then melt them down for Focuses or Mini Coopers or bicycles.

To paraphrase Harry S Truman, the truck stops here.

Written by

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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