Why my know-it-all truck is giving me an inferiority complex
Rick Bragg Truck
Credit: John Cuneo

I am afraid my pickup truck is smarter than I am.

It used to be that a truck was just a truck, just an engine that left a little oil slick on the parking lot of the A&P. Mine had a transmission that growled like a dog every time I went from second to third and a radio that offered only AM and dead silence—if I could scrounge around on the floorboard amid the brake fluid cans and Grapico bottles to find the missing knob. I could, as a backup, spin the dial by carefully placing the blade of my pocketknife into the tiny slot on the post the knob was supposed to fit onto, but after stabbing myself a half dozen times, I gave up.

Those trucks were as dumb as a pine knot. They were brutes, intended for hard, thankless manual labor, but at least they never made me feel intellectually inferior.

I got a new truck a few weeks ago for the same amount of money I spent on my first house. Even though I'm now in danger of debtor's prison, at least I can arrive there in style. Alabama does not actually have a debtor's prison, but at the rate we're going, it could happen any day. Maybe they'll just drive me over to our neighbor, Georgia, which some say was founded as a penal colony. They have experience at that sort of thing. But I digress.

I settled on a truck that's so pretty people just stop and look at it in parking lots. At the dealership, I slid into the new leather and fired it up. The big V-8 engine rumbled, and we went down the blacktop in a glorious glide.

Glorious, till it began to lecture me.

Every time I strayed near the center line, it beeped me—and not one subtle beep but a loud, shrill, condescending alarm, as if just a split second of lost concentration were a mortal sin. I wrenched the wheel back in the other direction, and it lectured me again.

Now, understand, I was not creating carnage or cleaning out the ditches. I only strayed, just a little.

"I can live with this," I said to myself. But the more I tried to hold it dead-solid-perfect in the road, the more it weaved, until the truck, that harpy, was beeping more often than it wasn't. Finally, a warning light lit up the dashboard.

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It showed a steaming cup of coffee and blinked the words—and I'm not making this up—"Perhaps you should take a break," or something to that effect. I think my truck thought I was sleepy, or maybe drunk. I expected it to shut off the engine and steer me to the curb. Instead, it beeped for another 100 miles and offered me, snobbishly, three dozen cups of coffee.

All in all, it is a fine truck. It's silvery blue with metal flakes and a dove gray leather interior, and in the sun it even sparkles. You see, I can live with a truck that's prettier than I am. When I look in the mirror, not once has it flashed the words, "Son, you've really let yourself go…"