The Chariots of My People
There’s no shifting gears when you’re loyal to a certain make and model
The truck blocked out a good part of the world around it, kind of like an eclipse, but with TOYOTA stamped on its behind. A new, hulking, four-wheel drive with a bolt-on toolbox, big mud tires, and a lift kit that jacked its floorboard up to my eyebrows, it rumbled into the lot and elbowed its way into a parking space. It idled there a second or two longer than seemed necessary, growling and snorting like the big dog it was, and when the driver turned off the switch, you could at least hear the world again, though still in shade. The door opened, and I expected to see a Wolverine boot, or a Timberland, or anything with a steel toe swing out.
Instead, a pointy high heel clicked onto the asphalt. Now how, I wondered for a full, dull-witted second, did that man get his foot into that little bitty shoe?
Of all the changes in my South, perhaps the hardest to fit inside my head is the metamorphosis of the pickup truck. I grew up in trucks; I feel good in them. They are the chariots of my people. There are those down here who say if they can’t get to heaven in a Chevy, they’d just as soon stay home.
It’s not that I was surprised to see a woman in a big truck; my Aunt Juanita drove a silver-and-blue Silverado till she was 82. It was the shiny nature of the truck, and the shoe, that just didn’t seem right.
It used to be, when you saw a truck, it meant work, and not just any kind of work. Look in the back and there would be 6 feet of logging chain going to rust, a half bottle of brake fluid, and a shovel and mattock. Some people also rode around with a few crushed empty cans of PBR, but that was because they did not love the Lord.
“Ain’t you afraid somebody’ll steal that mattock?” I once asked my Uncle Ed.
“Won’t nobody steal nothin’ to work with,” he told me.
I asked him why, then, he kept his chain saw locked in the cab, and he told me to be quiet.
Trucks, at that time, came in mostly two varieties, and most people stood by their brand, till the grave. A quarter century ago, I moved from Los Angeles to New York, and was told a full-size 1986 Ford Bronco would be hard to park in the Theater District. So I offered it, for free, to my brother Sam.
He said he believed he’d just as soon not. “It’s free. You can have it. It’s a good truck,” I said. “It’s a Ford,” he said. “It’s a free Ford,” I said.
He just shook his head. He was a Chevrolet man. He pronounces it Chiv-a-Lay, the way it is supposed to be, and we, traditionally, are the kind of people who have bumper stickers that claim I'D RATHER PUSH A CHEVY THAN DRIVE A FORD. Ford people have one that goes the other way around, kind of like Alabama-Auburn jokes. “You ort to ’a’ knowed better,” he told me.
Some people, of course, drove a Dodge. We will not speak about this.
But it used to mean something, to drive a truck. If you did, you knew how to sling a wrench, or lay a brick. You hauled manure in it, or at least sand. You owned a hydraulic jack, and a four-way lug wrench.
I have a good friend who drives a truck. He is an insurance man. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
Nissan makes a big ol’ truck. They call it, no foolin’, a Titan.
But I ain’t never seen a shovel in back of one.