It struck when I was 11 years old, that pervasive sense of “I can’t wait!” For boys, I’m told, it strikes earlier, but we all have to wait until we’re older. Our parents would prefer it didn’t hit until our 30’s, but it happens all the same. Noticing the opposite sex? Bah… no. I’m talking about that feeling of watching someone drive an automobile and miming their skills as they take the open road.
My father bought a 1983 Isuzu pickup truck straight off the lot. He bought what he could afford at the time, which meant the truck had no air conditioning, no power steering, no automatic transmission, and no radio. It was a bare-bones “get you to work and get you home” type of truck. I preferred my mother’s station wagon with its roomy interior, air conditioning, radio that could thump out a bass line when she wasn’t around to scold me, and the comfort of turning a wheel knowing that the car would instantly respond. Things came easily in that car, everything was at the touch of a fingertip.
As I grew older and into my teens, my father decided I would learn to drive his pickup. The truck never had a breakdown, was a reliable mode of transportation, and by the time I was 16 it was so decrepit with rust spots and diesel exhaust running up the tailgate that no boy within 30 miles was going to look at me twice in it. He took me out onto an old country road and proceeded to try and teach me how to drive a manual transmission. hauling contract
The lesson was an utter failure and my father drove us home rubbing his neck from whiplash. I still preferred the comfort of things coming easily in that station wagon.
My parents started working opposite shifts around that time, and my father took a job traveling with the railroad. The summer I was 17 was a hard one with my parents both working jobs to make ends meet and my father’s presence only fleeting. His truck stayed parked while my mother took her car to work. My fledgling independence was effectively shut down between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
As I sat on our porch one day, staring reproachfully at the truck sitting in the driveway and cursing my lack of transportation, the idea occurred to me that life cannot be what we want it. Sometimes we need to accept what we’re given and make the best of it. After all, the only thing stopping me from visiting friends was a lack of knowledge about how to drive the truck, and vanity over the look of my chosen mode of transportation. I made up my mind, and with my mother’s blessing, backed the truck down the driveway and made a promise to myself that I would succeed in learning how to navigate roads in this obstinate truck.
What a sense of accomplishment I possessed shortly thereafter! I taught myself how to drive this manual monstrosity with no power steering and no radio. I learned how to shift and not allow the truck to roll backwards and sputter out while stopped on a hill. I learned where my blind spots were and my position relative to the world around me. The lack of a radio gave me time to think and dream about my future and my college plans, while the lack of air conditioning allowed for long drives with the window rolled down and the scents of my hometown wafting in the air.
I still think back on that old truck. It was eventually sold to a contractor who bought it to send to Haiti for transportation. Sometimes I wonder if it found someone much more grateful than I was for the lessons it held. I hope so. It is only now, looking back on that summer and all the lessons learned other than driving, that I can see how valuable the experience was of having a truck as a teacher.