I suppose I should have known how appealing an old truck would be to some other people by my own reaction when I saw it at the curb.
Ol’ Blue, an F-150 from the mid-1990s, was sitting with a For Sale sign in its windshield when I ran into a neighborhood from the country bike trail. Its blue paint was still bright, the tires had ample tread, there was not much visible rust, and even the seat was unripped and the dash uncracked. I mean, it was in much better shape than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when Caractacus Potts found her, and she turned out to be able to fly and defeat the Vulgarians.
My elder son needs a cheap car at school. With the seller’s permission I had my usual garage look over the truck. They found some things to fix for the future, and my son and I found a few others. It had been a farm truck, the seller said, and something-something about it hauling a load of sand more recently, but it had made a recent trip to Kansas City just fine. It was comical that the air conditioning and tape deck still worked well. Most Ford trucks hold their value, and many recent models are still pricey even with high mileage. I bargained the price down to 1200 bucks, and the truck was ours.
The first thing I noticed about driving it was how it got the attention of OGs everywhere. My brother-in-law was interested, and guys in the parking lot at the Schnucks turned to look as they walked past. The F-150 was like some ambassador from the past, or an old friend who turned up laughing and scruffy after a long absence. Remember 1994? it seems to say. Isn’t it crazy how much stuff we’ve done and endured since then?
It is a survivor, and an iconic American brand (with an American flag sticker in the back window), and the two seem to get conflated in these hard times for our country, as if people might be ready to thank it for its service. We get a little extra patience at stop lights. Although there is plenty left in the clutch, the truck is big and heavy, so it takes a second to get it going. First gear is torqued so low it has to wind out before we get up the speed to shift to second. I get the feeling onlookers wonder what this is all about, what we do, whether we are poor, thrifty, or ingenious; whether the one functioning window is down in this heat because we like the feel of the air as we roll across the earth, or if the air does not work. Did they make air conditioners for cars that long ago? some may think.
Ol’ Blue is a lurching, roaring monster with 200,000 miles on the odometer. I did need some radiator work and a new gas tank—for now—and we cannot know what might break next. I told my kids about a former boss, Phil, who used to grind the serial numbers off his cars when he could not keep them up anymore, drive them down to Brookfield zoo, take the plates, and leave them there for the city to deal with. I could already see the concern in my son’s eyes for Ol’ Blue when I told it.
Sure, everything is always waiting to go wrong. Or not—because there is still hope in it. Sometimes these old trucks “run forever,” as the OGs tell me. Above all, the fact that it is ours, strong and utilitarian, without loan interest or payments, seems right for our uneasy times.