Saturday, November 12, 2011

“V-8, with a Detroit attitude”

- from “Livin’ Large in My Malibu”, Steve White


About three months ago, I purchased the above vee-hickle. Two and a half tons of Dearborn steel, an iconic hunk of Americana. This is not my first truck, but it’s been a while, and the last one I called a truck was really an SUV stuck on a small truck chassis. My first truck was a brief yet (nostalgically) satisfying encounter 20 years ago with an ex-forest service truck with a straight-six, three on the floor rattler that I frankly can’t remember what happened to it. This is my first V-8. I’m old enough that I had to do the conversion to be happy; it says 5.4 liter but that means 330 cubic inches, to me. Not quite the 350 of my ‘childhood’, and  what we Amurrcans call a “short block”, but it’s the biggest motor I’ve ever put my foot into. I haven’t actually done that, yet, and that’s going to be the point of this essay, eventually.

cropped orig side

I didn’t set out to buy this truck. I had smaller things in mind, really I did. I wanted a truck; consumer/homeowners that we are, we accumulate things (like IKEA furniture) that may come home in small packages but require disposal options not available at curbside.  We also needed transportation that could accommodate the four of us. Toyotas and Hondas were in my sights. I took Sam along to test back seats. The short story is that I saw this truck, liked it immediately for several reasons, negotiated a reasonable price, and took it home. And yes, I succumbed to its’ ‘bigness.’

So here’s the deal. It took me a good two months to come to the realization that I am rebelling. No, not like the middle-aged (and yes,  I am clutching at the outer edge of that precipice) guy who buys a Corvette and gets hair plugs.  I can’t say if it’s always been this way, but I suspect not – that I’m living in a society where everything I do is guilt-inducing or otherwise contra-indicated for some reason or another. I know that I consume more on a regular basis than most on this planet and, while I can and do conserve/recycle/etc., there are aspects of my living that I cannot change – right now.  Suburban life probably must change significantly if we are to ultimately sustain life on Earth; however, those changes are going to happen pretty slowly in comparison to my tenure. Having said that, there is so much noise around us about what’s “good” and “bad” that I fear none of us should truly enjoy much beyond camping in the woods, eating berries and missing toilet paper. We are made to feel guilty about where we shop, what we buy, how we cook it, what kind of pots and pans we use, what countries the spices come from, how we eat it, how we wash the dishes, and we really should be composting those coffee grounds and watermelon (I’m SURE it was union-picked) rinds. I have been wondering, lately, what ultimately costs more – sending food scraps through the garbage disposal, or putting them in the trash. Water is expensive here in Southern California; at the same time our landfill is pretty full. Yes, really, I can feel guilty about just about anything, anymore.  I was getting pretty self-righteous about that whiny, freeloading cat at our house until he reminded me of his worth yesterday by leaving mouse parts on the front porch. Alright, so he’s doing his part, he can stay.

With the truck, it’s gas. Let’s not mince words here, this As an impulse buy, I can claim that I was misled by a CARFAX® report that grossly overestimated the mileage – I later found out that it gets exactly what Ford Says it’s supposed to.  It is the heaviest truck in it’s class, and it just takes a lot to move it around. So I, good person that I am, immediately became guilt-ridden and obsessed with improving it. I got online and found lots of expert advice, including a modification to the air intake system that I performed myself with some drain pipe and a hose clamp.  Any further efforts will be costly, and must be placed pretty far down the list of things to do, if at all. I can report that the things I have done, which include driving (as one truck forum poster wrote) “like there’s a raw egg between my foot and the gas pedal”), I’ve increased my city mileage by 0.71 mpg.  This means a little over 21 more miles per tank of gas (It’s got a 30 gallon tank, fer pete’s sake), or about a gallon and a half savings  per tankful.  I now measure things/purchases/etc. by tankfuls of gas.  I’m also about ready to get over it.

I know it’s new and all (to me, it’s 4  years old. Pretty good lookin’ considering that, huh?), but I have just enjoyed the heck out of this truck. I had been driving the 20 year-old 4-door Honda Civic that the kids grew up in, complete with a back seat so encrusted with happy meal detritus. . . I need go no further. I had no fan, so no heat/defrost/AC action; it bore the scars of domestic bliss  and deferred maintenance (kinda like me, but I still have some trade-in value).  I enjoy everything about it – the space, the ride, the fact that it has airbags  and big ol’ bumpers.  I know that I will get used to it, over time. For now, the cost of operating it has turned to an appreciation for what it does for me. Not exactly a guilty pleasure, more like I’ve earned the right to have it and enjoy it. If I could afford it, I would buy one of those little electric cars and use the truck less.  I would take public transportation back and forth to work if it were practical, but, last time I checked, it was about an hour and a half each way vs. about 18 minutes by car. That is not a reasonable trade-off. 

There has to be a point where one stops bullying themselves about what they can’t do and do more than just make do. Yes, I said that in an obscure way just to over use the word ‘do.’ Must we always be willing to settle for less? Today, this suits me, and I will make the best use of it until such time as my circumstances and abilities change. One day, pretty soon, I think that I will get on a freeway onramp, put the pedal to the floor, and smile.