It was a simple request. “Could you move my truck from one side of the street to the other?” Monday is street cleaning day in Los Angeles and my son Clay was running out the door. “Sure,” I answered. “No problem.”
Clay drives a gigantic 2008 Chrysler which he calls his people mover, but I think of it as his Mafia car. Even though it’s flashy and expensive, I can’t see it without thinking of rap music and Blade Runner. It’s a car Al Capone might drive. That car supports Clay’s big city image, but it’s the 1970 pick-up truck that brings home his country roots, his childhood and the depth and integrity of his spirit.
Several years ago I considered getting a masters in creative writing as part of an extension program. I loved the idea of combining education with trips to California to see Clay and my granddaughter, Brit. That way I’d be a frequent visitor. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. Still, I remember the day I visited the campus and was waiting for Clay to pick me up. I was completely overwhelmed by the city, as usual, until I spotted that friendly old green truck rounding the corner with Clay behind the wheel. As soon as I saw it, something inside me began to relax and breathe again.
Today Clay parked at a meter near Melrose, giving me money to plug the thing until the cleaning was over, but when the neighbors began leaving for work I decided to back the truck up early to save him fifty cents. God help me, my mind works that way. I had never actually driven the truck, mind you, just sat on the passenger side and admired it from afar. So I took my little nostalgic self across the street and climbed into the cab.
I slammed the door as memories of less complicated days, open pastures and family came flooding back. I took a moment to soak that in before getting down to business. First the seat needed to come forward, but it wouldn’t move. It was stuck and my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. Hum, what to do? I balanced on the edge using the steering wheel for stability, as I placed the key in the ignition. It took a while to find reverse, a really long while actually, since the steering column held no clues. But once I started going backwards I discovered the thing had no power steering and I was not about to muscle it around other cars. So, I put it in drive and pulled forward, toward an alley where I hoped to back up more easily.
Let me pause here to say, that if you think it’s simple pulling on a steering wheel with all your might while balancing on the edge of a seat because your feet don’t reach the pedals – well, it’s not. Turning that wheel made me red in the face. It required ten hard yanks to budge an inch. I was sweating and holding up traffic both ways on Harper Avenue, as I strained and pulled and smiled to reassure busy commuters in fancy cars that they would be on their way as soon as possible.
Once I reached the alley and traffic had cleared, I found reverse again (Thank you, God) and worked to back it around parked cars and into a meter free space. All this to save fifty freaking cents. And I had not even moved it to accommodate the street cleaners yet!
I moored a good yard from the curb, which seemed just fine, since my expectations had gone from neat parallel parking to not abandoning it in the middle of the street. I went inside, took a bath to ease my muscles, dressed and drove my beloved-comfortable-steerable BMW to the grocery, returned, unpacked bags and sat on the couch pondering what to do about moving the truck. I went outside to contemplate my dilemma, as if starring at the old boy might help, when my answer came walking down the street – a big guy who looked to be in his thirties, with huge arms and plenty of strength. I was saved.
“Hey, how would you like to make some money?” I hollered. “Do you have a minute to help?”
To my surprise, he kept on walking. “Sorry, I’m in a hurry.” Then over his shoulder half a block away, “What did you have in mind?”
“Look, I’ll give you ten bucks, and all you have to do is drive my son’s truck from one side of the street to the other. It’s that simple. It’s just that the truck has no power steering and I can’t do it myself.”
He didn’t even slow his step. “Sorry, I’m from New York City and never learned to drive.”
What a thug. All he had to do was sit next to me and let me use his arms. Oh well, I reasoned, I did it once. I can do it twice.
So I got in the truck again, only this time there were no cozy, I love you, vibes, it was more, “All right you mother ******. I need you to behave and help me out here. I am not going to wrench my back or block traffic again. This is going to work!” And amazingly it did. I got the beast parked on the right side of the road next to the driveway, even found a little shade, slammed the door and got out. Didn’t even lock it, hoping someone would steal the darned thing.
When my son came home I asked why he still kept that old truck, and what good was it without power steering and a seat that would not change positions?
“Mom, you would not believe how many offers I get to buy that truck. It’s a classic now, a real gem. Plus I need it to haul motorcycles. Sorry you had such a hard time. I never thought about that.”
I guessed I could like that truck again too, given a little time, but not quite as much as I did before.