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Pickups I

I drive a pickup these days, but it isn’t my first. My dad bought our first pickup in 1965 for $100 from a Japanese gardener named K. Sera. It was a ’53 Chevy, 110,000 miles, with corner windows and a three-on-the-tree stick shift. Someone had hit the truck on the passenger side stoving in the door and smashing the window. Dad and I hammered the door out and he scared up some new glass. After we painted the thing red, I had a serviceable set of wheels to get to school.

In those days Dad managed a chain of service stations and they had a setup in the warehouse to put striping in tires. He took the four old recaps from the truck and put two red stripes in each tire mimicking expensive, high-performance tires that had become the envy of the hot car set. I turned many heads in the parking lot at school. We added a holder for a GI jerry can for five gallons of gasoline, a radio (that took a full minute to warm up), and several cans of water sold in the service stations for survival after a nuclear attack. We even included some National Guard C rations for under the seat. You never knew where you might get stuck with that truck.

Attending parochial school required a commute and families formed car pools to get kids back and forth. The pools involved complicated arrangements orchestrated by the moms. In my setup I picked up two freshmen in our neighborhood, took them to within a block of their school, then on to another corner where I picked up a classmate, Denis, for the run to our school. The freshmen found their own way home somehow and I dropped Denis near his house. My passengers gave me cash for gas money, but since I used the family credit card, it was basically my running around money.

I mentioned the caved-in door. It proved to be warped and riders tried and tried to slam it shut. I was the only one who could close it. I learned to reach across and pull it firmly shut allowing an extra instant for the latch to engage. If my mother or sister borrowed it they experienced extreme frustration until they got it closed.

That wasn’t the only problem. Somewhere K. Sera had bottomed out and knocked the transmission out of alignment. Shifting worked fine if you double clutched. Then when you cruised along in 3rd for any distance it popped out of gear. I tried a string with a rubber band and a hook that I placed over the gearshift to keep it in place.

I could perform most repairs with three tools, a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers, and a slot screwdriver. The gearshift linkage occasionally slipped out of alignment and I had to get under the hood to disassemble the linkage box.

In the summer of 1965, I took the truck to Bakersfield for six weeks to work on a summer school for the children of farm workers. I thought I was going to be a teacher, but because I showed up with a truck I became the milkman and bus driver.

Every morning I picked up cases of donated milk at the Carnation plant, stopped for some crushed ice, and ran my nutritious load to the school sites. For field trips we loaded as many as twenty-five children in the back (totally illegal these days). The experience was formative in many ways, but its most enduring impact came in meeting Christine a prospective nun. Christine introduced me to Lorraine who has lasted longer than any truck. Lorraine actually visited our project that summer. She never met me, but she remembered my red truck.

That truck served our family for five years or more. I used it to haul the cats and tow the boat from Sacramento to Seattle when we moved. I helped friends move (for a case of beer) and hauled junk for neighbors (for $5 and the dump fee). It got me back and forth to college for a year or more although on cold mornings getting it started involved a complicated procedure of pumping the throttle just right and patiently cranking the engine. To avoid the commute and never knowing if the truck would start, I moved into a dorm you could see from our house.

When I got a real job in 1969, I bought a car, a new one that started every time you wanted it to. The truck then passed out of my employ and Dad sold it, I think, for $100.

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