I bought a pickup truck, sight unseen, at a high school volleyball game back when our oldest daughter was on the freshman team. Which would have been in the very early 1990’s. Which would have made it, which was no spring chicken in truck years even then, probably an early 80’s model.
I have no idea exactly how old it was, because I was never one of those guys who could point to just about any vehicle and rattle off the make and model. Vehicles have always been purely utilitarian for me, tools to get me from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the sleek appearance of a nice car, and its comfort. And I miss that new car smell when it finally goes away as much as anybody. But I’ve never been a fanatic about the various varieties of Mustangs or Thunderbirds or such.
So I didn’t really need to see Old Blue on the night that I bought him, since I didn’t really care much what he looked like. What I needed was a dependable, affordable mode of transportation to get me to and from work. Period. My wife Karen’s car had just given up the ghost and we were suddenly a one car family. So the Ford minivan that ferried our tribe around in went to her and I had to come up with a new plan for myself.
I explained my plight to a friend whose daughter was on the same volleyball team as my daughter that night in the gym, and he said he might have a solution to my problem. He said he had an old standard shift Dodge Ram pickup he could do without. He named a price, I agreed, and we watched the rest of the game.
I don’t remember what I paid, but it was worth it. Old Blue made many a round trip, over the next several years, between my house and the high school where I taught. That volleyball playing daughter, Kara, actually christened it Old Blue, because of its faded, robin’s egg hue. I had never given a name to a motor vehicle, but Kara maintained that that one was unique, and deserved one.
She loved that pickup. Her little sisters, in junior high and elementary, saw too many dents and dings and scruffy places to be much impressed. If they actually ever climbed aboard and rode in Blue I suspect they hunkered down low so nobody would recognize them. But Kara, ever the Romantic and champion of the underdog, saw real character in that truck. She rode to and from school with me that year – before she got her driver’s license – and we cranked the windows down (Blue’s heater and air conditioner were iffy, at best), rested our arms in the windows, and sang along to “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits”, probably the only cassette tape we ever inserted into the dashboard player.
One speaker must have had a loose wire; it sputtered often and sometimes took time outs. We didn’t care. We were more into the singing of “North to Alaska” and “Whispering Pines” and “The Battle of New Orleans” than into listening to them being sung to us.
Blue finally began to cost me more in repairs than he was worth (by the way, I realize that most vehicles are referred to as females, but Kara and I never thought of this one as anything but an old, delightfully cantankerous, rough-at-the-edges male). I sold him to somebody that was better at tinkering with engines than me, which would have been practically anybody that presented themselves.
I miss that old truck. I even miss its temperamental second gear that I constantly ground my way through, manipulating a gear shift as tall as one on an old city bus.
What I really miss is those mornings and afternoons with Kara, the breeze whipping over us through the open windows, both of us bellowing out Johnny Horton tunes. Both of us laughing. Both of us happy to be together.
These days Kara is about the age that I was when we got that truck, and she’s a teacher herself. I don’t know what she listens to on her way to work in Houston traffic, but I’ll bet if “North to Alaska” came on the radio she’d smile and commence singing, maybe with the window down.
Sometimes we talk about Old Blue, almost like he was a real person in our past. And it’s usually when we’re alone. Because the rest of the family never caught on to the secret that only we shared. That Blue wasn’t a truck at all; he was a kindred spirit, a fellow traveler on life’s highway.