Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stuff ain’t what it used to be, or, pickups and politics

In 1981 I bought a 2-year-old Chevrolet pickup. The pickup was white and had a few dents and dings, products of work-related bumps. The truck did not have a headliner; it never had. Standard stuff included a small eight-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, AM radio, vinyl bench seat, air conditioner and two outside mirrors. The odometer read just shy of 65,000 miles. I paid around $2,100.

The truck stayed with me for almost 15 years. It made several trips to Fort Hood and back; countless trips to Camp Maxey, Texas, and back; one trip to Fort Sam Houston and back; and one trip to Fort Benning, Ga., and back. The truck carried soldiers to field training sites, as well as military equipment and training aids. The odometer broke at somewhere over 85,000 miles, so I don’t know how many miles I put on it before it gave up in 1995.

In 1999, I bought a new Dodge pickup. The sticker claimed the color was sandalwood, but no self-respecting Texas man will drive a pickup colored sandalwood, so I called it gray. Equipment included cruise control, AM/FM radio with tape player, front and rear speakers, cloth bucket seats, a center console, air conditioning, two large outside mirrors, four cup holders, V-6 engine and five-speed floor shift. The truck had around 50 miles on the odometer. It had a headliner. I paid around $15,000 for the truck.

When I went to the dealer, I wanted a simple work truck, something like the Chevrolet I bought 18 years earlier. I found out nobody made a simple work truck. AM/FM/tape, standard. Headliner, standard. Cloth seats, standard, unless I wanted to pay for leather, and if so, the truck came with a whole lot of other fancies I didn’t care about.

My wife and I were talking about work trucks just a couple of days ago. People I knew who drove pickups as a work tool in Northeast Texas, especially people involved with cattle, wanted something they could turn a water hose on and clean the cab. That doesn’t mean you want to spray too much water on the AM radio, but everything else was sprayable. You get mud and blood, cow and horse droppings on your boots and sometimes on your jeans and shirt, you want a vinyl seat so you can spray and scrub. You don’t want floor carpet, either.

Somewhere along the line, the truck industry went all European auto design on us. American pickups still have solid construction and performance, but U.S. truck makers have a different sales philosophy: This is what you get.

Like American politics. And we take it.

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