An Old Friend
I locked the side door and set the latch on the storm door as I backed out into the cool, late-February evening. Giving the handle a slight push to insure the door was closed, I turned and started toward my old truck. Just for a second, I stopped, and a nostalgic sigh slipped quietly out as I looked at the truck which had carried me so many miles for so many years. The fading light of the setting sun for a moment had hidden the age and wear that time had etched into the paint and bodylines, and it looked much younger than its fifteen years. Many miles and many memories had been left in the long-settled dust of the little red Toyota.
As I stood in front of the truck, I noticed that, in spite of its age, the red bug shield was still intact, even after 272,000 miles. It had developed a rattle and was spider-webbed with hairline cracks and scratches that caught the sunlight and reflected it in shiny sparkles across the hood. The aluminum frame had lost its shine and now looked a dull whitish-gray, which underlined the clear red of the Plexiglas shield. The age and condition of the bug deflector prompted my nostalgic feelings even further, and led me around the truck looking at the details of this old traveling companion.
At first glance, the front end seemed unchanged over the years, but closer inspection revealed chrome that was quickly losing its luster. The grill, though undamaged, looked weathered by the wind and grit from uncounted roads. The bumper below was still shiny, except two round spots where water dripping from the hood had worn away the chrome entirely. It had a dimple on the front of one end where an unfortunate dog had run suddenly out of a roadside ditch and into my path one morning and had quickly been dispatched to wherever the good dogs go. In spite of the wear, the front end did not look to have faired too badly over the years.
Moving to my right, I rounded the left front corner of the truck. There on the hood were three deep scratches badly covered by touch-up paint. A rather dim-witted horse had tried to eat my hood while I had my kids down at the river in the pasture swimming. I suppose the dust and dirt had a salty taste, and he wanted the salt. The horse had found my truck quite unpalatable and had gone in search of better dining. Unfortunately he had left a permanent reminder in my paint of his attempt.
The pin striping down the side was still looking good. A few gaps in the silver and gray stripes were there because I had gotten too close with a high-pressure washer. They ran smoothly back from front fender to door in three parallel lines then overlapped with other, darker lines. From there, five new lines ran beneath them back across the bed to end just behind the rear tire. Together they all formed the impression of a long, stretched out ‘Z’ that stretched down the side of the Toyota.
Dried globs of red clay clung tightly to the inner edges of the fender wells like stalactites in some ancient cavern, while streaks of the mud ran along the bottom of the truck from the front tire, all the way back, ending near the bottom of the tail light lens.
As I reached the back end of the bed, I noticed the rear bumper. It was still bent down at a sharp angle from bumping into a lady’s car at Wal-Mart last fall. This was the third time that bumper had been hit, but I just kept straightening it up and bolting it back on. Some of the wrinkles in the metal date back eleven or twelve years. Behind the bumper, I could see the only dent on the truck body. It had come from the second time my bumper got crunched. A forklift had backed around the corner of the hardware store and knocked the bumper in far enough to bend the sheet metal of the bed. The dent had begun to flake off paint, and rust had invaded the bare metal to ring the dent with a burnt brown halo of corrosion. It saddened me a bit to see it, and I vowed then and there that this spring the bumper would be fixed and the dent repaired.
My examination of the bed completed, I rounded the right rear corner of the truck and noticed the tires were beginning to wear. They were dingy gray instead of the slick black that I had at one time maintained religiously. Flat black rims, circled by weathered chrome beauty rings, weren’t quite the image I recalled from yesteryear either, and several lug nuts had lost their caps. The fading light could not hide the truck’s age from a slightly closer examination.
There was more light from the setting sun shining on this side of the pick-up, and I noticed that the once-brilliant red paint was now quite dull with oxidization. I ran my index finger over the side of the bed and looked with dismay at the amount of dead, dry paint that rubbed off onto my fingertip. A good wash and wax would probably help tremendously, but when to find time? Another sigh, and I walked on up the passenger side to the front fender.
The pin striping did not extend on to this fender. Six years ago, I had fallen asleep at the wheel driving home from work and had crashed this fender. The paint on the new fender was very slightly more red than the rest of the sheet metal, but you had to know before you would notice. I had often thought of repainting the whole truck but that is a lot of money for an old pick-up with as many miles as this one.
Digging in my pocket for keys, I circled the front once again and opened the driver-side door. The unmistakable, musty smell of an old vehicle rose to greet me as I climbed in behind the wheel. Years of use had worn the cloth on the seat thin and a small hole was growing in the back of the drivers seat. The dash had split wide open, front to back, all in one day a couple of years ago. I had repaired it with gray caulking, but the patch didn’t match the vinyl. I took a deep breath and thought of how many hours I had spent gripping the wheel, staring through the sandblasted glass, driving, thinking, and dreaming. In all that time, the Toyota had never let me down.
I patted the gas once, inserted the key in the ignition, and turned it over. In an instant, the engine purred to life with a wonderful-sounding hum. 272,000 miles and it still cranks like a brand new truck. I love it. Don’t offer to buy it. It’s not for sale. A man can’t sell an old friend.
Note: Three years, almost to the day, after this was written, while driving home one morning, I crashed the little red Toyota and totaled it. With far more damage than the truck was worth, I opted to buy a new truck.
The new has yet to measure up to the old.
I had planned on fixing the old one eventually, but as time slipped away I realized I never would get time, so I sold it to a man who trimmed trees. He beat out the sheet metal from around the radiator and bolted a single headlight on the front, and drove it for another couple of years to haul brush away after trimming trees. He took Little Red all the way to Florida after a hurricane and used it hard to clear away the debris there.
Finally, at last, after about 20 years, Little Red’s engine gave up the ghost and died forever. The man sold what was left to a salvage yard. And so ends the story of my amazing, awesome, loveable little truck. I still miss it.