Sunday, July 07, 2013

It's Just a Truck (Or Why I Don't Like Michael Stipe)

"1200 dollars? You gotta be kidding me."

"Beth, the rust damage is too extensive. If we try to fix your brakes, it will be like opening a whole can of worms. Fuel lines are rusted...calipers...its just not worth it."

"But...what will I do with it?"

"We can send it to the junk yard."

"Okay, um..." My voice starts to quiver. "I'll stop by and take the stuff out of it on Tuesday." I put down the phone and let the news sink in: my truck is finished.

Last week when heading on the island, I had a near-miss accident. I had to slam on my brakes and flew onto the shoulder of the road. The brakes made a horrible screaching sound afterward and I had it towed to garage. I kinda knew it wouldn't just be a mere brake line. It's a 1990 Toyota 4Runner with close to 200,000 miles on it. It's rusty and repairing it would be the proverbial "throwing good money at bad."

Six years earlier, I bought the truck for $2000. I had moved to the Jersey shore from New York and I was pretty broke and not relishing the idea of making another monthly payment to another large entity. So I bought the truck outright from a local fisherman here. The first time I took it for a ride, I was in love. It was a truck! Not some low-riding car...a truck! The little kid in me squealed with delight.

Some people buy cars for status. Even if I had the means, that is not why I buy a car. I buy it to safely get me from point A to point B. And it helps if its cool and has some character. Which my truck did. It also helps if you don't have to get tons of repairs on the damn thing. My Toyota 4Runner ran like a charm for years, needing few repairs.

Growing up, I remember my mother buying lemon after lemon. So many icy cold mornings were spent with my mother cursing at the car because it wouldn't start again. "Just my luck!" my mother would proclaim. And I feared I'd have the same bad luck, like some genetic predisposition to crappy cars.

But the bad luck I feared didn't stop at cars unfortunately. I've often felt that I just wasn't very "lucky." I was never going to secure that killer job or get the recognition I thought I deserved as an artist. I wasn't going to find that perfect guy who'd sweep me off me feet and stay with me for life. I wasn't going to have tons of money; I was always going to struggle to get by. Bad messaging, you might say, but sometimes when you have a tough childhood, you sense a shitty pattern.

I remember listening to an interview with Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM. He credited his success to his supportive parents who believed in him from day 1. He seemed built for success and I've quietly resented him ever since. My widowed mom was stressed and overwhelmed. She couldn't "build" me for success; she was too busy figuring out how to feed five kids and keep the electricity on.

But I always felt like a winner. I knew I was unique and creative and my "voice" was powerful. Never felt like some supermodel, but I always appreciated my looks. I could play them down or pump them up. Strong, healthy. Maybe I wasn't "built" for success but I would overcome the limitations of a difficult childhood and faltering self-confidence. Fuck Michael Stipe. 

So what happened? Real life, I guess. You can want things with all of your heart and soul and it doesn't mean you'll ever get them. Years go by, and like my mother, you find yourself just trying to survive. Dreams become  a luxury for the privileged.

Or maybe I was the lemon. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn't work right. My internal mechanisms were just flawed and I'd just be one problem after the next.

But purchasing my red truck reminded me that "luck" and "success" aren't always what you think they'll be. Luck may be a cool truck that lasts for years. Success may be teaching a young kid to surf on his first try and seeing the huge smile on his face. Stardom could be singing with your friend on a roof at midnight.

Maybe Michael Stipe is wildly successful but has some weird eating disorder or an all-consuming fetish for dirty socks. And undoubtedly, he has a really nice car...but its not my truck and it never will be.

My red truck reminded me that I'm not cursed. I'm not a lemon. Things do work out for me, just not always in the ways I expected. And now, I'll say goodbye to it. And I'll thank it because it did its job and protected me to the very end. And it can't anymore. It's too old and worn and tired.

I am my truck. Highly imperfect but built to last. Trustworthy, dependable and comfortable. Rusty but fabulous in its own way.

The next phase of my life awaits me. I plan to leave this area and say goodbye to one of the only places I've considered home. It no longer is home. Like the truck, it used to be a safe haven but its not anymore. I will try my "luck" again. And hopefully I'll buy a vehicle that's safe and smart. But it will never be this truck.

My truck showed me that every once in a while, even in some random ways, I can be lucky too. (Or blessed...I never liked the idea of luck anyway.)

[Photo credit: Tim Faunce]

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