Damaged Goods

Thirty minutes.  Half an hour.  That’s all the time I had to enjoy my Toyota pickup truck before having my first accident in it.  How is that possible?  I had driven it off the dealer’s lot on the outskirts of Fort Worth and headed east toward Dallas.  Well, toward Arlington actually.  My plan was to go to a few pawnshops and junk dealers, oh excuse me…antique stores in Arlington and then head on northeast through Dallas, in the general direction of home in Northwest Arkansas.  That was the plan, anyway.  But I’m getting the cart before the horse, aren’t I?

You may be asking at this point, “Why did he go all the way to Fort Worth to buy a truck?  Don’t they have trucks in Arkansas?”  I’ll try to keep the background short, but the departure from my normal buying methods demands a little explanation, at the least.  You see, my usual way of buying a vehicle is to drive down the road, minding my own business, just moving from one point to another.  All of the sudden, it’s there!  “Did you see that red Chevy truck?  That’s beautiful!  And, it’s for sale, too.”  The next thing I know, I’m calling the owner, taking a test drive, negotiating the price, and paying for a registration.  No research, no planning, no analyzing models or options; just making the purchase, without any hoopla or any stress.  That’s how I got the last truck, for which I had purchased two rebuilt transmissions within 10 months at a cost of over one thousand dollars apiece.  At that point, I started reading the reviews of the model and found that the transmission was “prone to failure under medium to heavy towing conditions.”  Well, duh!  

The old way of shopping had worked just fine for thirty-plus years of driving and purchasing vehicles, but maybe my analytical friends had a valid argument (you know who you are…). So, I started the research.  The replacement for the beautiful red disappointment had to be reliable, had to have a four-wheel drive (for pulling pianos up hills, wink-wink, nod-nod), and especially, it couldn’t eat transmissions.  I spent hours learning about models, checked the discussion boards, and talked with customers about their experience with certain trucks.  I even consulted Consumer Reports!  Finally, I made a decision.  The Toyota Tundra, which had no apparent appetite for transmissions, was the truck I needed.  All the evidence said the 2005 model would be everything I needed in a truck.  The search was on.  Local dealerships were called and asked to see if one was available or to find one in the price range determined to be appropriate (and affordable for me).  Newspapers were checked.  Craig’s List was consulted daily.  Nothing…Weeks passed, with no sign of one locally, so the search was extended.  Still nothing.

Finally, one night as I sat listing instruments to sell online, I made the fateful decision.  I would buy a truck on eBay!  As ridiculous as it sounds, many have done it with good results.  I found one in Atlanta and decided to buy it.  I first asked a question about the towing package.  They would get back to me.  The next day the call came.  “We can’t find that truck on our lot.”  How do you lose a full-size pickup truck?    I left them to figure out the mystery and moved on in my search, finally locating the truck I wanted in Fort Worth.  Yes, they actually could find the truck on their lot and would pick me up at the airport in Dallas if I would fly down.  The salesman met me at the airport and gave me one of the most frightening rides I have ever had in the state of Texas.  (Note to self:  Don’t ever ask for a ride from a Texas driver again!)   Heart rate back to normal, the truck examined and paperwork done, I was the proud and excited owner of a like-new 2005 Toyota Tundra Bluesteel-colored 4-wheel drive pickup.  No scratches, no dents, actually smelled like a new car (I know, they spray something inside them to give them that aura), and I was a happy camper as I headed up the highway to Arlington.

It had been a long time since breakfast and the peanuts on the plane ride weren’t going to hold me for long, so I made a quick stop for a Whopper at the Burger King just off the expressway.  Hunger satisfied and cholesterol rising, I climbed back into my beautiful truck, turning onto the road headed back for the highway.  As I approached the traffic signal a little too fast, I noticed the cars stopping quickly in front of me and I applied the brakes.  I was gratified when the truck slowed to a stop rapidly and at a safe distance from the car in front of me.  My satisfaction was short-lived though, as I heard the tires screaming behind me and then felt the impact of something slamming into the back of my beautiful truck.  The rear end of the truck went up slightly as whatever it was nose-dived under the bumper and came to a stop.  I got out expecting the worst, and wasn’t surprised to find a small import car buried under the bumper with its hood accordioned back to the windshield, and coolant gushing from a radiator ripped open by the impact.  Neither of the occupants of the car, two twenty-something young men, were hurt so we separated the vehicles, pulling onto the shoulder as I started to call the police.  “No don’t do that!” exclaimed the driver.  When I asked why I shouldn’t call, he replied, honestly enough, that he had some warrants out for his arrest.  I didn’t inquire any more about those (one doesn’t ask too many questions of a wanted man, you know), but surveying the damage to his car, and thinking about the possibility of hidden damage under mine, insisted on calling.

So, even though prudence might have dictated otherwise, I got the police department on the telephone. They asked two questions of me on the phone.  “Is anyone injured?”  When the answer was negative, the second query came, “Can the cars be driven?”  My truck, though sadly desecrated in my opinion, could certainly be driven, but I doubted the car would move.  I covered the mic on my phone and asked the young driver if it could be driven.  He answered quickly, “Absolutely!  I’ll drive it if I have to lean out the window to see! And, if he has to push,” jerking a thumb at his companion.  Quite obviously, he wanted to avoid any contact with the Police Department, so I answered in the affirmative to the dispatcher on the phone.  She reminded me to exchange insurance information and addresses and told me to, “Drive safely.”  We took care of the formalities and shook hands.  Then, the very relieved young men hastily jerked part of the bumper of the crippled car off the front, where it was dragging on the ground, leaving it lying in the gutter, shoved down on the pleated hood in an effort to see out the windshield (also badly cracked) and started off down the road, broken belts falling from underneath, metal shrieking against metal and steam boiling up from the engine as they turned the corner and limped out of sight.

I got into my besmirched truck and started toward home, forgoing the anticipated shopping, completely depressed because of the occurrence.  There was no damage visible, and a quick visit to my mechanic upon arrival home confirmed that there was no concealed damage either, but I would never look at that truck again as I did when I first bought it.  It was damaged goods to me, still fulfilling its function admirably, but with a strike against it.

I’ve always wondered about that.  We purchase an item and treat it as a treasure, protecting it, cherishing it, until the first blemish appears.  After that the respect, the honor, is diminished.  I remember my first new horn; how proud I was of it, polishing it constantly, carrying it gingerly.  Until that first ding arrived when I bumped it into the edge of a table as I was cleaning and oiling it.  After that, I just used the horn, without worry about any dings, cleaning it only when it needed attention and not obsessively, as when it was new.  Come to think of it, the horn was much more useful to me after that.  I wasn’t worried about the peripherals, but did whatever was necessary to maintain it simply as the tool it was.  Yes, a tool to make beautiful music, but just an implement nonetheless.  And, as I consider it, that truck was much the same.  I didn’t waste one day worrying about getting a scratch on it.  It pulled my piano trailer many, many trips; sometimes down back roads being scratched by overhanging bushes, and pelted by gravel as other vehicles passed, and I never cared.  When friends and family needed to borrow it, the keys were turned over cheerfully, with nary a word said about being careful not to park too near to other cars or taking care with the paint job.  It too, was a tool, fulfilling its purpose, without the need for coddling or nervous worry.

Not to belabor the point overmuch, but I’m wondering if our relationships are like that a little bit, too.  Kid gloves on, and stars in our eyes, we tiptoe around each other.  Until that first blemish appears; the first tiff, the first fault rears its head.  What, the toilet lid isn’t down?  Toothpaste squeezed and not rolled?  Yes, all these dings and more, maybe even a few major dents appear.  We get past those and make the relationship work, becoming comfortable with each other.  I like the comfortable stage.  Just one suggestion to keep in mind as the years pass, though…A little “spit and polish” doesn’t hurt once in awhile, even on the old model. Kind of keeps the brain remembering what the attraction was in the first place, you know…

“When hope is not pinned wriggling into a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens.”
(Anne Lamott~American author)

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