Second-hand embarrassment: My father’s trucks

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 8/11/11]

Growing up, it’s inevitable that your parents will embarrass you. Time after time, they will — without forethought or malice — do and say things that will turn you so red that the people at Pantone will need to designate a new shade just for you.

In your teen years, these humiliations are most severe — it’s a time when your parents’ quirky behaviors lead you to the near certain conclusion that surely you cannot be related to these people.

Conversely, in another decade or so this theory will be decisively refuted when you start to do and say things that unequivocally proves your parentage, leading, of course, to the dramatic moment of realization where fall to your knees crying, “What have I become?!” to the heavens. (Or not.)

Over the years, my father has turned filial embarrassment an art form. Above, I posited that parents don’t consciously strive to embarrass their children. Not so with my father. While never mean-spirited, he seems to thrive on knowing that you are uncomfortable and, like a standup comic playing to a receptive room, he will dial it up and ride the wave.

The most tangible manifestation of this is his choice in vehicles. While my dad makes sure my mom has a car that is presentable, he is far less discriminating for his own means of transportation — preferring something inexpensive and serviceable for his day-to-day needs.

Enter the “Orange Whip” — a blaze-orange, mid-90s Chevy truck. If you were to see it, you might say, “Hey, that looks like a CVPS truck.” And you’d be correct, because that’s exactly what it is: a decommissioned Central Vermont Public Service truck that my dad picked up for a bargain from Nutting’s.

One might think this an odd choice. Deal or no, the color alone would scare off most buyers from even thinking about buying it. But not my dad. He’s bought two. Yes, in the last decade, my father has owned and driven two orange CV trucks. You see my father has a history of buying cars in awful colors. Back in the early ’90s, during another ill-fated visit to Nutting’s, he came home with a pink Buick Century. Pink. Formerly driven by a Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswoman, it was another deal too good for him to pass up.

For my pre-adolescent self, this socially apocalyptic situation was untenable. What kid wants to be picked up for school in a pink car, especially when it’s your dad who’s driving it?

To be fair, the teasing was never rampant, mostly because I led the charge. After a year or so of lobbying from my mother, he finally got it painted (maroon) and managed to get several more years out of the old gal.

Now, as a young adult, my dad owning an orange truck was (and still is) a humorous idiosyncrasy. I even kind of get it. I see his reasoning — it’s a beater, a cheap vehicle that he uses around the yard and for trips to town that he can drive into the ground and scrap.

When he brought home the Whip (the first one, that is), my siblings and I urged him to paint it, trembling at the thought of him bombing around town in it. All of us adults, our teenage anxieties resurfaced as we considered what our friends might say. Our pleas were ignored and only served to embolden him to drive and park it everywhere he could with pride and defiance.

My mother was equally put out, positing that the neighbors were going to start thinking she was having an affair with a CV meter reader. (Incidentally, one inquisitive neighbor did innocently hint at this, asking my mom why an electric company truck was there so often.)

Recently, I borrowed the Whip to move into a new apartment. (Like I said, it is handy.) An outward spectacle, the interior of the Whip is similarly spectacular. Upon first glance, it appears to be a cluttered and impenetrable assortment of paperwork, notes, discarded food containers and found objects.

However, on closer inspection, there might actually be a method to the madness — organized chaos, as it were. Surely, the inside of my father’s head must resemble this, I thought.

Objects of note included an animal skull, which I assume (hope) was discovered by the dog — a frequent Whip co-pilot — and several light switch units, which must be part of some upcoming and sure-to-be-doomed DIY electrical project.

Not wanting to interrupt this delicate ecosystem, I slid behind the wheel with care and set out on my short trip.

Now, as a beater vehicle, minimal funds are budgeted for routine maintenance; the thinking is that when it’s dead, it’s dead. To that end, Whip 2.0 seems to be on its last leg. Fortunately, I was able to start it easily enough, despite the engine sounding like the score to a David Lynch film.

However, I soon found that acceleration was a relative concept, best achieved when the pedal was jammed to the floor until the truck reluctantly lurched forward.

Likewise, application of the brakes didn’t stop the truck so much as they politely asked it to slow down eventually, preferably before collision. (I became acutely aware of this nifty feature about halfway down Killington Avenue.)

Another great creature comfort is found in the radio, which reverts to factory settings at ignition and refuses to turn off when the engine stops — a great feature if you enjoy jumpstarting your car on a near-daily basis.

Ultimately, I survived the trip, but, honestly, I’m not sure how many more days the old Whip has in her. She’s served my father well these past few years — as did Number 1 before her. And when she goes, I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll find a shiny “new” orange treasure sitting in my parents’ driveway.


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