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Story and pictures by Mirinda Osmer
Windows are barriers to the outside world. With so many drivers so focused on their own driving and their own destination, roads can be unsafe. Using medians, bike lanes and even the other side of the road to get to the next light faster is becoming too common. One of the things I’ve noticed is that they rarely have their windows down. I grew up with the windows down, and that helps me remember that there’s more to this world than my destination.
My father has a 1951 Chevy Pickup. With the front-end clip off a 1980 Firebird, a stock 350 cubic inch engine, disk brakes and power steering, he uses his truck as it is—a truck. He hauls plywood, various completed wood shop projects, Christmas trees and the occasional Daisy dog. The windows require hand cranking and are only up if it’s too windy on the freeway or too cold. The doors will rattle if not closed just right and there is only a side view mirror on the driver side. There’s a special process to starting it and the speedometer is broken. The truck has been a vital part of shaping who I am.
The earliest memory I can recall of my father’s old truck is of me, in a faded pastel purple car seat, being told to not put my feet up on the glove compartment. I was so excited by the reach of my legs that I stretched my toes and flexed the metal. “Keep your feet off my dash,” my father said in his no-nonsense voice. From then on, I made sure he wasn’t looking when I stretched my toes. Now, a slight lean forward brings my arms to open it. So much has changed.
Firstly, I learned stronger automotive basics. Mechanical awareness: with the windows always down, it’s easy to hear emergency sirens, engine issues, whether I actually ran over that soda can or successfully straddled it. Look. Listen. Smell. Observe. If something smells like burning oil, maybe it’s me and I need to check that. Things go wrong with old cars. I once had to walk a few miles to my middle school orientation when the engine quit en route—and not having a radio, aux cord, massive GPS/touch screen console/iPad on the dash makes noticing potential and current issues easier. “If you’re so afraid of the thoughts your head that you can’t ride around without the radio on, change the thoughts in your head,” Dad still says.
I also have heightened traffic awareness. With constant rumble and an easily wrinkled body, the truck reminds me what freeway speeds feel like and just how close some calls are. With the recent trend of “me, me, me” driving, my alertness has saved numerous unnecessary trips to the auto body shop.
In addition to seemingly basic principles of mechanical and traffic awareness, the truck has taught me people skills. It’s an instant conversation starter. I know how to make an entrance—drive up nice and slow, maybe wave a hand out the open window. People honk, roll down their windows and shout, or just give a passing thumbs-up and smile to let whomever’s driving know they think the truck is cool. If I don’t smile and wave back, I could ruin this guy’s whole day! No matter what mood I’m in, no matter what kind of rush I think I need to be in, no matter where I’m going or where my mind is, I wave back. I have to. It’s not about me. It’s about making the seven-year-old’s day that had his mom roll down his window so he could wave. It’s about letting the retiree remember going on camping trips in his uncle’s truck “that was just like this but a ’53!” It’s not always about me.
Sure, hauling two kids around the San Fernando Valley in a vintage car isn’t the most practical. But it was never unsafe. I certainly learned more about driving, people, traffic patterns and the world’s different sounds than other millennials, raised in those common dark green mini-vans of the early ‘00’s. There is so much more to this world than the entertainment screen on the back of the headrest. This world is full of stories. And while any car off any lot can be host to life-long memories, the bench seat of my dad’s 1951 Chevy taught me infinitely more about telling stories and experiencing the world. Wave. Ask about the stickers.
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