Opinion

Old pickup trucks: at home on Vashon

By WILL NORTH

Sometimes I think I’m a little slow (that was not an invitation for comments, by the way), but the other day it dawned on me that I have never lived anywhere where there were so many old pickup trucks as there are right here on Vashon Island. Have you noticed? How could you not?

I’m not talking about lovingly restored “classic” trucks, like the ones in the Strawberry Festival parade, though there are plenty of them, too. No, I’m talking about beat-up, paint-faded pickups built shortly after I was born, which is to say in a previous century. (Maybe that’s the connection: They’re old and beat-up like me.) Most of these trucks look like they never should have been pulled out of the overgrown field where they had been dying a peaceful death and put back on the road. You can almost imagine them pleading, “Nooo, I am old and arthritic, don’t make me work again!”

Take my Burton Coffee Stand friend Richard. Please. No seriously, here’s this well-educated chap, an architect no less, and he drives around the island in an — I don’t know — maybe 50-year-old badly dented pickup the color of black primer paint, as if somehow he’d forgotten to finish the job, you know? It’s hideous. He pulls into the parking area by the coffee stand and the value of the surrounding real estate plummets. It’s so disreputable looking that other customers move their cars so as not to be associated with it. I’m serious. Did I mention the guy is an architect?  Clearly, he could afford a new car, right? But no.

Then there’s my other coffee stand pal, Jerry. He’s got an even older pickup, an antique he’s lovingly restored. It’s like a museum piece, except that he’s dropped a humongously powerful engine into it. When he drives up Vashon Highway, it sounds like a pack of Hell’s Angels on Harley Davidsons. He’s also dropped, as near as I can tell, at least a zillion dollars into it, too. I’m thinking that for all the cash he’s poured into this truck, the guy could have bought himself a Ferrari, you know?

But I know Jerry’s problem. Richard’s, too. It is this: They know how to fix mechanical things. This is a terrible affliction, like obsessive compulsive disorder. They see something old and broken and they simply cannot help themselves from fixing it. As someone completely incapable of fixing even a broken shoelace, I just can’t relate. Looking around the island, I think it is clear this affliction is widespread. There are legions of guys intent on fixing and driving clunker pickups.

And do these people try to hide their affliction? Of course not; this is Vashon: They flaunt it. You see these guys rumbling down the road in their old beaters, and they look happier than pigs in a pigsty, if you take my meaning. Big smiles. Big plumes of blue smoke trailing behind them, too.

Speaking of pigs, a pickup truck, as you no doubt know, can be a very useful thing to own if you are, say, a gentleman farmer on this island. Richard and Jerry, though? Professionals, not farmers. Not even gentlemen, either, come to that, though maybe they once were before they began hanging out at the Burton Coffee Stand, a deeply corrupting experience I lay squarely at the feet of another regular, my friend and fellow ex-New Yorker, Bad Michael. But that’s another story.

And haul stuff around in the truck? Forget it. Take Jerry’s truck, for example. Know what’s in the pickup bed where “stuff” should go? A bolted down, carefully restored and varnished antique wooden trunk. Get it? Trunk?  It’s so cute and sweet you want to get an insulin shot.

When I moved to Vashon six years ago, somebody said, “If you stay, sooner or later you’re gonna have a beard and a pony tail.”

And maybe a beat-up pickup.

— Will North is an island novelist. His latest novel, “Seasons’ End,” is set on Vashon.

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