“Do you really need a van ?”
That’s the rhetorical question on the lips and fingertips of many pundits these days, prodding truck owners (i.e. working class and middle class) with the audacity at highlight the pains of inflation and inflated gas prices.
To answer this question, an anecdote:
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Two weeks ago I ripped an old toilet out of my bathroom. The bowl’s wax ring, installed in 1959, had degraded into a kind of sickly brown goo, thicker than axle grease and smellier than beef lederhosen. I lifted the piece of china into the bed of my 2020 Toyota Tacoma.
The toilet tipped over and a flood of rusty brown… Something ran from the head, through a glob of that old wax ring, and down the tailgate of the Tacoma. I hijacked the smell, then strapped the musky anchor into the bed of the Toyota and watched the thing through my rear view mirror as it bled to the dump.
Back home, I pulled out the pipe. The whole incident was swept away in seconds.
It was a job for a van. Dirty, crude and unglamorous work, nothing to do with the slow-motion Like A Rock crooner selling the idea of a pickup. While any other form factor could have Finished work in an abstract sense, you’d have to be thicker than a wax ring to place an old toilet in the carpeted hold of your RAV4, where its interior would face the mysterious goop of 10,000 grandma’s farts.
So the answer is “yes”, I actually need a van. Because as an owner, club racer, and person who spends their non-working hours actually Do things, a truck allows me in a way that no other vehicle could.
Of course, keyboard warriors have an answer for just one trivia. It sounds more like an accusation. “Okay, but how many times have you blindly use your truck every year?” Like most Americans who own trucks, the answer is ALL THE TIME.
We are a land of doers, movers, haulers, campers and hard workers. It’s easy to become nostalgic for the pickup’s role here, as a workhorse and icon, emblematic of certain core values, the Protestant work ethic morphed into denim cowboy chic. It understates how the pickup truck became a national icon in the first place. It was not a romance. A pickup only hints at the action because it’s the American vehicle most often at the heart of the action.
More trivia: I’ve filled the bed to capacity probably 100 times since I bought my Tacoma in the spring of 2020. I’ve used the thing to move a house full of junk through the Washington State, plus a thousand other adventures. Its tailgate served as a picnic table while hiking in Idaho’s Saint Joe National Forest; Its memory foam bed and mattress have saved countless hotel costs during LeMons race weekends; Its cabin has proven quiet and comfortable enough for dozens of cross-state trips, with acceptable leather seats and tires aimed at all-season comfort with more than enough purchase for mountain passes and dirt roads. . Sometimes he carries two motorcycles.
I am no exception to the rule.
Extrapolate these anecdotes to the millions of truck owners across the country. They will have totally different tastes than mine here in the Pacific Northwest, but surely as many times their truck was called into action. That’s the kicker, the reason for the ubiquity of modern trucks here. They are ready for anything and used accordingly. We don’t consider a Swiss army knife to be a compromised corkscrew, something extravagant and useless, but rather a set of tools for any task, including tearing open a bottle of Malbec.
This is exactly why are you paying $50,000 or more for a new full-size or 3/4 ton truck these days. Because the use case for a truck is much larger than any other vehicle, and often larger than two separate vehicles combined. No compact carries a family of four and their belongings on summer vacation in such comfort. No SUV matches a pickup truck bed for practicality. In addition, they drive much better than before. Few luxury cars even rival the pickup for ride quality and sound isolation (don’t believe me, drive the new Raptor). No other vehicle tows a boat better. How it all gets lost to the naysayers I’ll never know, but I guess it’s because they don’t own a truck.
(Editor’s note: PAYE regulations also helped pickup sales, by allowing “light trucks” to bypass regulatory red tape that would otherwise have slowed their rise. Plus, once all your neighbors have giant pickup trucks, you don’t want to be the one staring at them from a low Taurus.)
At least the “truck thing” didn’t completely click for me until I owned my Tacoma. I never felt the need to own one, instead I spent my money on crappy German sports cars. But when it came time to buy something to have and keep, to keep for 30 years under the same garage roof, to grow for decades to come, a truck was by far the best answer. As long as you don’t generate more than a nuclear family, a truck simultaneously covers the hobbies and habits of each family member.
It’s so simple. A truck is never an impedance, only a catalyst. He never says “no” to adventure or travel, to the movement of people, goods and objects. If you think your hatchback can match the versatility and drive of a pickup—the argument goes, only a tradesman really needs to have a truck—you’re living in a reality of your own construction. Maybe you could pull a trailer with your sedan. But then you would need a trailer, you would need to register that trailer, you would need to store that trailer, maintain that trailer, and so on. I’ll just stuff my load of gravel into a truck bed, thanks.
Part of the problem is perspective. Many city dwellers can’t park a truck on crowded streets below their walk-up third floor. They also cannot fit even a compact car into their lives. As a former Brooklynite, I can sympathize. When I lived there, I didn’t have a car for the first time since I was 15 and a half. In the land of excellent and cheap public transportation, 550 square foot rentals, and a restaurant on every corner, a car would have been a clutter for my lifestyle.
Remember that the vastness outside of densely populated American cities is a world apart. There, you can’t walk to the grocery store during a blizzard. The job could be at the end of a muddy, rutted road. Most people have a garden, a dog and three kids and need the right tools to support that lifestyle. These are the people who use trucks. They need trucks. If I can extend some understanding to those who would go without cars, maybe the truck deniers might have a thought.
What seems unnecessary and indulgent to some may actually be a necessity to others; If you think entrepreneurs are the only ones need pickups, it’s probably because you call a contractor when your own toilet situation goes awry.
Many Americans – and maybe even most Americans – do not share this spirit. The rest of us see a problem and crowd into our mics looking for a solution. We head to Home Depot, grunt over lumber prices, then bring back subfloors and a brand new throne. When the checkbook is balanced, the truck owner has spent much less overall, blessed with the satisfaction of his own work.
Let’s recognize high gas prices as a regressive tax on the middle and working classes instead of going after truck owners. I don’t regret other people’s choices – if someone owns a big truck and pays the gas bill, it costs me nothing. If a hypermiler goes on a hunger strike to gain an extra 0.6 mpg on his family vacation, more power to him.
Maybe I’m leaving. I know the pitfalls of owning a truck at the gas pump. I’m just accepting that the choice I made (buying a gas guzzler) has associated costs (expensive fills). Fortunately, a burgeoning fleet of excellent electric trucks is already being gobbled up by Americans. We might wonder if electric pickups are a definite improvement in efficiency over their ICE counterparts (they’re not, Again), but the calculation is far too complex for the end of this column. (How does one, for example, weigh the impact of surface mining of rare earth metals in China and charging car batteries via coal power versus burning gasoline?) In any case, I’d like to see a compelling argument against the pickup that at least acknowledges why they’re dominating our roads in the first place:
People really need it, plain and simple.
I’m willing to make a concession to the reverse: the next time I rip a soggy old toilet out of my ’60s house, you can haul it in the back of your Nissan Versa. If you feel the need to make a point, go haul that toilet to the dump. I’ll be waiting with the pipe when you come back.
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