When I was a kid I had a metal toolbox full of toy cars. All kinds of cars. Sports cars. Pickup trucks. The General Lee from “Dukes of Hazzard.” The Batmobile. And even though all of these cars had four wheels you could tell them apart, just like you can tell people apart even though they all generally have two feet.
Have you been to a parking lot lately? Every car looks pretty much the same. Toyota Rav4. Ford Escape. Honda CR-V. Chevy Equinox. Those are all classified as SUVs. But if you want a smaller car all you have to do is walk farther away and all those vehicles look like their smaller brand counterparts. Want a minivan? Same thing, just slightly longer. It’s like zucchini at the county fair. Some of them are big. Some are little. But they’re all zucchinis.
I don’t even know how to describe this ubiquitous design that every car now uses. It’s like a drop of liquid mediocrity turned on its side and covered in several plastic parts that will all shatter when you hit a deer. In fact, I remember a time when hitting a deer meant a dead deer and a mostly intact car. Now you hit a deer your car disintegrates like a Ming dynasty vase chucked off the roof of a warehouse. And the deer, he gets up and says, “Dude, that’s gonna be exPENsive.”
While car makers engaged in a race to copy each other something strange happened to pickup trucks, too.
I distinctly recall pickup trucks from my family and the dads of my childhood friends. The dominant trait of a pickup truck is a squeaky door with a thumb button handle. The seats are some kind of woven fabric, like a throw rug from an estate sale. There’s a stain on the passenger side that looks like an incontinent robot had just sat there.
Inside, the smell of oil and cigarettes battle for supremacy. There’s a radio but it’s never on, or maybe it is on but you can’t tell because of the cabin noise. You find seat belts tucked into the bench seat but they inspire less confidence than the tie straps used to secure the load in the truck bed. That’s a truck.
Try sitting in a new truck. When you open the door it’s like stepping into a swanky apartment from a 1960s swinger movie. You half expect “The Girl From Ipanema” to play softly in the background. There’s an oolong tea dispenser and a foot bath. The crew cab has a daybed and satin curtains in the back.
If you ever wondered why so many guys put hyper-masculine decals on their trucks — the deer skulls, gun slogans, and profanity — I think it’s because they don’t want us to know that there’s a manicure station in there where the cigarette lighter used to be.
When you talk to any mechanic they tell you how cars are basically computers now. Fixing them requires training in software design. We’re not far from people bragging about their hard drives instead of their engines.
“Dude, you wouldn’t believe the Ram I’ve got.”
“Oh, you got a Dodge truck?”
“No, man. I got a Hyundai Accent, but the processing speed is wicked. I’ve got a tiger under the hood and lodged deep behind the starter in a place that’s hard to reach and that can’t be repaired by a living human.
You really see how they’re getting us ready for driverless cars. It’s hard to show pride in a brand of car if they all look the same. After all, nobody gets excited about the brand of fork they use.
Though, guys who drive those fancy new trucks sure get riled up when you peek at their gold velour carpeting.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).