The truck

“Why don’t you take the Honda?” I said on Tuesday to Husband as he headed for the door. “You have a few kids to transport, so it makes sense. I only have to pick up Flicka at the train. I’ll take your truck.”

As soon as the words had left my mouth, regret settled in. Husband’s twenty-two-year-old pick-up—a battered Ford F150 with almost 300,000 miles on it—had given him some unwelcome surprises at inopportune times. Hopefully, its fickle attitude wouldn’t surface with me.

“Sounds good.” He strode from the house with Dicka and her friend who were dressed for boxing lessons.

After he left, my thoughts meandered from the pick-up to dinner. I had a plan for the meal, but lacked two ingredients. I would need to make a quick stop at the grocery store downtown before Flicka’s train arrived at the station.

I drove into the pristine and silent underground parking ramp of Whole Foods, the truck’s noisy steering pump announcing my entry. The grinding whine drew a look from a shopper who was making a beeline for the doors. Then the pick-up moaned even louder as I wedged it into a parking spot. I turned off the engine. A Lexus crept into the space next to me, and then a Prius tiptoed in on my other side. One of these kids is doing her own thing.

I entered the store, gathered my items, and waited in a checkout line. Flicka texted: I’m here. No problem. The station was close. I’d be there in under five minutes.

When it was my turn to pay, the cashier held his mouth in whistle position; his eyes twinkled as he scanned. He caressed my bag of parsley, a tender smile playing on his lips as he keyed numbers into the register. He spoke kind things about the corn starch I had quickly plucked off the shelf. And as for the crunchy pea snack I had tossed into my basket at the last second, he and I shared the same delight in the savory treat, he said.

The checkout had taken longer than expected, so I picked up my step on the way back to the truck. I climbed into the driver’s seat, stuck the key into the ignition, and turned. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of life.  

I texted Flicka: The truck’s dead and I’m stuck in the WF ramp. How about you walk this way?

I noticed the red mark on my phone’s battery app: 18%. Uh oh.

Flicka answered my text with a phone call. “Where is Whole Foods again in relation to the train?”

Worried about my dwindling battery, I gave her directions. She voiced her uncertainty about my whereabouts. “Start walking. I have to call Dad, and then I’ll walk to meet you.” I clicked the phone off and called Husband. But Dicka answered his phone.

“Dad’s in the meeting.” Ah, yes. Ricka's softball fundraising meeting. “Want me to get him?”

“Yeah, you better.” I explained the issue. She promised she’d relay the message and then hung up. A few minutes passed. I hopped out of the truck and started walking to meet Flicka. Finally, I spotted her a block away, heading toward me. My phone rang. Husband.

“Truck won’t start?” His voice was even.

“The battery’s dead or something.” I waved to my girl—now across the street from me—and she waved back.

“Okay. Open the hood.”

“I can’t. I’m out on the street meeting Flicka. But I’ll be back there in a minute.”

“You have to wiggle the wire on the left terminal on the battery. Then it’ll work.”

“Okay. Gotta go before my phone dies.” I punched the off button.

I recalled the times Husband had started his truck with a screwdriver and the occasions when he had needed to hit the starter with a hammer first. It all reminded me of driving through my college years in a Honda Accord that almost reached a half a million miles before its demise. I toted around a box of spark plugs in those days, and when needed, I could swap them out in minutes.

Back in the truck in the parking ramp, Flicka sat in the passenger seat while I searched for the latch to release the hood, illuminating the dark belly of the cab with my phone’s flashlight.

“I can’t for the life of me… Oh, there it is.” I pulled a lever. “Nope. That’s the brake release.”

She and I poked around under the dash, but came up empty. Her cell phone charge was lower than mine, so I used my own phone—its battery now registering 12%—to dial Husband. He answered before I heard it ring.

“Did you get it started?”

I groped around near the floor. “I can’t find the lever to open the hood.”

He guided me through the process. Once it popped, I ended the call and jumped out. I fiddled under the hood until the owner of the Prius returned, but I avoided eye contact; I could figure this out on my own. Or not. The driver backed out of his spot with as much sound as a fly rubbing its wings together on a summer day. Then his car whispered off and out of the ramp.

I wiggled the left cable on the battery—the right one too, for good measure—and hopped back in behind the wheel. The engine roared to life, and its shrieking had never sounded so sweet.

Dinner on Tuesday night was only a little later than I had planned. The vehicle issue hadn’t caused much stress for anyone. Neither Flicka nor I had lost charge on our cell phones, but if we had, we had been in the vicinity of other humans anyway. The weather had been pleasant; the walk toward my girl had been quick and painless. And Husband hadn’t minded missing five minutes of his meeting. In total, a bland time had been had by all.

Often in life, things happen and we move on, almost entirely forgetting about them by the next day—and certainly without garnering any lasting truths from them—because they were really no big deal in the first place. Not all vehicle mishaps are disasters, and not all stories have morals. But this event brought enough words to create a blog entry.

So that’s something.


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.