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[Essay] The Pickup Truck Museum

by Lisa Loop

I spent my morning behind a 1978 Chevy truck on the 134 east. These days, when I see one of these old trucks, I want to offer the driver whatever he’ll take for the vehicle, haul it to my imaginary museum of important artifacts, and let it rest there. Included in my offer would be a questionnaire asking where the truck had been previously purchased and for how much, who all had driven it, for what purposes, and how it handled the responsibilities such work required. Was it a good truck?

All of this official probing would hide my real purpose, though. I need to know what dramas have been contained inside its cab. Who learned to drive within these faded, denim-blue walls? What bad phone calls came in, leaving nothing to do but pull over and rage, or cry, or stoically drive on in spite of the way the destination would now feel altered? 

And what good news came in, maybe through an open window, or from a voice sitting sidelong, a face in silhouette, soft because it didn’t need to travel far? What plans were hatched, feelings confessed, who felt a warm glow of moonlit hand in theirs? What was playing on the radio? 

When was the truck at its very best, doing ninety on a straight stretch of highway under the neon sky of sunset, keys swaying with a rhythmic click, sure of its destination, secure on its bearings, its axles and wheels true and unmarred by miles, just a machine, flashing headlights with the calm assurance that no distance would defeat it, that it could go forever?

There are such trucks parked in secret spots around the canyon where I live, quiet streets where neighbors will not complain about the artifact sitting like a piece of sculpture in front of someone’s house, the old El Camino with its brown coat so striated with layers of primer and paint that an original color is impossible to pin down. The old Ford F-150 with bald tires and a permanently ajar driver’s side window, its flatbed strewn with years’ worth of needles though no pines grow nearby.

If I were rich, I would hoard these machines. I would buy a well-lit, clean barn where they could congregate, like eccentric codgers, their amoeba-ed coats and worn-out suspensions. I would collect their stories, the restaurants they idled in front of, their heroic rescue pulls and wee-hour crawls home after a night carousing. I would get to know them, let them get to know each other. 

I would insist on no brand loyalties or model rivalries. These are mature trucks, things of beauty who all deserve admiration, respect even. The places they’ve been drilled into, the holes created to install a plate or jerry-rigged container sides, would be celebrated. Their upholstery would be cleaned but never repaired. We need this evidence. 

When the time comes for no more petroleum and no more carbon fumes, still these friends would be esteemed. Their service would be honored. They would be touched softly and made to feel valued. Voices, when heard, would be hushed, reading about the time this Ranger hauled two horses from Tucson to Alberta or this Isuzu held a woman giving birth three miles from the doctor. Every prom or homecoming would be recorded, every trip to rehab or to the creek to fish. Costco runs, prescription refills, desperate interventions to a hotel parking lot hoping to stop the calamity before it becomes too late. As you can see by the wear on the steering wheel, all of that was settled long ago. 

Near collisions, fender benders, drag races, deliberate slow cruises through a now-despoiled downtown, disappeared, winked out, atoms and molecules returned to normal circulation. Puddles splashed through, evaporated, and deposited in some distant sea. Seas come and go. Here were buried fossils, now to skeletons, maybe primed in hopes of a further journey. No one knows which trip is the last. Rest, now, my friend. Lay your payload down.

I would invite guests to come visit in their sleek electric vehicles, their cell phones endlessly recording their movements, heartbeats, keywords spoken. Perhaps they would be roused to curiosity, imagine the rumble and hum, the miles buzzing below like a carpet of insects. I would let the trucks speak for themselves. They wouldn’t need more than the evidence of their own patchworked bodies to explain what they’d done, what glories they’d seen, reflected in glass and chrome. If observers fail to be awed by their odysseys, no matter. Art does not explain itself. It waits for someone who can see it properly. 

Lisa Loop is a poet and author with a background in film. She received an MFA in fiction from University of California Riverside/Palm Desert in 2023. Her work has been published in, The Coachella Review, University of Alabama Z Best Of series, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their Aussie Shephard mix. 


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