On the hunt for new wheels, a father ponders how his son will navigate today’s world.
By Ben Hewitt
Jun 28 2022
A Truck for RyePhoto Credit : Tom Haugomat
My son Rye needs a new truck. This is because his old truck met with an untimely end (gravel road, patch of ice, sharp corner, birch tree, you know where this is going), leaving him unscathed but truckless, and while Penny and I are focused primarily on our gratitude for the former, he is eminently more concerned with the latter. This is because he’s 17, an age at which the freedom afforded by an operational vehicle seems a bigger priority than one’s own physical well-being.
Plus, there’s the simple fact that his old truck—the one he’d begun saving for at the tender age of 12, the dark-green F-150 Lariat that was a full five years older than him, and which he’d bought from a man who kept it parked next to his Maserati in a private garage equipped with a commercial lift and enough Snap-on tools to stock the service department of a decent-size dealership—is virtually unreplaceable. The truck had originally come out of Florida, had less rust than your average two-year-old Vermont rig, and sported a bed that looked as if maybe the hardest work it’d done was a weekend run to Ikea for a set of matching end tables and perhaps a bean bag. I mean, the thing was immaculate. Until, quite suddenly, it wasn’t.
Anyhow. The trouble with all this is that the used-truck market had gone completely rogue in the intervening year and half since Rye picked up that Ford. This we already knew, because like any self-respecting rural American teen, he had not let the fact that he owned a perfectly good truck dissuade him from window-shopping on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You know, just in case, say, a rust-free ’03 Chevy Duramax with less than 150,000 miles appeared for under $5,000. Was this unlikely to happen? Indeed, one could hardly overstate just how unlikely. But was it an impossibility? That’s an entirely different question, and one that justified at least an occasional scroll through the options.
Sadly, this scrolling revealed a startling truth: Used-truck prices were on a seemingly one-way trip to ridiculous. Trucks that only months before we would have considered hardly worth a second glance were selling for upward of 10 grand. A 2008 Tacoma with 182,000 miles that needed “a little frame work and you’ll have yourself a real nice rig” was going for $9,200. A 2003 Silverado was priced at a piddling $5,600, which seemed reasonable until we saw the odometer: It had 309,000 miles on it, though supposedly it “don’t burn a drop of oil.”
Our search began in earnest with a 1993 F-150. It was priced at $1,800, which was perhaps the first red flag, and while Rye was dubious to the point of dismissive, I insisted that perhaps we’d found a unicorn truck. Or, more accurately, a unicorn seller, who either didn’t comprehend the seismic shift in the market or was simply a generous soul willing to let his beloved truck go for a fraction of what it was actually worth. Besides, he was quick to respond to Rye’s request for photos of the undercarriage, and it looked remarkably free of the typical rot. (Word to the wise: Never, ever drive any significant distance to look at a used vehicle in New England without having seen numerous pictures of the underside.) Even better, the owner had assured me over the phone that it ran great, and since it was a mere 90 minutes away, we decided to roll the dice.
Spoiler alert: It did not run great. I mean, it ran, but the quality of that running—which included stalling in the middle of the road during our test drive and restarting with significant reluctance—could generously be described as terrible. There was the stalling, and then there was the fact that the truck barely responded to the most generous servings of fuel, and even then, in a halfhearted, sputtering way that inspired neither confidence nor a discernible increase in speed.
A 2004 Toyota Tundra with a rare V6 and even rarer five-speed manual transmission showed up in southern Vermont. It had 200,000 miles, but the frame had been replaced just the year before, so Rye and Penny beelined south with cash in hand, near to certain that we’d found his next rig. We hadn’t, though if the owner had been willing to knock off $500 for the fist-size rust holes Rye found lurking under the bed liner, there’d be a ’04 Tundra in our driveway as I type. Alas, he wasn’t, and Rye followed the second rule of used-truck buying, which is to determine for yourself what you’re willing to pay for a given rig, and never, ever allow yourself to exceed that figure.
There were others. We spent countless hours traveling twisting, potholed back roads to crawl under trucks that were either willfully misrepresented or being sold by owners unaware of their myriad deficits. During our drives, we sang along to music and talked, and when we weren’t doing either of these, we listened to news of the war in Ukraine. And as the news conveyed its difficult truth, I couldn’t help wondering whether the things I have to teach my son can possibly equip him to navigate the world as it has become, and to bear the weight of what he is inheriting. I felt, suddenly, as if so much more was needed from me than I’d ever thought possible, and not only was I unsure of exactly what this was, I didn’t even know where to begin looking.
For so long, nearly 21 years now, I’ve assumed that what little I know—how to assess a used truck, or to fell a tree so it lands in just the spot you wanted it (and what to do when it doesn’t), or to ask for a raise, or even simply to look someone in the eye when you shake their hand—would be enough. That my sons would take this knowledge and expand on it and deepen it with their own, and this would be sufficient to see them through, to help them weather the inevitable ups and downs of a good and satisfying life.
I had the sudden awareness of how easy I’ve had it, how little has truly been asked of me, and in turn, how little has been asked of my children. I recalled a segment I’d heard on the radio a week or so earlier, about a Ukrainian girl who’d carried her pet rabbit in her arms for 15 hours as her family fled their homeland, and now the image of that girl and her rabbit arose in my mind, and I tried to imagine that it could have been my son. That it could have been me, leaving behind everything I owned but the clothes on my back. And my rabbit.
But the truth is, I couldn’t quite get there, and so after a while I turned my attention back to the music my son had begun playing on the truck stereo, and then he and I started singing along to one of our favorite songs, and then another song came on, and we sang along to that one too. We drove on, and in a short time returned home, up the narrow driveway we know so well, past the row of gnarled apple trees with their overhanging branches, past the old claw-foot tub the cows drink from in summer, then past the cows themselves. We’d failed in our mission to find Rye a new truck. But we’d succeeded in making it safely home, and on this day, that felt like more than enough.