Strolling through the neighborhood with our little dog Pepsi, I came upon a scene that stopped me in my tracks: a pickup truck with actual cargo in the back.
“You don’t see that every day,” I told Pepsi.
In the bed of the dingy white pickup were plastic tubs of paint or epoxy or sealant or some other material associated with serious manual labor for which God made pickup trucks. Or so I thought back in the old millennium.
The pickup as work truck once was a common sight in America. No more. This is not surprising since fewer Americans today have the kinds of jobs—construction, farming, ranching, well-digging—that involve hauling heavy equipment, lumber, bricks, copper wire, huge bags of Sakrete and many ladders.
What is surprising is that even though most of us now work indoors in the retail-service and high-tech industries, never raising a callus or breaking a sweat, there are more pickup trucks—bigger and shinier—than ever before, blocking sight lines on the road and in parking lots.
How can this be? Simple. The great majority of these pickups are not work trucks. Their beds are empty. On the highway, the only thing they are hauling—pardon my French—is ass.
I’d say 90 percent of the pickups I see on the road are carrying nothing, not even a hound dog. The same is true of the pickups populating parking lots, from high schools to supermarkets to an orthopedic clinic in Winter Park where the “doctor only” spaces offer a lineup of gleaming luxury behemoths.
Yes, sometimes I see a handyman in a battered pickup or a landscaper towing a trailer loaded with the tools of his trade. More typical is my neighbor’s burgundy Tacoma pickup with a UCF parking sticker. I’ve never seen anything in the bed except for some leaves and Spanish moss.
I asked Richard Truett, former auto writer for the Orlando Sentinel who now works indoors for Ford, about the proliferation of pickups that never seem to pick up anything. Coincidence, he suggested.
“They are empty when you see them,” Truett said. “Most newer pickups sold these days are dual-use vehicles. They are work trucks during the day and used for family duties on evenings and weekends.”
But since I see empty pickups everywhere, all the time—like the boy in the movie The Sixth Sense who kept seeing dead people—it has to be more than coincidence. And it’s not my imagination. Empty or not, there are more pickups out there.
In 1992, Americans purchased 3.3 million more cars than trucks. Over the next two decades, truck sales zoomed, and in 2012, trucks outsold cars by more than 300,000. At the same time, we were morphing from America of “the big shoulders…tool maker, stacker of wheat” (thank you, Carl Sandburg) to America of the wide butts…Xbox maker, stacker of tweets.
There is no way to connect these dots—until you factor in the simultaneous rise in the popularity of country music, which last year passed classic rock as America’s favorite genre, according to a new survey.
“Trigger,” a blogger for savingcountrymusic.com, notes “a very interesting nexus between the recovery of Detroit and the truck-itization of Nashville.’’ The truck theme “has been run into the ground harder than the bumper of Randy Travis’ F-250.”
Country music is the soundtrack of virtually all truck commercials, which feature pickups roaring up hillsides, carrying pulverized stone and towing a space shuttle. The goal is to sell trucks to men who will never do any of these things—suburban cowboys who are all cab and no cattle—and sales numbers show it works.
What Detroit is selling is summed up by reason No. 1 in the top 10 reasons to buy a pickup on askmen.com: “Every guy needs to own a truck at some point in his life.”
Or he’s not a real man. There’s a reason these showboats on steroids have names oozing testosterone and aggression like Tundra, Titan and Ram—not Meadow, Nymph and Llama.
“Who would you turn to first for help if your car broke down on the side of the road,” says askmen.com, “the Prius driver or the guy with the pickup?”
It depends. The orthopedic surgeon who drives a Ram did not spend eight years in med school learning how to change a tire.
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