In an effort to help me arrive at the age of eighteen alive and financially solvent, my parents quite wisely forbade me to buy my own car while I was in high school. Which meant I did a lot of dating in the F-100. By the time I got my license, the truck was entering its second decade of hard labor. The side panels were ragged with rust and flapped like buzzard wings. When you gained speed, they flared. The truck pulled drastically to the right. I'd hang off the left side of the steering wheel to keep it moving on a straight line. The transmission, originally three-on-the-tree, had been replaced at some point and converted to a stick shift accessed through a hole cut in the floor. No one is clear on why, but the mechanic put the new transmission in backward so that the gear selection pattern was reversed. You had to go far right and back for first gear and shift against your intuition. There was a gap in the floorboards beside the clutch through which you could gauge your speed based on the road-blur. When it rained, my pant legs were mud-spittled. On the sharper turns, sheep ear tags and fencing staples shot across the dash. The brakes were inconsistent. Sometimes the pedal was soft as squishing a plum. Other times the brakes caught so abruptly empty vaccine bottles rocketed from beneath the seat and smacked you in the ankle bone.
Naturally, the windshield was cracked.
The heater was passable, but in the summer you'd rely on what a laughing bus driver once described to me as a "2-80" air conditioner: "Roll down two windows and go 80 miles an hour!" There were vents on either side of the cab at shin level, but to open them was to unleash a cyclone of alfalfa chaff and dehydrated horseflies. Picture your date perched beside you on a summer's day, her lips glistening with Bubble-Gum LipSmackers and the cab charged with the scent of Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! You're running fifty miles an hour down a gravel road when she grows over-warm and bends down to crack a vent. When she rares back, she appears to have emerged from a polluted wind tunnel. Her hair is frosted with feed dust and she's got pine needles stuck in her banana clip. Her lips are dotted like twin strips of flypaper, and there is a june bug in her braces.
You're young. You kiss her anyway.
I spent so much time dating in that old truck I didn't now how to act in anything nicer. Once my grandfather lent me his Ford LTD. It was a beauty. Blood red paint job with a white vinyl top and air conditioning. Power steering, power brakes, and a fully automatic transmission. I was dating a farmer's daughter with the cutest button nose. I had coupons, so we got dressed up and went to Pizza Hut. After dinner I pulled out of the parking lot, merged into traffic, leaned back expansively and draped my right arm across the back of the seat. The girl smiled up at me sweetly. She had grown to tolerate the farm truck, but as we picked up speed, I could see her luxuriating in the smoothness of the LTD. At which point, out of reflex and forgetting I was driving an automatic, I went for second gear, instinctively mashing what should have been the clutch but in the event was the power brake. I had my seatbelt on. She did not. The image that endures is of her flailing elbows as she fought to unwedge her button nose from that pinch point where the windshield and dashboard meet.
Excerpted from Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry.