The Life of a Public Servant

As a grizzled government employee, I’ve learned to find the small blessings in public servanthood (it was either that or all the paperwork would have crushed my will to roll out of bed). Yes, every morning, after the third snooze alarm sounds, I arise, dive into various and sundry garbs, land in my boots, and depart to do the government’s work. 

As a soil conservationist, I get paid just a grade above diddly squat, so I have to focus on other job perks to stay motivated, namely my relationship with my dear and loving county truck. Admittedly, the county truck isn’t without faults, which is why it’s kept incarcerated in a fenced-in parking lot, though the fence has failed to protect everyone and could probably use a second strand of barb wire across the top. A few years ago, some poor thief stole the truck, only to be quickly apprehended by a sheriff’s deputy. Rumor has it that the thief called 911 and requested help for fear the truck was about to explode. 

I’ve only had a few life threatening incidents in the fifty thousand miles I’ve put on the truck in eight years. That’s a pretty good track record considering that entering a driveway plastered in no trespassing signs in a government vehicle can be hazardous to your health. Once they realize it’s just me, most farmers put the shotgun away or at least put the safety back on. Sometimes they climb in the truck with me, and we traverse their farms so I can prescribe government-sanctioned farming advice for their eroded areas. “When’s the county going to buy you a new truck? These shocks are beat,” they say, usually after the third or fourth time their head smacks the roof. 

But the truth is I like my county truck. Visiting farms is the best part of my job, and most of the time the truck gets me there. More importantly, it has a first-rate antenna that can pick up the Charlotte sports radio station even in the deep hollers. There’s hardly a county road I haven’t traveled in that truck listening to sports radio. Last week, when I actually stumbled upon a road I hadn’t traveled, I got excited. And this brings me to the point of all this rambling: You know you’re getting old when discovering a country road untraveled makes your day (or possibly your week depending on the height of the paperwork stacked on your desk). 

My dear and loving county truck.

In Defense of the Small Truck

Last week I complained about large pizzas getting smaller. This week my gripe is about small trucks getting larger. I had hopes when Ford reintroduced the Ranger that the small truck might reemerge from car maker exile. The old Ranger was more or less the equivalent of a go-cart with a truck bed, a nimble little truck that when stuck could easily be unstuck by gently rocking back and forth in the driver’s seat. There was no need for an extreme four-wheel-drive package because the Ranger was so lightweight you could tie a tissue to the antenna and the truck would sail away. But the new Ranger is not small, and Ford even admits as much. They market it as a “mid-size” truck, which means it’s the same size as a mammoth truck a decade ago. 

Furthermore, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but most trucks nowadays are just minivans in disguise. Take, for instance, my neighbor’s SuperCrew King Ranch. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw it do anything ranch or farm related. My neighbor’s actually afraid to put stuff on the back for fear of scratching the truck bed. I kid you not, the only farm-related task he uses it for is bragging (he’s a nice guy, who hopefully doesn’t read this blog, but he’s one of those annoying farmers who spends half his time complaining about the financial hardships of farming and the other half gloating about how big and expensive his equipment is.) My little four-cylinder Tacoma has done more farmwork in a day than that waxed-up behemoth parked under his carport will do in an eternity. 

Granted, there are times I’d like a little more heft to my truck, particularly when a loaded livestock trailer is defying the braking power of my brakes and pushing me downhill so fast I’d need a parachute to stop. But isn’t that part of the thrill of owning a small truck? Never knowing when your bumper might pull off is another, or when your tires might blow out because the load on the back makes your truck look like a lowrider. 

my truck loaded down with honey supers

Maybe one day my wife will buy me a big truck, but even then, I think I’ll keep my little Toyota despite the fact I’ve had multiple inquiries from complete strangers wondering if I’d sell it. Apparently, the used small truck market is hot right now because the new small truck market is non-existent. You’d think car manufacturers would catch on, but, then again, these are the same companies who gave us the PT Cruiser and Pontiac Aztek.  


What Could Have Been

This morning I saw something that thrilled my heart. It thrilled me in that special way that only a fond remembrance of days gone by, of days once filled with possibility and potential, can elicit happiness from a career government employee. It was a little Ford Ranger with five, yes five, CB antennas. The cab window was stickered with reflective letters (like the ones you normally see on a mailbox) that said, “CB BOLLY-FOR-BARREL.”

While observing that mobile masterpiece of radio telemetry, a rush of nostalgia came over me and soon words of poetry surfaced from the nether regions of my mind (this is an annoying habit and why I don’t recommend memorizing poetry–there’s a lot better stuff you can store in your mind’s nether regions). 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” I thought, and obviously BOLLY-FOR-BARREL took the road less traveled. In fact, I bet that little Ford Ranger has been down backroads no normal, self-respecting truck would dare travel, just to test the range of the radio. And I bet that little Ford Ranger is all the happier for it. 

There was a time in my life when I could have taken the less-traveled path of BOLLY-FOR-BARREL. It was third grade and my best friend, Garrett, and I were walkie-talkie enthusiasts. My walkie handle was TOP-TREE-CLIMBER, and he was RAILROAD-RED-ROOSTER.  Back then, the most expensive walkie-talkies weren’t nearly as powerful as the cheap ones today, so mostly I just pretended to talk to Garrett who lived out of short-range distance. He did the same, and at school we’d discuss our imaginary conversations at lunch. It was a great way to communicate. 

Eventually, however, both Garrett and I decided we wanted to upgrade from imaginary conversations to actual conversations, so we asked our parents for CB radios for Christmas. You would have thought we just asked our parents if we could run with scissors or stick a fork in an electrical socket. For some strange reason, our parents thought third-graders being able to communicate with long-haul truckers was a terribly dangerous idea. 

So for Christmas, our parents bought us scanners instead–a total waste of a major Christmas gift. The intrinsic problem with a scanner is you can hear others talking but can’t talk to them. So Garrett and I couldn’t communicate with the policemen or firemen to ask what all their different codes meant. And guess what: most truckers were rather taciturn; certainly, they weren’t nearly as talkative and entertaining as those in Smokey and the Bandit. In short, listening to scanner chatter wasn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds. Garrett and I soon took up other pursuits, like launching bottle rockets, fishing with crank baits with five treble hooks, and catching black widows in a jar–or, stuff a lot safer than CB radios. 

So, this morning, when I saw that little Ford Ranger with five CB antennas, I couldn’t help but imagine what my life would have been like had my parents had the good sense to buy me a CB. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I do have–a nice little farm, a stable government job, a beautiful wife and a son (whose sleep pattern is improving)–but is it too much to ask for one, just one, CB antenna wagging from the back bumper of our Camry?