Avoidable Contact #97: They’re letting poor people get high!

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Jack Baruth

“It’s no longer possible to operate in the world and not understand that fossil fuels are violent. It’s a kind of spectacular performance of power … Together, the way these trucks look speaks to a rejection of communication, reciprocity, and legal accountability … Burning fossil fuels can come to function as a knowingly violent experience … a reassertion of white masculine power … about creating a massive, brutal face of rage and intimidation.”

The above is a mixture of quotes from a recent Bloomberg article about the evils of the modern pickup truck. The author, Angie Schmitt, appears to be extending the points made in her own book, which is rather improbably titled Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America.

(A brief and furious aside: Why does every midwit/kiddie-lit trash book cluttering up the airport newsstands nowadays have to have this title format of $COMMON_PHRASE: $STUPID_EDGY_SOUNDING_EXPLANATION? You literally can’t parody them, because they are so bad. I mean, I could try … Divided By Zero: The Deadly Race To Build The World’s First Calculator Watch And The Problematic Lessons Of Default Wrist Size. That might be a real book. I’m not sure.)

Anyway, Ms. Schmitt’s article is a powerful, necessary assault on the immense privilege and wastefulness of the people who drive two-and-a-half-ton-plus trucks like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and BMW X7 M50i. When you look at the massive, brutal front fascia of the Cullinan, you realize that she might truly have a point, especially when you consider the role the Cullinan has taken as default transportation for the #Blessed class everywhere from Shanghai to Chicago.

Just kidding. She’s not worried about the Cullinan or the Bentayga. Those are fine, because they’re driven by rich people in cities. Her article fearlessly identifies the real enemies: those stupid hick poors and their hickmobiles out in hick town. She’s particularly worried about the hicks who somehow managed to survive multiple horrifying stop-loss deployments overseas only to come back to Hicktown and think their service somehow entitles them to own a truck: “… regular troops have mixed with private security units, special forces, and law enforcement officers in battlefields around the world. Many veterans of these campaigns employed up-armored civilian vehicles, and they brought a taste for such machines back home with them.” Why, the nerve of those people! Imagine wanting to buy the vehicle of your choice after just, say, four years avoiding IEDs in Afghanistan! What will stop the effrontery of these bearded ex-staff sergeants, other than perhaps regular post-DEROS decimations of the ranks, overseen by their unit’s political officer?

Ms. Schmitt is operating on a ridiculous premise here, but give her credit: she knows it’s ridiculous. It’s a deliberate ridiculousness, because it conceals a bait-and-switch. You see, the whole idea behind the article is the increased deadliness of a pickup to pedestrians and others in the urban environment—but real-deal full-sized pickups are rare in most cities. I cannot imagine parking my crew-cab, 6.5-foot-bed Silverado in Manhattan or downtown Chicago. Even Columbus, Ohio, the nearest city to Hicksville where I, a hick, live, can’t accept pickups in most parking garages.

It is safe to say that the Ford F-150 poses no statistically significant risk to people in New York City. That’s just the level being used by the anti-pickup-truck crowd to justify their real goal, namely reaching into Hicksville and taking the trucks away. That’s what you call a real flex on the poors. The only question is: Why would any sane person want to do such a thing? I haven’t lived in New York City since the ’70s, and I only visit a few times a year, so it never occurs to me that New York should change to suit my tastes. Why don’t the people who live in New York, or D.C., or Chicago, stop worrying about what I, and the rest of my “Hills Have Eyes”-esque gang, are doing in Hicksville, Ohio?

To answer this question, let me tell you about Rich Guy Sprinters. Last year, my son and I took a very nice Ram pickup across the country on a mountain-biking trip from Hicksville to Tahoe and back again. Along the way, we learned that every cycling community has its own preference in vehicles. In Ohio, you often see even the most stereotypical roadies operating full-sized pickups. In Colorado, it’s all Outbacks and Toyota Tacomas. Go down to Angel Fire in New Mexico, and you start to see the Tahoe/Expedition class of vehicle in use.

Once we got to the West Coast, however, we were surrounded by $150,000 conversions of Sprinter vans. The men driving them all looked the same—5-foot-10, ropy legs, and middle-aged turkey necks, wearing sweatshop athleisure, often sporting a permanent submissive-looking smile designed to express the #LifeIsGood rightness of their choices—and the vans were all the same as well. Black wheels, Bridgestone KO2 tires, flat-black hood, ladder on the back door. As far as I could tell, there were only two permissible colors for these vans: Bismarck gloss grey and Rommel flat tan.

With one admittedly serious exception, that of forward pedestrian visibility, every complaint that could be made against our Ram truck by Bloomberg’s author would apply to these vans as well. (Truth be told, after you give the Sprinters a bit of a lift, as is the case with almost all the Rich Guy Vans, the pedestrian visibility suffers, too.) Supposedly, you can sleep in these vans, but you can also sleep in a pickup with a cap. (Your humble author has slept many an evening away in the cab of a pickup, as well.) Compared to a half-ton 4×4, they don’t weigh any less, park any better, consume fewer gallons of gas/diesel, or blot out a smaller percentage of the sun.

I should also mention that if things go sideways on a fast road or freeway you would much rather be driving a modern half-ton than operating a cargo van of any type, fancy or non-fancy. You also probably don’t want your kids in any kind of aftermarket seat that hasn’t been extensively crash-tested. Full-sized pickups weren’t always paragons of safety (1997 F-150, represent!), but today they are very good. The same cannot always be said about vehicles that were fundamentally designed around running 30-mph errands in an urban center.

So why does the average F-150 STX 4×4 come in for such rapid-fire sanctimony while the Cullinans and Sprinters of the world go entirely unremarked upon? Frank Herbert, God rest his soul, said something once about “closet aristocrats.” The problem with the F-150 isn’t the vehicle; it’s the people who buy them. If the only way to get a full-sized Ford truck was as a Navigator Black Label, you’d never hear a word about their dangers. My readers, who are alert, well-read, and possessed of nontrivial memory, will remember a book titled High and Mighty by Times apparatchik Keith Bradsher. This book, which can be an entertaining read the same way Plan 9 From Outer Space can be an entertaining watch, waxed breathless about how SUVs would kill us all and destroy the world. This drum was beaten on a fairly consistent basis by the media right up to the point that the German automakers got around to making SUVs.

As soon as the default mode of transportation for opinion-makers in this country went from “S-Class” to “GLS-Class,” the massive and all-pervading media concern about the dangers of SUVs vanished like dew on a desert morning. Yes, the Ford Explorer was horrifying—because it let your plumber or accountant drive an SUV. The BMW X7? Why, that’s just a nice car for people who have worked hard.

That’s why Ms. Schmitt’s article talks more about the repugnant people who drive pickups than it does about the merits, or lack thereof, of the vehicles themselves. The issue is not my 2017 Silverado LTZ 6.2 Max Tow (and if you’re a GM truck person you know why I would never, ever, fail to append the “6.2 Max Tow” there) but rather the unrepentantly toxic piece of hill trash driving it, namely moi. In the hands of a more acceptable class or sort, the Silverado would be a wonderful addition to America’s vehicular fleet.

There are only two ways to fix this. Confiscate all the trucks from the hicks, or get the elites to start driving pickups themselves, those trucks being even better than our trucks. Either solution reaffirms the fundamental superiority of our betters. Insofar as only the latter permits me to retain a truck of my own, however, I’d prefer it to the former.

It could have happened a few years ago, observe the below:

Wikimedia

The problem was the the “X-Class” was too obviously a gussied-up Nissan truck, and too small besides. We need the next X-Class to be based on the GLS550. It should appear in advertisements featuring outdoor pursuits and whatnot. If it’s any kind of success, BMW and Audi will immediately imitate it. Before too long, New York City will be packed to bursting with 240-inch crew-cabs, driven by the right kind of people.

That’s just Phase One. The next phase is to get some famous people to buy the diesel variants of those trucks and start “rolling coal” outside Central Park. Ideally, you would be able to buy a diesel tuner from “Goop,” the lovely online store run by Gwyneth Paltrow. Somehow we need to spin the idea of massive, improperly-tuned diesel trucks actually being a benefit to the environment. Get the person who publicizes all the fly-in climate-change conferences to do it.

Eventually, every luxury brand will sell mostly pickups, the way they sell mostly SUVs now. At that point, the rich people will discover what us hicks in Hicksville already know: namely, that the full-sized body-on-frame pickup is the ideal solution for most families, particularly if those families are doing anything more active than playing Fortnite. In fact, today’s pickups are so quiet, so efficient, so spacious, and so durable that it’s hard to make any argument against them that doesn’t rely on emotion. You pay $40K–$50K (or more) for them, which is outrageous, but they’re also worth $20K with 150,000 miles on the clock, so the actual cost of ownership is tolerable.

And thus we come to the real crime against humanity committed by today’s pickups, namely that they are:

* the best, most thoroughly engineered, most durable, most useful vehicles money can buy;
* almost exclusively sold to people who don’t live in cities, don’t shop at Whole Foods, don’t have a wellness coach, and, when given a choice of fonts for a garage-sale flyer, are almost certain to pick Comic Sans or Papyrus.

How is it fair that the best and most important people in America have to ride on the vomit-stained vinyl seats of urban “shared mobility” while some rural reprobate like your author has heated and ventilated seats to go with his first-rate stereo and conversation-quiet cabin? On second thought, I think maybe we should keep this pickup-truck thing a secret, just among us. Let the crowd at Bloomberg et al. think that we’re driving these vehicles because we are all a bunch of reactionary former Blackwater contractors with a thirst for lawlessness or whatever. (I’ll remember to stop leaving my copy of De consolatione philosophia out on the Silverado’s center console, which should help.)

If anybody who looks studious or Starbucks-customer-ish asks you about your truck, remember to put on your thickest accent, slap the truck bed meaningfully, and give some nonsensical answer like, “I’m usin’ ol’ Bluebell here to fetch them thar hogs to the renderin’ plant down on Smith Street.” If you happen to be wearing a Brioni suit at the time, follow that first sentence with something like, “An’ that’s why I’m wearin’ my hog-renderin’ outfit.” The average West Coast technocrat has never seen Loro Piana or Zegna Trofeo fabric up close and will therefore not question the statement.

If we all stick together on this, we can keep the secret to ourselves. (I expect that any non-clued-in folks probably abandoned this column when I started talking about Frank Herbert.) It seems ludicrous that we could conceal the near-perfection of, say, the current aluminum F-Series, which arrives on our streets to the tune of a million new copies a year, but Charles Murray assures me that many people in this country have no idea why anyone goes to Branson, Missouri. Our increasing self-selection into “bubbles” will help.

Should the worst happen, and should Ms. Schmitt and her crowd succeed in banning personal-use pickup trucks, we will have to go to the next level of deception: just saying that we got rid of them. Ninety-nine percent of the time this will work, since the average tastemaker doesn’t encounter pickups in real life. In the event that an Airbus A380 encounters engine trouble and needs to set down between New York and Los Angeles, however, a few people might go out and about in flyover country while they are waiting on the repair. They will no doubt be upset.

“You there! You, the prole in the hog-renderin’ outfit! Aren’t you aware that pickups are illegal now?”

“I sure am! Just takin’ ol’ Bluebell to the junkyard. She’s the last pickup out there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, ain’t you seen any where you live?”

“No … I haven’t.”

“Well there you go.” Problem solved, and thank you in advance for coming to my future TED Talk, “Why The White Dots You See On The Ground During Your Flight to L.A. Are Not, In Fact, Pickups, But Instead Are Mobile Solar Panels.”

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