Smithology: I can still make Cheyenne

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Sam Smith

I should have known things were bad when all the cookies went away. And by all the cookies, I mean all the cookies. An entire batch of chocolate-chip. More dough pucks than most people have fingers and toes. My wife made those cookies. I walked into the kitchen and noticed them cooling on a rack. Decisions were made.

There was, as Arlo Guthrie once sang, a massacree.

I regret nothing. But also everything, up to and including that bit roughly 20 minutes later where your narrator’s upper digestive tract yelled angry noises and attempted to kill him from the inside out.

Blame my wife, really. She does this thing where she “accidentally” uses more chocolate chips than a recipe requires, and it is delicious. I do this thing where I attempt to ignore her skill as a baker, because I come from a long line of skinny-bony people with fast metabolisms, and a skinny-bony, fast-metabolism person eating too many baked goods tends to resemble a skinny-bony person who has swallowed a bowling ball.

I don’t want to look like a person who has swallowed a bowling ball, and I don’t ordinarily eat whole batches of cookies solo, but we are living through a stressful pandemic, and my house occasionally contains cookies, and stress eating makes you feel better.

Which is nice, because I just exhausted the other thing that was making me feel better: a single-minded focus on anything even remotely like repairing my 1990 Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup.

Chevrolet Cheyenne Exterior Front At Kroger
Sam Smith

Trucks seem happiest when you buy them for work. I acquired this beast last fall, during the ramp-up for our move from Seattle to Knoxville, Tennessee. The Chevy appeared on an Oregon Craigslist for $4500—a rust-free, four-wheel-drive, 5.7-liter shortbed, with 130,000 miles and original paint. It seemed like a good answer for cross-country hauling, and it was. In a burst of creativity, my four-year-old daughter named it The Red Truck. (Her other suggestion—Daddy I Am Tired of This and I Want to Go Back Inside—didn’t really roll off the tongue.)

The truck did what all good trucks do, asking little while giving a lot. Before we left Seattle, I gifted it a stack of new parts, preventative maintenance for the trip. Thousands of miles later, in Knoxville, the clutch throwout arm got cranky, so I pulled the gearbox and fixed it. The truck soldiered on otherwise without complaint, helping us move in and running errands across the state. Months after, when the last moving box had been unpacked, I changed the oil and flushed the brakes. Save a slight idle miss that had developed on the trip east, the Chevy asked nothing.

Then came the virus. Weeks of quarantine. Large quantities of national stewing. Sitting in the house with little to do. Action seemed prudent. I wasn’t sure what action per se, so I opened a parts catalog. First, a tuneup—timing check, plugs, cap, the usual—to eliminate that idle miss. The truck seemed to sit in the driveway a little happier. Box, ticked.

A week later, nothing seemed amiss, so I ordered new door seals. (The old ones had minor age cracking and some noncritical splitting. Still, you have to nip evil in the bud.) That went well, so I ordered a few new exhaust hangers and threw on the spare transmission mount I had sitting around. (The old one was soft from oil leakage and maybe probably going to come apart soon I bet maybe possibly no sense taking chances.) Then the MAP sensor looked at me funny one day, and—well, I had the air cleaner off the next morning, checking vacuum-elbow integrity for no reason whatsoever save a bit of free time, and the voltages measured a little funky, so why not?

Any reasonable person would have done the same.

This sort of thing carried on for weeks. The work rose and fell like a wave, hinged on restlessness or the arrival of a FedEx truck or absolutely nothing at all. Might as well disassemble the doors to lube the window regulators, I thought, out of nowhere, one Saturday afternoon. Not that they were sticky, but I had meant to check the door skins for burgeoning rust, and hey, as long as you’re in there, right? Perhaps the U-joints are getting notchy; ought to pop them out. You don’t know if the fender rust traps are full of leaves until you pull things apart and look! Let’s do it now. And anything else that comes to mind.

There was not, it should be said, much in the way of leaves. But now we know.

It did not help that the weather was generally pleasant, as a Tennessee spring is wont to be. Last week, eager to be outdoors, I walked out to the driveway and poked at the truck, looking for something, anything, I could help. Then I hopped behind the wheel and drove a two-hour loop around the county, virtually urging the Chevy to break.

It didn’t, of course. I had chased everything that even remotely needed chasing. I went home and sat down on the couch. For whatever reason, the house seemed half as large as it had the day before.

The world now seems fungible and rubbery, distant from normality. The humorist Douglas Adams once called this feeling the long, dark teatime of the soul—almost boredom but not quite, free time but not really, a dose of agency but not too much. The armchair-psychologist answer holds distractive obsession as symptomatic: I can’t make a difference with the big picture, but I can make a difference with this.

Chevrolet Cheyenne Exterior Rear Three-Quarter
Sam Smith

On the upside, awareness of the landscape means you can chart a path somewhere useful. I’ve spent a lot of time lately on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Mostly looking at cheap or free cars. I need another vehicular dependent like a hole in the head, but there might be some local crapcan that needs me more than I need it. Maybe I could fix it and pass it on to someone who can’t swing a working car at the moment.

For now, however, I know my wife, and I know how she copes with stress. Something in the kitchen smells amazing. Caramel, a hint of toffee. Like chocolate and brown sugar got drunk and made out in front of a fire. This swirling, unavoidable sweetness prancing through the house and flirting with the ceiling fans.

Five bucks says it’s vegetables. I should probably go check it out.

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