Trucks. Old trucks. The stories I write contain trucks. Trucks I've owned and trucks I've imagined. Trucks with doors that won't close and lights that won't ignite without a strategic wiggle of a wire. Simple trucks, with straight sixes, short-beds, bench seats, plastic upholstery and high beam switches on the floor.
Why trucks? Why do trucks serve as a focal point for my characters? A truck swaying on worn springs as a young man rejects a well thought out plan and turns against the flow of traffic and changes his life. A truck as a questioning businessman leaves a weekend in the California desert to drive towards the coast and the confusion and stress of his weekday world. A truck driving through the rain as a rejected man comes to terms with a dying relationship. A truck racing across the Sonoran Desert as a farmer rushes to be present at the hailstorm which destroys his crops and dreams.
Driving in old and tired trucks, trucks that necessarily move slow and force me to use only the slow lane, allow time to think and create stories. Time alone. Time without the need for conversation or the press of decisions. The time afforded by long rides in slow trucks is a key, but only a part of the answer. Driving in old trucks brings about a sweet melancholy forcing me to reflect on the movement of time and the California that was left behind in the influx of houses, high tech and freeways. The California that I still catch a glimpse of in old ranches hidden in enclaves not yet fallen to tile roofed Mediterranean style homes or concrete tilt-up commercial buildings. Old trucks allow me to escape for a brief moment to a time when life and challenges were simpler and easier to define. Trucks provide my characters with a time alone to frame their challenges, reach decisions or to come to terms with events they cannot control.
Old trucks and the California which once existed and which I occasionally stumble upon. Old trucks, slow and noisy with stiff suspensions. Old California, with sycamores along dry streambeds and oaks in the dooryards of fading farmhouses. Old trucks and a California that was passing or perhaps gone before I was born help me to crystallize my thoughts and ideas; even as I know that they are mirages and like all memories improve with age and distance. The images allow me to write from what I know, but also serve as an exclamation point to changes that have found me and overtaken my corner of the world.
The trucks I write about break down and leave my characters and me stranded alone. The California from the time of my trucks left little room for diversity. Today, I know that my trucks have been replaced by vehicles that don't leave their owners sitting by the side of a two lane. The California that I have come to understand welcomes and benefits from a diverse population who have brought strength, creativity and new ideas to my world. Trucks no longer require the driver to double-clutch or to pull over and fill the radiator and California has begun to move away from the misconceptions and prejudices I heard and saw around me as a child.
I appreciate and applaud the positive changes that have come to California and old trucks, but I suspect that my characters and I will continue to arrive and depart in old, tired and undependable Fords and Chevys with straight sixes, doors that won't latch and headlights that require a strategic jiggle of a wire before they will consent to shine on the road ahead.