Wednesday, July 17, 2013

“Ghost Truck”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The financial collapse of 2008 left many Americans pondering how our nation could survive the modern era of bailouts and going ‘bust’ on a national scale.
In the Ice Household, this calamity brought chaos to a home governed by financial discipline. For the first time in my life, I struggled to maintain employment and the stream of bill payments expected of our brood.
Frightfully difficult among these responsibilities was remaining current on my loan for a brand-new Ford pickup. The 2005 F-150 was an STX model with 4x4 and a 4.6 liter V-8 motor. I had bought it at Classic in Chardon, which was Lawson Ford for so many years that I still called the dealership by that outdated name when signing the paperwork.
The truck was number six in a long succession of Ford loadhaulers. I had owned a 1972 Econoline van, then a 1979 F-150, 1978 F-150, 1985 Ranger, 1996 Ranger, and the 2005 STX.
My plan was to buy a factory-new vehicle which I reckoned would last ten, fifteen, even twenty years. But an unexpected employment interruption made that idea one lost to the unpredictable winds of change.
The company where I worked sold out in 2006.
Unemployment compensation covered household bills through the remainder of that year. A full-time journalistic adventure in 2007 proved to pay too little while consuming much of my personal life. In 2008, I dabbled with odd jobs and creative projects. Finally, in 2009, I worked as a part-time cashier for CVS. And promptly blew out my right knee while on the sales floor. I needed surgery and rehabilitation to recover.
Nationally, the government was busy rescuing wealthy bankers and corporate CEOs. So a plight like my own could hardly have registered on their radar. But I reckoned that people at home would be more responsive.
I sent messages to various elected officials in the state, along with copies of my ‘Thoughts At Large’ book. Most replied with words of encouragement and hope. Yet a real solution did not appear.
Bank notices began to pile up with frightening speed. The telephone rang from sunrise to sunset. I negotiated and renegotiated debts. Meanwhile, I sent resumes to every potential employer in the area. I even asked some of those threatening court action for a job with their financial institutions.
One day before my knee surgery, repossession agents appeared in our driveway. I met them on crutches. The more seasoned of the two demanded my truck keys with professional indifference. His partner, notably less-experienced, seemed embarrassed by their visit. He confessed that his uncle had endured a similar fate.
My wife was in shock. She began to clear our things out of the vehicle. Beach sandals for the girls. Various cheap sunglasses. Plastic cups from a Lake County Captains game. Poorly-folded maps. And a set of TV rabbit ears bought at a garage sale.
I handed over the keys without an argument.
Our neighbor, a Sunday School teacher and longtime member of the community, stood in her yard across the street. She was crying.
My own reaction was more subdued. I confessed to the family, “You know, I never expected to die with that truck. There’ll be another.”
The bank repossession agent asked about gas stations in the area. He fretted that the tank on my F-150 was so dry.
I told him that it would be an equal drive in any direction. Chardon, Madison, Hartsgrove, Geneva, Rock Creek. They were all about the same distance away.
The truck’s fuel tank was empty because I had spent every penny looking for work.
Not surprisingly, he was unsympathetic.
I had often heard it said that the authentic ‘Golden Rule’ should be “Those with the gold make the rules.” It seemed like a rant from people with little ambition and much self-pity. Yet standing in the driveway, watching my vehicle disappear, I suddenly had a change of heart.
The knee surgery went well. But I lost my meager employment. Several months would elapse before I had another job.
The bank auctioned off my Ford at a lowball price – about half of market value. Then, they demanded that I pay the difference. The request seemed amusingly ironic. I was bankrupt, of course, which was the cause of their repossession. So in real terms, it didn’t matter.
Seeing the ‘Ghost Truck’ at Mentor Kia, so many years later, brought all these memories back. I walked around the vehicle, resonating disbelief. Was this my lost mule? I could not be sure. It had begun to bubble rust under the paint on its front bumper. I looked for a cigarette burn on the back seat, something my wife had caused inadvertently, but it was folded up and out of view.
I reflected on trips with the family. Hauling away a tree we removed from the side yard. Navigating snowbound Geauga roads when getting to work was a must. Even my stepdaughter’s prom. But after a moment of silence, I concluded that the Ghost Truck was better left in the shadows. It was part of an era that had passed.
New memories were waiting to be made. My task was to find them before sunset.

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