My father has always espoused the virtue of never loving something that can’t love you back.
But if he were honest with himself, he’d admit that both he and I fell hard for a 1987 Chevrolet Suburban that dragged us through a torrid love triangle for years.
Originally purchased to haul our boats around, the mass of metal was the best bet to protect me when I started driving, and the keys were handed over. It wasn’t the start of the truck’s journey. Far from it. It had made two trips to Alaska before it was ours, and was on its second engine when my parents purchased it. It made a 3,000 mile family trip from Missouri to New York to Washington, D.C., and back. It helped us move from Iowa to Missouri. It had served its owners well for years.
You can imagine its dismay when such noble ventures were replaced by the antics of a 16-year old hellbent on driving it like a Porsche or desert rally truck. The third day I had my license, I put it on two wheels going around a bend. Five months later, I blew the transmission. Dad had it rebuilt. Months later, I blew it again. Dad bought a new transmission. Not long after, the Suburban was airborne for what I can only assume was the first time while I drove much too fast through the woods behind a friend’s house.
It stuck with me for three years, making the journey to college, as well. In its final days, it was broken into, lumbered through a brutal Kansas City winter and insisted on persistently overheating, despite my efforts to calm it with copious amounts of radiator fluid and/or water. It even held an old CB radio, which me and my teenage friends used to heckle truckers when weekends grew boring – one of the many quirks that made it more endearing.
It was a fickle beast. I dreamed of restoring the body a bit, painting it jet black to resemble a secret service vehicle or perhaps Batman’s weekend wheels. The dream was never realized, but the dream has stayed with me even though the Suburban (also dubbed “The Beast” by friends and the more regal “El Gran Caballo” by my grandfather) is no longer my sidekick. It blew another transmission or transfer case (frustration assured I never found out which), and dad I relented – it was time to let go. On the day it was towed away in the spring of 2004, I insisted that my girlfriend at the time capture a portrait or two of me and my ride (She always hated it, but what did she know? She drove a Cavalier, and thus, no room to talk.).
Never love something that can’t love you back, they say. We couldn’t help it. The Beast had a soul and a history. It dutifully covered all of North America and protected a far-too-daring teenager in his formative (read: stupid) years. Nicer cars have followed it, but my heart remains with the heap that rests in a junkyard far from my current home in Texas.