No Presidents Day car sales for me: What I learned from John Wayne, C.S. Lewis and an old truck

Monday is Presidents Day, so this long weekend will particularly please two types of Americans: Millard Fillmore fans, and those looking for a great deal on a new car. I’ll tip my hat to our nation’s past and present commanders in chief, but won’t darken the door of any auto dealership.

It’s fitting that Presidents Day offers some of the best car deals. I bought my pickup early in President Bush 43’s second term, and it’ll be an “October surprise” if I’m not still driving it in the 2024 election year. Why no desire for a new vehicle? Simple. You can learn a lot about how to behave from an old truck.

An old truck empowers those around it, as we all should do. With four side-windows that each go all the way down - far enough down to wake Ralph Nader with night-terrors - mine trusts my family and me not to ride around like Labradors, with our heads out the windows. As of press time, all noggins remain attached.

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An old truck is nonjudgmental, accepting its passengers just as they are, not as it would have them be. I engage my safety belt, but not because my truck pings me with sonar from the moment I sit down. Like a wise teacher, it keeps a respectful silence, giving me time to make the right decision for myself. In gratitude, I buckle up.

Speaking of gratitude, an old truck like mine encourages it, through its dashboard cassette player. This technology calls to mind how luxurious streaming really is. Sometimes I play old mix-tapes for my kids, just to show them how hard finding “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” - buried on the B-Side – was back in the day. Then I explain what a mix-tape is.

Paul Simon’s great, but an old truck can broaden one’s artistic horizons, in my case breeding a deeper love of classical music. With only AM/FM (non-satellite) radio below the tape deck, the local classical station is my best bet to avoid commercial interruption. What’s got two thumbs and now knows when he’s listening to Debussy? This guy.

An old truck preaches contentment, seemingly whispering “you have everything you need” in the warm air from its vents.

With a stinting turning radius, an old truck teaches patience. Docking a boat is simpler than the five-point turn required by parking spaces which, like jeans, seem to get skinnier every day. Forget Whole Foods – the only place where I can park comfortably is outside NAPA Auto Parts. So I learn to be patient. With myself, in a world that demands instant gratification. With others whose five-point turns, though unseen by me, are no less real.

The truth is, my truck is more precious to me without all the bells and whistles. Unadorned, it channels the untamed spirit of John Wayne. Can you see the Duke using a backup camera? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with backup cameras. But there’s a difference between wanting something and needing something.

I’m not sure I want those features, but I know I don’t need them. An old truck preaches contentment, seemingly whispering “you have everything you need” in the warm air from its vents. And don’t I? My truck is paid for, and it always gets me from A to B. What else do I really need?

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While John Wayne might have eschewed backup cameras, it’s an even greater hero, C.S. Lewis, who keeps me on the car-buying sideline this weekend. Writing about joy, Lewis said it was “never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be.” True joy is not in the having. It’s in the longing.

That seals it for me. Let another Presidents’ Day come and go. I’ll keep riding shotgun with Lewis, and stick with my old truck for one more year. You can do what you want, Pilgrim.

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