A monstrous black pickup truck pulled up to the restaurant entrance. The entrance was a door at ground level to the parking lot. The owner of the pickup, a four door cab with a full size bed, oversize tires and raised suspension. It looked very new in its shiny black painted body. It was impressive sitting there, not in a parking space but the big chrome nose driven right up into the customer entrance, left there butted right up to the restaurant door that opens onto the parking lot as the truck owner got out and went into the restaurant to pick up his takeout.
Anne and I were sitting just there on the patio, effectively on the paved parking lot but separated by a wood rail and arbour cover over our heads. We were right by the entrance door. We were right by the entrance, people coming in and out on a busy Saturday night.
It took some time for the truck owner to get his takeout. It was quite some time later he came out with his takeout. He not only had left his monstrous truck to obstruct people getting into the restaurant, he had left the 7.3 litre, 8 cylinder pushrod engine, running, the largest engine possible in a pickup, running for the whole time he had been in the restaurant. He didn’t bother to turn it off, I guess so he wouldn’t have to bother to turn it on again. It had sat there idling the, its big chrome nose pushed up as close to the side of the entrance as possible.
The owner of the truck didn’t notice us sitting there, or anyone else on the patio. He disappeared into the restaurant, a man on a mission, came out with the same single-minded focus, no attention to others coming into the restaurant, reached up to open the truck door, climbed up, pulled the door shut and drive off not considering others walking into the restaurant, making them to be sure to be out of his way.
I think a big overloaded truck like that can be a cathedral for the owner. Like a cathedral, the truck dominates the landscape, can’t be ignored because it is so much larger than the human scale. The owner is dwarfed by his vehicle, but once inside it, he is the vehicle. The owner is now that machine. Reading people writing not the internet about their custom trucks use words like elegant, sleek, discreet (!). ‘Driving it made me feel something, its power when it accelerated pushing me back into the seat.’ ‘This truck is more than a truck to me now.’ Outside the cathedral sits prominently on the landscape with its spires and towers dominating the landscape. Inside the stained glass colours the light, the ceilings soar well above and the massive pipe organ sound fills every crevice of the voluminous, expansive interior. Part of the idea is to make one feel small, to stand there in awe of something greater. But also the congregant is a member, belongs to the church and so is the church, is all that the church is. Proudly a parishioner says this is my church, I belong here, and they, their identity becomes that of the church. Each Sunday the members gather to sing triumphal music and intone prayers to the regnant God by baptism is in them, filling them up. In obeisance to the authority they become the authority, holders of truth and everlasting reward.
One difference between the cathedral and church is that in the church one belongs to a social grouping and the identity is with that exclusively inclusive group. The truck is just about the owner, and the owner’s possessions in the truck. The cathedral of the truck belongs to the owner alone and so the identity with power and privilege and discreet elegance, and exceptionalism is that of the individual. A big powerful truck that secures the owner in hard steel, as if the owner’s body were that rigid muscular steel, a truck that dwarfs other people, is a physical threat even as it barrels down the street. Super truck and super owner become the same thing. Manhood no longer has to be one’s own body size. One can be small or overweight or uncoordinated and still be powerful for the price of a truck.
Most people, 70%, accept climate change is a problem. Sixty percent believe it to be caused by human action. Only 30% believe it will affect them.
How can we get that self-sufficient driver who lives in a world of marketing and promotion believe that the planet is falling apart? How can that person come to understand the regular occurrence of uncontrolled wildfires, the increasingly destructive storms, the loss of millions of species, destruction of millions of hectares of planet sustaining bog and forest and ocean means decades to come of drought and starvation and migration? That there is no turning back and the best we can do is stop? That this past year more fossil fuels were burned into the atmosphere than any time previous. That his truck idling is a problem. But he’s a super hero. He doesn’t know anything else. He lives in a world of enthusiastic, encouraging, positive marketing of new trucks, bigger ones, shinier ones. As if nothing is going on. There is not climate emergency. Lots of politicians are happy to tell him so, for his vote.
One day he may wake up to the news that life on the planet has collapsed, there won’t be any new trucks to play with. He’ll be the last to know. And it will be too late. And he’ll say why didn’t you tell me? Well, you just didn’t hear. You listened to what made you big and powerful. You bought the Kool-aid, the custom truck that made you stand in awe of, with the purchase honoured your self-sufficiency, your invincibility, your indifference to anything else but your well-appointed cab that kept you warm and dry and entertained as you drove above the crowd. But sorry there’s no more gasoline for you. And no one paving the roads for you or opening new malls for you, or sharing YouTube reviews with you, or telling you climate change is a hoax. No restaurants putting your prepared dinner into a bag. You see, you aren’t that self-sufficient. That was just a tag-line. No one bothered to regulate the truth of what you saw or heard. They just wanted your money and your vote, or maybe that you don’t vote. Actually, you see, you aren’t as tough and rugged as the sales pitch said you were, well the truck that was to become you, your baptism into rugged truckload. Tough guy. You see actually the life you have depends on taking care of the bogland and rainforest and ocean and atmosphere. Actually you depend on others, on their good will, their responsibility to act with the planet and others in mind. Actually you need to be that person yourself.
How is he going to know that before it’s really too late? He’s not going to figure it out on his own. He just isn’t, not while everything caters to him and puts him in that sealed, self-nurturing, self absorbing box of a truck cab. Not going to. What are we to do. These trucks, oh and cars and malls and disposable plastic are everywhere, and we’re just not doing anything. How do we break the bubble before the bubble breaks us. How do we get out of this mess when everything is going so smoothly in the tiny little part of the world that has all the money and calls all the shots?
If I had approached that guy in the truck, in my most gently way even, and said maybe he shouldn’t be burning all that fossil fuel while he’s inside the restaurant, let alone maybe he doesn’t really need all that fossil burning engine displacement and super shocks and massive tires to drive at 50km an hour along paved city streets to get his takeout. If I asked him to think about turning off his engine to save the planet, there’s a really good chance that I would have got the finger from this guy, and told to F-off, and getting into his truck and slamming the door may have pushed down a little faster and harder on the accelerator to let me know in the roar that I had no right to tell him what to do. No right. He has rights. F-you.