Sunday Opinion: Free And Clear

I was born and raised on the east side of Detroit-within shouting distance of the Chrysler assembly plant; this would be in the mid-fifties.  I will state up front I am a product of a local culture that designed, manufactured, and revolved and prospered some 90 years since Henry Ford rolled out his Model A.  The Woodward Dream Cruise which attracts car afficianados from all over the country is a festival, a celebration, and a homecoming all rolled into one.  I have friends and family focused on horsepower; my love of cars is rooted in the evolution of their sculpture.  I love the shapes of the old Porches, and their leather trunk details.  I love the new Porsche Boxter whose roof folds neatly into the trunk at the push of a button. The seat of my Suburban is adjustable in every dimension, making a long drive comfortable-and of course I haul the Corgis in it every day. The glass is incredibly clear; the paint is tough. It looks like a work truck-inside and out. The big muscle cars-the Chevrolet Camaro, the Pontiac GTO, the Dodge Charger and the Oldsmobile 442 rocketed plenty of Americans around the block and then some. The new Zr-1 Corvette, on a par with the best that Farrari or Lamborghini has to offer, delivers 650 horsepower at the rear wheels-and rolls that power out with the dignity of a Rolls Royce. So ok, I keep up a little about cars; I am a Detroiter.

When I was 17, my Father begrudingly gave me a car-a red 1966 Dodge Dart with a push button transmission. How I loved that car!  That car survived my teenhood, and went on to serve my Uncle Don until it stopped dead in its tracks after running amiably for 350,000 miles. Eventually my idea of a car came to be that reliable means by which I get from one place to another, over a long period of time. 

I do not own a car now; I own a fleet of trucks that enables me to do the work that needs getting done. They haul materials.  They transport crews. My Ford 450 dump truck has transported tons of brick, decomposed granite, and bark. We fill it with the remains of the year’s container plantings, and drive that debris to the compost pile, and dump.  Loaded to the top with mulch and tools, it has enough power left over to pull my trailer, loaded with my 2000 Bobcat skid steer. That rig weighs in at just under 22,000 pounds. Another day it may be transporting trees or evergreens. The pickup trucks haul shrubs, perennials, and more tools-maybe my 15 year old Honda rototiller, or a compactor for compressing granite.  The Chevy Suburban may drop off the two hydrangeas or the 10 bags of soil we are short on a job.  It has room for pots too fragile to transport in a truck; my two Corgis go to work every day and come home every night in what I affectionately call “the bus”. Marv Wiegand has one at his growing farm in Richmond with 350,000 miles on it; I have the same plan for mine. When it won’t run any more, I might just find a good spot for it, roll the windows down, torch off the roof, and plant it.  

I own two box trucks compete with hydraulic lift gates.  Those lift gates make it possible to get garden ornaments much too heavy for a man to handle onto a truck for delivery.  I sometimes load one with racks that hold flats and four inch annuals.  Some rocking GMC designer put a translucent plastic roof in it; you can see everything you have aboard.  I bought the first one in 2002, the second in 2005.  The engine is made by Isuzu; I have made two minor repairs to them in the eleven years between them. My newest truck-a Dodge Sprinter.  This extra long van is tall enough to accomodate someone over six feet tall-standing up.  If you have ever owned a van in which you have to bend over to get from one end to the other, you understand what a blessing this is.  The diesel engine is the only Mercedes Benz I am ever likely to own; I drove to Texas once on 2.5 tanks of gas. It efficiently hauls big and tall things; I can fold the shelves up parallel to the walls and deliver all the flower arrangements for all but the largest events.  As it turns out, I have a Sprinter load of flowers going to the Detroit Opera Theatre for an event today. Neither my crew nor my Sprinter minds an occasional Sunday gig.

These vehicles deliver what I need day after day-no complaints. Once in a blue moon a vehicle will have a problem.  The people who service trucks understand that you cannot operate without them; their service is excellent.  Though the Sprinter will lock up if you let the fuel get too low, they are not as a group, temperamental.  The three trucks I have replaced since 1990 I gave away; they still ran.  My trucks work how I work-every day, day after day.  Over the winter, we service them so they are ready to go in the spring.  Sure they need oil changes and new tires, but by and large they work, and go on working.  My biggest expense-the commercial licenses.  The plates for the box trucks alone are 1000.00 a year. I like knowing these trucks provide revenue to the State that enables them to maintain the roads.  How they deliver is not a hit or miss; my trucks I can rely on.  What I can rely on is an important topic when you are running a business. 

There has been plenty of hoopla and a lot of talk about the automobile companies since last September.  My two cents on the topic is that these companies produce very fine vehicles that have make it possible for me to earn a living. I think people who dismiss GM or Ford or Chrysler with the wave of a hand have never needed a truck to make a living. I also doubt they would be interested in doing without those things that trucks make possible-like the vegetables that get to the farmer’s market.  The truck owned by the refrigerator repair man means you don’t have to take your refrigerator in for service.  There are a lot of American trucks out there reliably performing all kinds of work-for farmers, gardeners, contractors, firemen-the list of people who need good trucks is long.  The American auto companies have delivered plenty; they understand what American working people need in a truck. My Ford 450 is nine years old now; every year my salesperson calls to ask if I am ready to replace it. I tell him thank you, but I have no need for a new one. 

I am writing about this today, as yesterday I paid off my last vehicle.  I own all my vehicles now, free and clear.  Best of all, I know they have a long life ahead of them. I call that efficient-when what you get keeps on going long after you’ve finished paying for it.