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Politically Incorrect

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  Four or five years ago, Rooster did me the honor of becoming my truck. Four or five weeks ago, his engine blew while on a mission of mercy, and I’ve been faced with a difficult decision; repair him or get rid of him.

Not that there’s really a decision here to make. A new engine will cost me almost $2000 and that’s money I don’t have in the bank. And I haven’t been driving Rooster much lately, his daily position being replaced in my life by the little, blue Colt Vista that doesn’t have a name yet but gets almost 25 miles to the gallon. Still, Rooster sits at the side of my mother’s house, waiting for me to determine his fate, and I find myself hanging on to him, not wanting to let him go.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when I wasn’t quite comfortable with Rooster. That was back in the days when he first replaced Bessie, my big, blue Suburban, and I wasn’t quite sure how he would work out. This is what I wrote then.

     There's a new man in my life these days- a bristly, macho, manly type of man with a touch of 80s sensitivity in the vulnerabilities he so frequently displays. He demands change from me in subtle ways that are nonetheless frightening to someone as comfortable in ruts as myself. I remind myself change is a good thing, that a good, hard jerk out of the rut can be a positive move. Yet I confess to moments of despair as I struggle to accept this difference in my life.

     My new man is a big, red, Chevy Suburban who answers to the name Rooster and who lived a former life as the official “rig” of The River Journal. In automotive terminology Rooster is a gas hog, sucking down 87 octane unleaded like a redneck guzzling beer. He's a male truck and I've only driven female vehicles before; like a lot of men, he barrels through life without a whole lot of notice to what's going on around him.

     Rooster is every bit as flamboyant as his name suggests, grabbing people's notice on the road with a squeal of brakes or the loud knock of a lifter when his bright red color alone doesn't suffice. He likes old time rock and roll, a serendipitous discovery because it's my favorite music as well. He'll gently rock at red lights to Janis Joplin belting out to "break another little piece of my heart," or Fleetwood Mac crooning Dreams. When Ann Wilson sings Alone his sticky lifter settles into supplemental percussion and he navigates the highway more gently for Taylor's Sweet Baby James.

     Rooster's been mine for about a week now but, true to his extra x chromosome, he resists my ownership. Calling him "my truck" results in a beady glare from his fading dome light, and the engine dies as soon as it starts. Sustained ignition is only achieved when I acknowledge his role as a full partner in my life, as responsible for ferrying children safely to their destinations and getting me to work on time as I am myself. He accepts his new role gracefully as long as I remember his heart remains with his previous owner, driving 16,000 copies of The River Journal across Western Montana or shepherding Dennis into the highest reaches of the Cabinet Mountains a vehicle could possibly expect to go. Freeway driving, he seems to say, even Idaho freeway driving, is best left to sissy girl cars, and Rooster navigates every curve in the road with one wistful eye on the mountain peaks surrounding us. I've learned to accept he'll never truly be mine, though I'm grateful for his willingness to be my means of transportation.

     There lurks within Rooster's gears and pulleys the ghost of the greatest race horse of all time, Man O' War. Man O' War was also red, also often overlooked because his appearance was less than prepossessing, but Man O' War could run; inside his rough-looking body was a heart that never quit. Rooster carries that heart as well, and is constantly fighting the bit as I struggle to keep him to Idaho's 55 mph. That heart sings when we cross the line into Big Sky Country, the last, bone-rattling thump before his wheels roll onto Montana's freshly paved highway the equivalent of an equine toss of the head saying, “okay, now let me go.” Once in Montana it's REO and Bob Seger and Rooster barely slows even with 3/4 of a ton of newspaper making his rear end sag.

     Rooster replaces Bessie, a gallant blue lady who handled every task I gave her but woke every morning asking, “Do I get a new engine today?” It was hard to let her go as Bessie and I shared memories that stretched across the Western half of the United States, through icy highways, rough mountain roads and congested freeways, from the first day of school to pre-dawn newspaper deliveries. She hauled hoards of children, building supplies, tons of newspaper, various cats, ducks, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits, camping gear and books and friends and enough collected rocks to fill every hole in my driveway. She listened as I cried, yelled, laughed and sung, as loudly as I possibly could, and most every day she'd start when I turned the key and go wherever I told her to.  She was a great lady, and I cried when I said good-bye.

     And now there's Rooster, who wormed his way into my affections long before I knew he would sit daily in my driveway, and who's teaching me something about heart, who sings in a throaty bass roar  to “keep pushin' on.” He touches me with the generosity he represents and reminds me the unexpected can carry both magic and a simple charm.”

     Half a decade  later, Rooster, one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given, has become an essential part of my life, and the central figure in many of the stories I tell. A new engine is all he needs, and Rooster will be back on the road again. One of these days, I’m going to decide if that’s what I’m going to do.

     If you want to buy a truck, check out any of the auto ads we have on these pages and you’re sure to find a good one. If you want something more, however, look closely– your Rooster may be waiting for you to find him.

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Landon Otis

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