all my choices are lifestyle choices
September 2, 2016 9:59 PM   Subscribe

My favorite bit of Chicken Tax trivia is the fact that the cargo van version of the Ford Transit Connect is imported as a passenger vehicle with seats and windows installed just to avoid the tariff. These components are torn out and recycled after the vehicles arrive in the US.
posted by contraption at 10:48 PM on September 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

The last time I rode in a real pickup was 25 years ago. Ugly patent-leather bench seats. Shitty AC that made the Virginia summer air somehow worse. Noisy buzz when the ignition key was inserted. Seatbelt connectors that burned your hands. Stick. It did everything Grandpa needed it to do, and I miss it (and him) mightily.

A buddy of mine gave his old Toyota Hilux-type truck to his kid a few years back. I told him he'd regret it. Recently he told me I was right.

Another buddy of mine sold his '91 Firebird and bought a new diesel pickup to haul his family and 40-foot camper around Our Great Nation for a year while his wife worked as a travel nurse. His dad told him once he bought a pickup, he'd never go back. They're getting divorced now, and he's willing to give her whatever assets she demands as long as he keeps the truck.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:18 AM on September 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are (or were) a lot of crazy ways around it, my favorite being the absurd rear seats of the Subaru Brat.
posted by ckape at 1:45 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This article is about Polish Chicken War. For the Chicken War of the 1960s, see Chicken Tax.

The Wikipedia article on the chicken tax cites the NYT saying,
In retrospect, audio tapes from the Johnson White House, revealed a quid pro quo unrelated to chicken. In January 1964, President Johnson attempted to convince United Auto Workers' president Walter Reuther not to initiate a strike just before the 1964 election and to support the president's civil rights platform. Reuther in turn wanted Johnson to respond to Volkswagen's increased shipments to the United States.⁽¹⁴⁾
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

That was quite a good article. Certainly Australian car culture is a different beast to the US - we still quite like our utes, and things like F250s are mercifully rare.
posted by wilful at 2:29 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

One really interesting thing I gradually came to realize after years in Japan is that the American phenomenon of pickup truck as Aspirational Manliness Vehicle doesn't apply, because people still associate pickup trucks with the old men who drive them (poorly) because they are still actively considered farm equipment that just happens to be road-legal. They have all the sex appeal to Japanese people of their retired grandfather commuting to work on a tractor.

On the other hand, the Aspirational Manliness Vehicle phenomenon does still exist in Japan, but instead it's focused on enormous rectangular vans, the largest vehicles available without a prescription, presumably because the Good Old Days of Japanese Manliness came not in the form of ranch hands but in the form of construction workers. The messaging is remarkably explicit in the commercials, too.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:35 AM on September 3, 2016 [16 favorites]

Back in college, my university had a Farmhouse Fraternity. Based on the frat's parking lot, it seemed to require pickup truck ownership for membership. There was one tiny Ford Ranger mixed in among the hulking F350s and Rams and SuperDuty models. I always wondered if the driver of the Ranger was the butt of everyone else's jokes at the fraternity gatherings.

I never drove a pickup. But I did learn to drive in a '73 Ford Custom Club Wagon van that was nearly big enough to park a Ford Ranger inside. There is something to be said for the huge diameter skinny steering wheel with the sloppy steering... That bit in the FPP took me right back to driving the old orange van.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:59 AM on September 3, 2016

A note for European readers: the “gentle” motor in the author's Ford F-150 is a 4.2 l six cylinder petrol engine. To get that size of engine in a commercial vehicle in the UK, you're in the 7½ tonne range.

The largest (and seemingly only) pickup made by Ford for the UK market is the Ranger. Its biggest engine is a 3.2 l turbodiesel, and manages around 8 l/100 km. The author's 2007 F-150, by comparison, has a fuel economy of about 14.5 l/ 100 km. To be fair to Ford, recent North American models do have smaller engines and better economy. They're still dismal by comparison.

Article had a nice turn of phrase. As a former Land Rover driver, I know that “skip[ping] down the road like a drunken first grader” handling very well.
posted by scruss at 5:21 AM on September 3, 2016

Back in the 90's, I had a GMC Sonoma mid-size pickup. It was a handy workhorse, and I hauled all manner of stuff in it. Barely a weekend went by when I wasn't filling the bed with stuff for working around the house.

I never understood the fetish for these ever-expanding mega-trucks that are all the rage now. Especially considering I rarely ever see any of them hauling anything requiring all that hugeness. If they're hauling anything at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:27 AM on September 3, 2016

On the other hand, the Aspirational Manliness Vehicle phenomenon does still exist in Japan, but instead it's focused on enormous rectangular vans, the largest vehicles available without a prescription, presumably because the Good Old Days of Japanese Manliness came not in the form of ranch hands but in the form of construction workers. The messaging is remarkably explicit in the commercials, too.

I'm gonna need a link.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:31 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Around the time I was starting to feel like the ass-flattening despair of an unexpected eight-year detour into arts administration was pushing me to consider my next career, I started looking for a nice, modest Ranger, hopefully with the small engine and a manual gearbox and no fripperies beyond essential-in-Maryland air conditioning. I'd get off the morning train I took to get to the clock tower I ran in downtown Baltimore, step lightly to the building, then sit in front of the computer, log into my email, and think I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to do this rotten, soul-sucking, heart-killing bullshit until I die, checking off little boxes on to-do lists for items on projects dictated by committees. I don't want this life.

So I started looking for a little pickup truck to help me in the task of rebuilding my distant collapsing cabin on a West Virginia mountainside, something more practical than the tiny red sports car I'd happened into, and along the way, in one of the few physical parts of my job, I did myself a permanent injury that crippled me with chronic pain that, as it turned out, was exacerbated by the process of congealing in a chair, day by day, for the benefit of mediocre people making phlegmatic plans in a conference room. I fought back with plastic fantastic medical science that did nothing but string me out on painkillers, but I finally found a physical therapist who sorted me out in a month and change, and her prescription was that I was to sell my Miata immediately, commute on my motorcycle as much as possible (the upright ergonomic posture of an uptight BMW bike is a balm for the spine, as it happens), and get a pickup truck where I could drive without my head jammed into the headliner, as I am in most cars on the road.

Fortunately, one of my circle of gearhead buddies gave me a hot tip for a truck that I would eventually buy, sight unseen. Mike called me up after reading one of my Facebook complaints about my truck search, and said, "I know you're looking for a Ranger, but my friend Karl has a kickass F150 that he's selling down in Bluefield, and I'd buy in a hot second if my husband would let me," which was enough of an endorsement for me.

So I took a train to Hinton, WV, sitting with a handsome chatty Mennonite who kept me entertained through miles of scenery, then was picked up in my future truck by Mike's friend Karl, and it occurred to me that, despite looking for a modest little truck, I'd ended up with a gigantic, squared-off 1996 farm truck with a nearly six-liter V8, power everything, full towing rig in case I had some insane compulsion to drag a horse trailer around, and two giant fuel tanks, complete with those little pivoting vent windows like my more traditional '79 F150 with the straight six and the ridiculous three-foot gear lever I'd had back in the eighties, and I was sort of worried and happy in equal measure. Helped the guy pack up the house he was selling down there, using my secret packing superpower to move a house full of furniture in one gorgeously packed truckload, gave him my cashier's check for what would barely cover three monthly payments on a modern truck, and set off, taking the back roads and singing Steve Miller songs at the top of my lungs all the way through the mountains into the ugly sprawl of southern NoVA.

On that run, I got 17 MPG, but in everyday life I tend to get 13-15.

I stripped off the enhancements Karl's Arizona father had added, from the protruding aluminum steps and bumper guards and camper cap, all of which were just a distraction from the basic goodness of practical lines, and every time I see Babe, my big teal ox, sitting outside my window, like right now, even, I feel like my truck is a big dumb farm animal, ready to carry me where I need to go, to do what I need to do.

I escaped the world of arts administration in 2013, suffered a relapse of chronic pain from my nerve damage, which I sorted out by accident on a cooking trip to Georgia, and realized that I can never have a desk job again, because four to six hours in a chair in front of a computer will bring back the searing blade of pain again, bringing back that feeling of complete hopelessness that comes from being so overcome with an agony that cannot be fought that I'd ended up spending half my work days at the office curled up on my side under my desk crying half from pain and half from the fear that this was going to be how my life was going to be forever and ever.

Instead, I took up working as a carpenter, plumber, electrician, decorator, and master of a shocking number of trades that I'd accidentally learned from my father whilst being a bitchy, pretentious teenager who was too good and too smart for such labor, and it is not a profitable career yet, as I am a dreadful businessman and have neither the chops for the kind of intricate scheduling that is essential to that line of work and I habitually charge less than my work is worth because I'm nice, but I've never been so happy or alive. I have a part-time gig running a tiny community theater, which pays the utility bills and the rent, and my truck is cheap to run as long as I remind myself that 13 MPG is not really a bad thing when you're not wasting five hundred bucks a month on a truck payment.

I think about the aspect of performed masculinity that's inherent in it, though, and how I have to admit, as I'm cresting the ridge on my way to my cabin, that my big, bluff, square, and absurdly inefficient old farm truck is sort of sexy in the way that most things for which form is borne from function are sexy, and it's a nice return to my past as a sort of country boy on the edge of encroaching suburbia, where I lived in a log house across the road from a steer farm. In my youth, I thought I'd go onto bigger and better things in the big city, but the city's where I go for art and fancy food, but home is a small town with a big dumb truck out front and a pair of overalls and hard hat hanging in the closet and that is okay. Sure, the picture is incomplete unless you look deeper into the closet, where the riding gear hangs next to marabou and my Sun Ra costume, and the music blasting out of my truck as as often Astrud Gilberto and Lily Allen as it is Jimmy Martin, and I am nothing less than a picture of my father, who knew how to do everything, built every outbuilding in our back yard, fixed every vehicle, and had a well-kept make-up case that we all still cherish as a monument to his absurdity.

I took a break from outside construction work in the summer when it became clear I was going to be roasted like an ant under a magnifying glass working on rooftops under the Maryland sun, but fall is coming, the countryside is cooling, and I've been accumulating all the materials I need so I can build a tiny cabin in West Virginia to replace my collapsing old one, and that means more trips in the truck through the flare of autumn color, and more time spent making things, and if I am destined to be poor from here on out, that's enough for me.

And still, there's a powerful national narrative that I both enjoy and subvert in my truck.

I picked up my newly regular gentleman caller and we drove into DC to a carefully crafted barbecue experience that brings Baudrillard to mind, even as they make a damn fine brisket, and we drank beer from mason jars, told each other stories, and went down for the honky-tonk show in the basement concert space, pressed close by the surging, shifting crowd, and I felt a lot like I was finally getting, at 48, the dating experience that should have rightly been available to me in my teen years. I leaned in, close enough to feel his body heat, and put a hand on his shoulder to say "I'm pretending to ask you a question so I can get up in your face" close enough that our beards meshed in the cacophony of light and noise, and we alternating doing this throughout the night until the band was winding down.

We walked to our distant parking space, and I reached out a hand, which he took, nervously, as someone who'd never felt comfortable with that conspicuous a display of affection with another man, and I keep my eyes open, as protective as a mama bear, confident that, had anyone thought to call us anything untoward, I'd call them an ambulance.

As we drove out of town with Siri directing me to the Parkway in a ridiculous male Australian accent, I remembered how my father had said that the bench seats in trucks were great on dates because you could make a hard right and your girl would come sliding up to you across the vinyl, and it must have been something in the air, because my gentleman caller unclipped his seat belt, slid over to me, belted himself into the center seat, and leaned in until I put my arm around him. He put his head on my shoulder, and I looked out through the big upright windshield, across the ridiculous acreage of square, flat hood, feeling the rush of humid summer air through the vent window and him warm against me, and it was, in its way, a merger of a constructed spectacle of a national narrative and just being there, in that moment, quintessentially and queerly American, and as he fell asleep there, I wondered if he could hear my heart beating, leaned in to kiss the top of his head through his shaggy hair, and thought of some old familiar lines I'd read.

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

In the world of the future, everything goes into the cultural blender, and that's its own kind of magic.

Tomorrow, I will fill this truck with junk and make a run to the dump, and tomorrow, I will load up studs and rafters and joists to build something new, and tomorrow, I will just drive somewhere, anywhere, because I want to sing along to the stereo and let the woods flash by around me in a rush of green, and tomorrow, I will commute into the city for more prosaic work, and still, I will leave the center lap belt unfurled there, instead of tucking it back between the seats, because it reminds me that I am again fully alive, digging my hands into the dirt and holding up planks that I nail together into new spaces, and that I will make that hard right again, and reach out with my free arm, and I can barely even begin to process how this all is, because I was dead for so many years and now life is returning to me.

And my blue ox is out there right now, almost hidden by the gangly shoots from the overgrown euonymus under my window, and it is just a truck, built some time in 1995 somewhere in the midwest, and it's just machinery without a soul or an intent of its own, and it is oversized, overpowered, inefficient, and has flubbering, wallowing, incompetent road manners compared to that little red Mazda I used to own, and yet—

and yes I said yes I will Yes.
posted by sonascope at 6:56 AM on September 3, 2016 [56 favorites]

This year is the first time in many years that I do not have a truck, and I miss it a lot.

The distinction the author makes between new and old trucks is true, but he doesn't really get into how much better the new ones are (despite, as he notes, being ridiculously bloated). Better fuel economy, better safety, and better comfort, and much better for towing. There have been repeated rumors of Ford bringing the updated Ranger to the US, but it is large enough that it would presumably compete for sales with the F150, so it may not pencil out for them. Toyota is selling every Tacoma it can make, but they are considerably larger than the old ones and don't bring much efficiency gains over larger trucks.

I remembered how my father had said that the bench seats in trucks were great on dates because you could make a hard right and your girl would come sliding up to you across the vinyl, and it must have been something in the air, because my gentleman caller unclipped his seat belt, slid over to me, belted himself into the center seat, and leaned in until I put my arm around him.

Several men of a certain age have told me the same story about growing up in rural towns and having the buddy on the far right duck down so that the driver and center passenger looked like two men on a date (visibly male from behind by their cowboy hats, of course). I love that something that was unthinkable except as a prank is no longer that way, because snuggling on a bench seat is a wonderful feeling in exactly the ways you describe and should be a universal experience.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:13 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have both an old truck, a 68 f250, and a newish one, a 2000 ranger. The 68 fits a full size sheet of plywood without question and is exactly what you'd expect a truck to be and drive like. It is charming to drive once per month and not so charming to drive every day. It gets about 8 mpg.

The 2000 ranger (which amuses me, as "ranger" used to be a trim level, top of the line, on the big trucks, and my 68 is a ranger as well) is a generic experience that has a/c and gets 18 mpg.

It is shocking how much bigger modern full size trucks are, and how few of them have 8' beds. It's somewhat understandable as if you also want a super cab, the end up enormously long, 21 or 22 feet.

One phenomenon I and all my old truck buddies have noticed is that fuel mileage is the same, running full load or empty. This just underlines how inefficient those old engines are. My 8mpg produces 167 hp and 270 lbs of torque, figures more in line with small cars these days.

I don't need two trucks and the 68 makes no sense to own. But, dare I say it, it has charm and charisma, alien qualities to the more efficient 00. Sigh.
posted by maxwelton at 7:20 AM on September 3, 2016

Here are a couple of links for the "giant vans as cool manly vehicle" phenomenon in Japan:

The Toyota Voxy has, for a while been sold with a campaign basically all about dads showing their sons how to be Real Men of some stripe or other. Here's one:

Here's a commercial that appears to have been written by someone who usually perfume commercials:
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:38 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

A little dusty in here sonascope.

There's something about the "flubbering, wallowing, incompetent road manners" of an old truck that impute a sort of soul, or at least imply a personality.
posted by wotsac at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2016

I am a native Texan, have owned pickups on and off for over 40 years and can attest that the only off-road adventure I ever had in one was that time I backed up over the flowerbed...
posted by jim in austin at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Those giant trucks do get used, some of them—by people in the construction trades. The other day I had an entire deck in the back of my company's old F-250—decking, posts, railings, framing members, and 20 bags (that's 1600 lbs) of concrete. They definitely have a place as work vehicles, since that big open bed (complemented, ideally, by an overhead rack) gives tremendous flexibility in terms of the cargo that can be carried. They can also carry a ton of weight and pull heavy trailers—both of which are really useful in the trades. They have their place.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:18 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first vehicle I ever drove on a public road was my father's 1951 Ford F2 flatbed, with a flathead V8 and a non-synchromesh 3-speed gearbox. I was 13 or 14. My father had gotten it used, and the previous owner had completely covered the headliner and floor with orange shag carpeting. That was something.

I live in Texas now, and it's pretty common for my car to be the only car in a parking lot otherwise full of trucks and SUVs. But the vehicle I lust after is an old split-window VW DoKa, despite their ridiculous lack of power, safety, etc. Exactly the vehicle that is scarcer than hen's teeth in the USA because of the chicken tax.
posted by adamrice at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2016

One really interesting thing I gradually came to realize after years in Japan is that the American phenomenon of pickup truck as Aspirational Manliness Vehicle doesn't apply

In most parts of Europe "lifestyle" pickup trucks just don't exist. The closest we have are Leisure Utility Vehicles. In fact, pickup trucks barely exist as utility vehicles (it's either vans or larger trucks). Car culture is strange.
posted by elgilito at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2016

If I could live with the hideous emissions and no crash safety, my “truck” would be a first-gen Subaru Sambar. Momose's design is kind of a reverse-Miyazaki Catbus: it's clearly a bus who wants to be a cat now and again.
posted by scruss at 9:25 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

The last real pickup I had was a '63 Willies 1 ton 4x4, the cab was so small you couldn't fit a gun rack in it. If it was 3 passenger, it had to be 2 man and a boy. An oil change and lube needed to happen every 1500 miles but it took awhile to get there because anything over 50 mph was courting disaster. It was geared so low the little 4 banger could pull a plow and and the power takeoff was strong enough to run a hay baler. I loved my street legal tractor.

The '01 Dodge 1500 4x4 in the driveway Has the nicest interior of any vehicle I've owned, it still sucks as a truck.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

{Typical Flint Garage banter.}

"Hey, why do these folk drive Duelies"

"Tire sales, they love Tire sales"
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I miss my pickup truck. We're sorta kinda in the market for our next car (but not ... the hybrid sedan barely has 200,000 miles on him, though the trip to the dealer this week was not cheap).

CarMax has an app, and I've "hearted" a few replacement hybrids. But the reality in this part of the world so close to the coast is that we should look at an SUV hybrid for our next trip to the moon. Already on rainy days I plan my routes to avoid the most likely deeply flooded streets.

But there are a couple cute little Rangers with hearts next to them in my app. I check, every day, to see if they've been bought.

Not that it makes sense to have a pickup again, with kids and friends and places to go and be and do here in the middle of suburbia, though I do come up with reasons to need to "borrow" one for a week at a time here and there from my folks. Crank handles, no cruise control, AC is on or off but cold cold cold when it's on.

Maybe the XLT cab with only 37k miles on it ... the kids aren't full size yet and can squeeze into the jump seats when necessary ...
posted by tilde at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

sonascope, I wish you had written that anywhere but MeFi so it could be the FPP it deserves.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been procrastinating buying a truck for about two years now. We have an old house we're fixing up, and we buy large items on Craigslist that need hauling, so we've made the decision that our next vehicle ought to be a truck. But I just cannot seem to come to terms with the fact that the truck we want (a light pickup with a reasonable engine for moving a couch and some plywood rather than a ton of cement, plus room for a car seat) is just not to be had in this country. It's infuriating, and I just keep hoping I'll think of a way around it. Maybe we'll be able to afford the Tesla pickup when it comes out, or maybe a US manufacturer will come to its senses and notice what must be a reasonably big market of people like me who are interested in hauling stuff but not in machismo totems. I look at the fuel efficiency numbers for the available pickups and just can't bring myself to go through with it, even for a vehicle that won't be used as a daily driver.
posted by contraption at 2:27 PM on September 3, 2016

If I could live with the hideous emissions and no crash safety, my “truck” would be a first-gen Subaru Sambar.

I'm a huge Sambar fan as well, though I prefer the little van to the open truck. When it comes to safety, though, big trucks are less safe than supposedly common sense would lead one to believe. My big truck is a useful brute, but I'd rather crash in a Smart Fortwo than an F150, hands-down.

For making out, however, a pickup truck cannot be beat.
posted by sonascope at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2016

and can attest that the only off-road adventure I ever had in one was that time I backed up over the flowerbed...

They're not especially popular at the trailheads around Seattle. I've seen Priiuses up roads I'm surprised they could travel at least as often, and really the only pickups that come to mind are Forest Service trucks.
posted by wotsac at 6:51 PM on September 4, 2016

Yep. Been looking for a reasonably-sized pickup for a while. I have a longish commute, so a high-mpg vehicle is always going to be my daily driver, but I'd like to haul crap on occasion. I used to have a ranger, until squirrels chewed everything in the engine compartment to crap and fouled the carburetor with nuts, before that a Ram as an occasional driver -- but the hassle of keeping a vehicle that I only drove once or twice a week normally finally led me to my current solution, namely a trailer hitch on the econobox and a cheap trailer for dump runs and so on. But what I really want is an ute.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:56 PM on September 12, 2016

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