Beth Mann's Blog

Beth's Urban Tales of Wonder and Decay

Beth Mann

Beth Mann
Long Beach Island, New Jersey, USA
November 11
Hot Buttered Media
I'm a writer and creative consultant. I have years of experimental comedy and strange theater under my belt. I surf. I cook. I love wine, men and song. And puppies. I effin' love puppies.

JULY 7, 2013 11:27AM

It's Just a Truck (Or Why I Don't Like Michael Stipe)

Rate: 24 Flag

"1200 dollars? You gotta be kidding me."

"Beth, the rust damage is too extensive. If we try to fix your brakes, it will be like opening a whole can of worms. Fuel lines are rusted...calipers...its just not worth it."

"But...what will I do with it?"

"We can send it to the junk yard."

"Okay, um..." My voice starts to quiver. "I'll stop by and take the stuff out of it on Tuesday." I put down the phone and let the news sink in: my truck is finished. 

Last week when heading on the island, I had a near-miss accident. I had to slam on my brakes and flew onto the shoulder of the road. The brakes made a horrible screaching sound afterward and I had it towed to garage. I kinda knew it wouldn't just be a mere brake line. It's a 1990 Toyota 4Runner with close to 200,000 miles on it. It's rusty and repairing it would be the proverbial "throwing good money at bad."

Six years earlier, I bought the truck for $2000. I had moved to the Jersey shore from New York and I was pretty broke and not relishing the idea of making another monthly payment to another large entity. So I bought the truck outright from a local fisherman here. The first time I took it for a ride, I was in love. It was a truck! Not some low-riding car...a truck! The little kid in me squealed with delight.

Some people buy cars for status. Even if I had the means, that is not why I buy a car. I buy it to safely get me from point A to point B. And it helps if its cool and has some character. Which my truck did. It also helps if you don't have to get tons of repairs on the damn thing. My Toyota 4Runner ran like a charm for years, needing few repairs.

Growing up, I remember my mother buying lemon after lemon. So many icy cold mornings were spent with my mother cursing at the car because it wouldn't start again. "Just my luck!" my mother would proclaim. And I feared I'd have the same bad luck, like some genetic predisposition to crappy cars.

But the bad luck I feared didn't stop at cars unfortunately. I've often felt that I just wasn't very "lucky." I was never going to secure that killer job or get the recognition I thought I deserved as an artist. I wasn't going to find that perfect guy who'd sweep me off me feet and stay with me for life. I wasn't going to have tons of money; I was always going to struggle to get by. Bad messaging, you might say, but sometimes when you have a tough childhood, you sense a shitty pattern.

I remember listening to an interview with Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM. He credited his success to his supportive parents who believed in him from day 1. He seemed built for success and I've quietly resented him ever since. My widowed mom was stressed and overwhelmed. She couldn't "build" me for success; she was too busy figuring out how to feed five kids and keep the electricity on.

But I always felt like a winner. I knew I was unique and creative and my "voice" was powerful. Never felt like some supermodel, but I always appreciated my looks. I could play them down or pump them up. Strong, healthy. Maybe I wasn't "built" for success but I would overcome the limitations of a difficult childhood and faltering self-confidence. Fuck Michael Stipe. 

So what happened? Real life, I guess. You can want things with all of your heart and soul and it doesn't mean you'll ever get them. Years go by, and like my mother, you find yourself just trying to survive. Dreams become  a luxury for the privileged.

Or maybe I was the lemon. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn't work right. My internal mechanisms were just flawed and I'd just be one problem after the next.

But purchasing my red truck reminded me that "luck" and "success" aren't always what you think they'll be. Luck may be a cool truck that lasts for years. Success may be teaching a young kid to surf on his first try and seeing the huge smile on his face. Stardom could be singing with your friend on a roof at midnight.

Maybe Michael Stipe is wildly successful but has some weird eating disorder or an all-consuming fetish for dirty socks. And undoubtedly, he has a really nice car...but its not my truck and it never will be.

My red truck reminded me that I'm not cursed. I'm not a lemon. Things do work out for me, just not always in the ways I expected. And now, I'll say goodbye to it. And I'll thank it because it did its job and protected me to the very end. And it can't anymore. It's too old and worn and tired. 

I am my truck. Highly imperfect but built to last. Trustworthy, dependable and comfortable. Rusty but fabulous in its own way. 

The next phase of my life awaits me. I plan to leave this area and say goodbye to one of the only places I've considered home. It no longer is home. Like the truck, it used to be a safe haven but its not anymore. I will try my "luck" again on this crazy ride called Life. And hopefully I'll buy a vehicle that's safe and smart. But it will never be this truck. 

My truck showed me that every once in a while, even in some random ways, I can be lucky too. (Or blessed...I never liked the idea of luck anyway.)



[Photo credit: Tim Faunce]






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This is really cool Beth. I hope your next set of wheels turns out just as well.
I really feel for you on this one Beth. The "maybe I'm the lemon" curse has occurred to me many times on this journey also.

One of the last things Dad told me, from his death bed was, "Don't get too many cars." Then he slipped away. my head: " Whaaaa? Dad, Dad !! snap out of it wake up!! oh jeez what's that supposed to mean?!?!?!"

But it's making more sense three decades later.
well, this is what the very smart psychoanalysts types call
a life transition..or..a passage!

consider yrself lucky you be going thru a passage.
I avoid em like the plague.

still, when I struggle thru em, I gotta admit I am wiser and
more happy.

This is what happens at the beginning of the
passage:"began to think I was the lemon. That no matter how hard I tried, I just didn't work right. My internal mechanisms were just flawed and I'd just be one problem after the next. "

probably true, unless you traverse the passage to the ...oh the light.ha
Thanks, all. Nice to see your names and faces. It's been a while!

desert_rat, we'll see. My friend is lending me his car for a while and I'll take my time deciding. Probably too much time. I deliberate entirely too long when it comes to bigger decisions.

alsoknownas, your story just amazed me. I can't believe those were your dad's last words! That' enigma. But yes, as I turn it over in my head, it can make sense on several levels.

james, so right. life passage for sure. and I DO hope I move toward the light. In a cool truck that takes me to wonderful places.
The old saw says success comes to those who work the hardest, but that's not always the case. Some of the hardest working people I know never enjoyed success -- or at least not financial success. There is at least one thing more important to success than hard work -- that's picking the right parents.

Take Michael Stipe, please! Stipe is living proof helpful parents are more important even than talent. The plain truth is the man can't sing, and I oughta know -- I've been around the music business all my life. Hell, I know dozens of people more talented than Stipe. So how'd he make it?

The story I got from somebody who knew the band back in the early days in Athens, GA, was that Michael's dad wasn't too keen on his becoming a rock star. But when Michael insisted, Daddy relented and bought the band tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear, with the admonition that "if you're going to pursue this foolishness, at least you're going to do it right."

Yeah, Michael, it helps to have supportive parents.
Oh this hits home. I have had various vehicles that really cover the entire range of automobile ownership. But there was this van that I loved. The uncoolness factor was huge, and it had a rust hole in the roof so I was dripped on with putrid water during heavy rain, but I really loved that van.
Best of luck to you in all the new endeavors. From other posts of yours that I have seen, you have a true spirit of adventure, and are no lemon. No way.
Tom, great musical points. I've often wondered how Stipe made it as a singer. That's a voice only a mother could love!

onislandtime, thank you. I like that you think I have a spirit of reminds me that I do!
Wow. Too many shared experiences (in every sense) for me to write a worthy comment. Suffice it to say that I have not ever owned a new car ... nor have I ever cared that I didn't. The car I have now is 17 years old with upwards of 115,000 miles. After leaving San Francisco (where I sold my beloved car of 15 years) I bought it from my brother-in-law for less than Blue Book (good man, my B-I-L) in 2005, and it is the first car I've owned that has electric windows let alone AIR BAGS! It's a Mercedes. Not a car I would ever choose to buy for myself (besides the fact there's no way I could afford one) as I don't care about that kind of status; however, after seven (7) years I still feel like a complete fraud every time I get behind the wheel. (sigh) I love that car, though. It's cherry, it's sturdy and it gets me to where I need to go with great confidence it will not fall apart in between.

I've been very lucky with and adored (and named) all my cars ... they've held me in good stead ... but otherwise ... very indicative of the implied connection to my history, my failings and my gypsy lifestyle gone staid (in a good way!) ... I'm going to sit with this piece for a while ... thank you for writing it.

I do believe you'd really fit in on Maui ... seriously.

Aloha Nui Loa
So, the truck you bought as you began this phase of your life died as you get ready to move on. I'm seeing something more than coincidence here, but I could be wrong. Good luck on the next phase.
great piece, beth same-last-name-as-mine. : ) i'm older than you, so i get to say you're getting it right, and i can tell you i know from experience. you make your own luck, even if it's easy sometimes to wonder if you're at the mercy of some goddamn curse (the curse of crappy cars cracks me up).

the hurricane damage, the changing town and cities along the shore, the shore itself, your truck - and maybe your trip last year to the PNW and then europe - all those things are pointing to something major, something good. i feel the wind shifting, and in a good way. oh, and fuck michael stipe. xoxo
eyespye, i hear you re: electric windows but you know, I don't look forward to owning a car that's too newfangled. some of my friends have cars that beep if i don't have my seat belt on, etc...too annoying. i don't like a car telling me what to do all the the time! let alone fixing it is a whole other animal.

Oahusurfer, oh I'm sure I'd fit in quite nicely there...quite nicely indeed. You never know...

just phyllis, I know, very symbolic indeed. I can't tell you how many times throughout my life I've seen similar signs. It's like your world pushing you out, in so many different ways. It's almost uncanny.
Looking for a reliable source of transportation? You can't beat a camel.
Well you could try, but the camel will probably spit in your eye and stomp you to death.
I love how you wove this into your "next phase of life". Good to see your face back here & good luck in what comes next.
littlewillie, a camel is very fuel efficient I hear. bumpy ride though.
This resonates with me, Beth. It's so hard not to personalize one's "relationship" with their vehicle. I myself had a very dysfunctional codependent relationship with an incurable clunker. I stayed, thinking, "I can make this work! I know I can." I couldn't. Acquiring my curreent 2002 Nissan Pathfinder, very similar to your Toyota 4Runner) Changed My Life. I was not cursed, after all. I could drive across country at the drop of a hat knowing it wouldn't break down. But now it has over 250,000 miles on it, almost as old as I am, only in car years, so mechanical death may so do us part. Sad, like an old friend wearing out. Good while it lasted, though. [r]
Excellent. I just bought a VW... again...Not the most reliable usually, but it's a heart thing. The first car I bought on my own was a VW and I have this feeling this one will be the last...hope it lasts a long time.
haha wow hating michael stipe because he loves his family & thinks they did a good job. wow! thats some pretty twisted stuff. hey beth some stuff should just stay in your head haha :p .... therapy, anyone? :p
Hey fellow-NJyan,

Nice to see you again ... sorry to hear about the truck ... it looks pretty kickin'

It took me years, but I finally broke the "look at my wheels!" phase ... it started 35 years ago when I bought a '67 Triumph Spitfire convertible for $500 with a roll-bar as my first car when I went to college ... how cool was that?

After sports cars (300ZX, vette, electric blue Saab Viggen convertible, etc.) and luxury SUVs (2 Navigators and 2 Escalades), I broke the "see my ride!" mode this year ...

I now take the train into Philly ... now that's cool!

Best of luck with the next phase, Beth.
Donegal, its funny you mentioned driving across country. I sometimes wonder whether I have what it takes to do that...seems very intimidating. but certainly a trusty vehicle would help. its got to feel like an accomplishment.

mimetalker, i had a VW early on as well. It's a special experience having a VW...though mine was pretty problematic as well. A VW Rabbit. The first time I drove it, it stopped midway down the street...not a good sign!

vzn, you remind me of the type of people who watch soap operas and yell at one of the actors on the street because of what he did on the show. ever here of something called "creative license"? well that would require creativity, so perhaps you haven't. :p chill out, angry anonymous dude. its a *creative* piece of writing and not the gospel truth presented for your two-bit analysis of me. oh and get lost. :p never liked you much anyway. :p

joisey, you are so right re: alternative modes of transport. my bike has actually served me quite well here. especially since someone gave me one with a basket. its so luxurious. you had some sweet cars.

femme, good to see you on this side of the fence. yes, life passages are scary as hell but necessary. little doors closing, big doors opening, i hope.

trilogy, nice to see you too!
I've always shared your opinions of both Stipe and trucks.
One makes my skin crawl (who knows why) and the other carry's my stuff efficiently!
So glad to see you here again. I'm the same way about cars, if their cool even better but it's transportation and reliable is what thrills me. Having said that I hated getting rid of my 1993 Camry last year, great car, filled with good memories. Fortunately she went to a young college student. I'm sorry your car died and all that means to you.

A few weeks before my dad died he sent me out for lottery tickets, wanted to "leave something extra," he wasn't much of a planner except for himself. He had incredible good luck and my youngest can't enter a contest, sit at a slot machine or play bingo without winning, he also told me I was way overdue for good luck. It seems some are just that way and I'm not.

This year I started having good luck, one thing after another. Maybe dad's luck came to me. I was telling my therapist about a huge stroke of it and she said "I wonder what wonderful thing will happen for you next." It struck me how long it's been since I had that happy thought, I understand well about the sublety of childhood experience. I've been repeating it and enjoying even the small luck, like today finding a restaurant I like downtown was still in business when so many others have closed. There was one table open right on the river during the lunch rush with a perfect view, great luck. Even if nothing lucky, I still have the pleasure of anticipating it, which is cool.

So Beth, I wonder what wonderful thing will happen for you next?
Somewhere, somehow, somebody will be utterly amazed with what you've done with your life. For the record, I've always despised REM. Now maybe I know it's because Stipe is tied to his mother's apron.
Can one give honor to an inanimate object? If so, you did. Your truck gave you all it had. It's last act was to keep you safe. That's the way a vehicle should go out.

Best wishes on your transition.
Fred, too funny. We should start a club!

l'Heure you pointed out something important: If I was giving this truck away (in good shape of course) to someone who needed it, I'd feel SO much better. It's the fact that its very injured and headed to the junk yard that makes it sad. BUT...the owner of the garage is a huge fan of my kind of truck, so who knows? (He called my truck a "cream puff" once...I couldn't stop laughing.)

"Somewhere, somehow, somebody will be utterly amazed with what you've done with your life." Thank you, cheshyre.

Stim, I totally agree. I knew it did what it could up until the end. And no one got hurt. That's all that really matters.
me angry? only if its about politics.
ps cute new av, like it =)
you're comparing yourself to a soap opera actor? wow, beth, that is really DEAD ON! HAHA
ps never really liked you either, its so *obvious* you have cooties :p
ps it was NOT a 2BIT analysis at all!!
it was only a 1.5BIT analysis.
I know some day my red truck will die too and I will miss her with all my heart...I feel your pain while sharing your love for red trucks.
First let me say how sorry I am for your loss. I've been driving mostly old vehicles since I started driving - I love the freedom from a car payment - and I often become attached.

You wove a wonderful piece around the truck . . .

My red truck reminded me that I'm not cursed. I'm not a lemon. Things do work out for me, just not always in the ways I expected. . . I am my truck. Highly imperfect but built to last. Trustworthy, dependable and comfortable. Rusty but fabulous in its own way.

That's the best kind of truck. That's my favorite kind of person.

All the best blessings to you in your transitions, Beth - your natural resilience shows through in your writing, and I have no doubt it will continue to bring you good things.
Yes, vzn, I am comparing myself to a soap opera actor. My portrayal on "TV" is not an indicator of my true self, as most viewers should understand. And you could be right about the cooties...can't stop itching lately! ; )

lunchlady, I wonder what it is about a red truck. All I can is that it somehow correlates to that little kid in us that LOVES RED TRUCKS!!!,11175/

Owl, its so good to see you. I too love the freedom of a car payment. I just hate having one more monthly then the car never really seems like its mine. Thanks for taking the time to read my piece. I always appreciate your review.
You'll love your next one, too! I'm on my umteenth truck, and I've loved them all. Or, since it's a Toyota, you could fix the brakes and drive it another 100,000 miles....
Oh I wish, Ralph. It's a rust problem--not just the brakes. The fuel lines and several other parts whose names I've forgotten--rusted. The repairs would cost more than the car is worth...but yes, I do look forward to my next truck. I like the whole truck experience.
Too bad it wasn't a Toyota Land Cruiser. Would've been worth fixing, as the old ones are going for north of $50K these days. Go figure.

I rented a car in Japan last year that had a friendly voice saying, "drive safely" when I turned the key, and if it was after 5 PM it said, "if you are drinking tonight, don't drive".
Good story. Good truck. Good luck!
When I reached this point in my life, it was a '67 Chevy "3 on the tree" El Camino. My latest car just turned over 20k (mileage wise) and I thought of this post and that old truck of mine.

One of your best this, and yeah, Michael Stipe pretty much is a leading cause for blowing chunks.

Happy 2014 and I hope your move is taking you to better places.
I had a toyota carolla that conched out on me. It turned dangerous when it had oil problems and wouldn't start in the morning. I had such anxiety in its last year that it would send me to a fiery death. Luckily, I was able to put a down payment on a 2010 Jeep. But I still don't like to think of the horrible anxiety it gave me.