It’s not a good idea to let your kids ride in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s a bad idea, actually. Of course, most people already know this. But apparently some don’t.
Oh, well. I suppose that people are going to do what they’re going to do, even if it’s a fatal mistake. Otherwise we wouldn’t have so many karaoke bars.
I was in traffic yesterday when I saw a vehicle carrying four boys in its truck bed. I was behind them at a stoplight. It wasn’t busy traffic, there was no real danger. And, I’m sure the driver of the vehicle wasn’t going very fast, but it’s just a bad idea.
You can trust me on this. I know what I’m talking about. We used to ride in the bed of Mister Danny’s pickup before and after Little League practice, or when riding to games. I estimate that during my Little-League years, each week I would spend hundreds of hours in the back of a Ford pickup with my sweaty teammates who smelled like gut-eating buzzards.
We were not a great team. We were the team who always showed up looking like a bunch of messy-haired inmates on punitive work-release programs from a state institution.
One of us, and I’m not naming names here, (Darren Marion Jenkins) even kept a package of cigarettes rolled in his sleeve. They were just candy cigarettes, mind you. But to us he was James Dean.
Mister Danny would pile nine boys in the back of his pickup, four crammed in the front seat. Also in the truck bed were two duffle bags full of wooden bats, baseballs, and a Coleman cooler full of Mister Danny’s special “coaching juice.”
Every game went the same way. We would jump out of the truck and end up playing a really slick uptown team who wore matching black uniforms. These teams were usually named after some deadly animal like, “Vipers” or “Panthers,” or “Mid-Atlantic Pufferfish.”
Our team, however, was sponsored by a mom-and-pop filling station that made its primary income selling twist chew. And our team always lost.
After each game, our team did what all teams do. We would march across the field and do the Good-Game Walk of Shame wherein we would high-five every member of the opposing team and mumble “Goodgamegoodgamegood…” with the same sincerity we would use to scrub our armpits. This is called sportsmanship.
Then we would all pile into Mister Danny’s truck bed and he would speed to the Dairy Queen. There, he would give us a worn-out sermon on how it’s not about winning or losing, but about how many deductions you report on your income taxes.
He would stress that the real winners were the ones who could lose 50-1 and still exit the field without the aid of a stretcher. He would finish with a prayer and remind us to be strong, bold, confident, and most importantly, to pay for our own dang ice cream.
Afterward, we would pile into his truck and drive back home.
It would be nighttime. We would all have ice cream stains on our uniforms, hats backward. We’d wave at cars while riding in traffic. Our one and only goal was to get cars to honk their horns at us.
This was all we cared about in life. It was everything. In fact, if we would have put half the effort into baseball as we put into coaxing cars to honk, we would have made the World Series.
Usually, we’d wave our hands and beg motorists to blare their horn. If they honked, we would die with laughter. Which I’m sure was a big thrill for whoever was doing the honking.
Just imagine: You’re riding along the highway, having a bad day, your boss gave you a pay cut. In traffic, you see a truck full of unkempt little boys, many of whom are wearing T-shirts that show their bellies. They are all waving at you. With both hands. Eighteen little grubby arms in the air, flailing. Nine voices shouting, “HONK! HONK! HONK!”
And when you’d hit your horn, you’d hear “YAY!”
It would have blessed your heart.
At the end of the night, Mister Danny would drop us at our houses and pat our hindparts before sending us up the sidewalk. All coaches pat the butts of their players. This is true of every sport. Worldwide.
For example: I just watched an NFL football game where the head coach visited his players for a pep talk. Afterward, he slapped their buttocks before millions of people on national television. These players, keep in mind, have base salaries of—I actually looked this up—15 million dollars per year. And this guy is basically spanking them before 3 billion viewers. You have to love America.
Mister Danny would leave a driveway slowly. And the boy on the porch would wave goodbye to his teammates, who would all be calling out things like, “BOOO!” or “YOU STINK!”
Then the taillights of the pickup would wink out in the distance and you’d hear the distant sounds of far-off car horns honking.
And you knew the boys had struck again.
This is exactly why I tapped on my horn at the stoplight when I was behind that truck. I did it because the kids in the truck were waving their arms and begging me to do it. I did it because even though I disagree with letting kids ride in the backs of pickups, you should have seen their faces. They had ice cream smears on their cheeks and everything.
I did it because if I could go back to that beautiful phase of life, even if only for a few minutes, I would.
But at this age all I can do is honk.