Some years ago, my buddy Dennis Bellanti, of Ferguson fame, picked me up at the Denver airport in a truck I came to call Bruno. I followed Dennis across the acres of parking garage at DIA and spotted Bruno from afar. Bruno was the Andre the Giant of pickup trucks.
I approached with caution and stopped before him.
Bruno nodded. “How you doin’?” he said.
“May I enter?” I asked Dennis.
“You’d better pet him first,” Dennis said.
I did, and Bruno and I became fast friends.
“Why this truck and not another?” I asked Dennis as we headed for Ferguson’s place.
“I need him to tow the trailer,” he said.
We were going to drive up the hill to Breckenridge, where I would get to speak all day to contractors while trying to strain oxygen molecules out of thin air at 9,600 feet above sea level. I hadn’t considered that when I left home, which is 105 feet above sea level — a place where oxygen feels like Karo corn syrup as it enters your lungs.
“Trailer?” I said.
“Yeah,” Dennis said. “It’s a big one.”
And it was. Dennis had assembled a commercial boiler room inside of a trailer that seemed to be as large as my hotel room. Bruno turned to glance at it as Dennis hooked it up. Bruno said, “Pfff.”
So up the hill we went, with Bruno smacking the miles out of his way and not even breathing hard. At one point, we had to go downhill a bit and the trailer tried to shove Bruno from behind. Bruno turned around and backhanded him in the puss. There was no further disrespect from the trailer after that.
I came to love that truck. It was the proper truck for the job.
We had to leave the trailer in Breckenridge after my seminar, and it seemed disappointed, but it had snowed “a little” overnight, as Dennis put it (“a little” was about 12 feet), and Dennis and I weren’t ready to die by towing a hotel room down a mountain on ice-rutted roads.
Bruno rollicked us down the hill at the speed of gravity as my sphincter muscle did the mambo. Dennis, being a fine tour guide, pointed out the many drift-covered, runaway-truck exits we were passing.
Bruno looked at them, too. He said, “Pfff.”
Thanks to Bruno, I lived to see other trucks, but none ever so ferocious.
I knew a contractor who drove an old Ford van pockmarked with rust. Whenever he opened the side door of that sorry vehicle, half its contents vomited into the street. He’d cuss the van like it was an old mule, bend and grunt and pick up the stuff. He’d toss it all back in there and smash the door closed.
But here’s the thing: That guy knew exactly where everything was, no matter where it happened to land today, or yesterday or tomorrow. He’d just reach into that dog’s breakfast of an inventory and come out with whatever he needed. I marveled at his ability to do that. It was like watching close-up magic.
And he had the right truck for his personality.
Before I was a heating guy, I was Pete the milkman’s helper on two 200-house routes. I rode with him in a ’66 Chevy C10 sidestep pickup, and Pete was a good teacher.
On my first night with him, I asked why we were in this truck and not one of those boxy milk trucks that the other guys were using.
“You serious?” Pete said.
“Yes. Those boxy trucks look like real milk trucks.”
“You don’t want to be in one of those,” Pete said.
“Why not?” I asked in my early innocence.
“That’s the name of the truck,” Pete said. “Made by the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company. D I V Co. — get it?”
“Oh,” I said. “What’s wrong with them?”
“Well, first of all, Divcos are slower than a Chevy, so our routes would take longer to finish. That means too much ice might melt in the summer and Fabrizio, the milk inspector from the health department, will be all over us. Not good. You can’t take them on the highway because they don’t go fast enough. They’re also colder inside during the winter because the doors don’t close that well. And the older I get, the more I’m hating the cold.”
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Yeah. They have two side mirrors but no rearview mirror. You can’t see out the back of the truck when you’re backing up. Guys who drive Divcos bang into a lot of things when they back up. We don’t need to bang into a lot of things when we back up. It’s bad for business.”
“They look like they’re fun to drive, though,” I said, persistent innocent that I was.
“Oh, yeah, you think so?” Pete said. “Fun? You like driving a bucket of bolts standing up?”
“Some of the guys sit,” I said. “I’ve seen them.”
“Yeah, but both seats lift out, and those seats get in the way when you’re delivering by yourself with a Divco. A lot of the guys remove the seats when they get to the first stop on their route. They stow them on top of the milk. They want to get out of either side of the truck, and fast. That’s why they take out the seats. Divcos are set up to let the driver turn around, grab the milk and jump out either way. But the guys who drive standing up have to be acrobats. And young acrobats.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, a Divco is standard shift. So is this Chevy. But when you’re driving while standing, you have to work the gas with your right foot, and the other pedal, which is both the clutch and the brake, with your left foot.”
“How can one pedal be both things?” I asked.
“You push it halfway down to clutch. You push it the rest of the way down to brake,” Pete said. “So imagine you’re going down the road at about 30 miles per hour, which is about all a Divco can do. The doors are wide open on both sides. You’re standing up. There are no seatbelts because there are no seats. There’s nothing but your two hands to hold you inside the Divco. It’s rattling like mad, and you have a hundred cases of milk right behind you. The only thing holding that milk in place is gravity.”
“OK,” I said.
“So now you need to shift,” Pete said. “You have to let up on the gas to do that, but you’re standing up, so that means you have to lean back on your right heel. With me so far?”
“OK, so now your left foot goes down onto the clutch, which is also the brake. You push it halfway down and shift with your right hand. You’re steering with just your left hand at this point. And all your body weight is balanced on your right heel. That’s the only part of you that’s touching anything solid. And you’re going 30 miles per hour with the doors wide open. It’s shaking like an old man with ice in his drawers and even God is covering His eyes at that point. That sound safe to you?”
“No,” I said.
“No, indeed. And if you should ever press too hard on the clutch and hit the brake instead, you’re gonna stop real quick, but the hundred cases of milk in beautiful glass bottles don’t have the good sense to stop. They just keep going and you get splattered like a bug, but on the inside of the windshield.”
“Oh,” I said.
“You still want to know why we’re in a Chevy?”
“Um, we’re in a Chevy because we don’t want to die in a Divco?”
“Very good, Danny boy,” Pete said. “Very good. You’re a fast learner.”
We had the proper truck for the job.
I think Bruno would have shaken his big metal head at those Divcos.
“Fuggedaboutit,” he would have said.