The Strange Case of the Codmobiles

I dislike…no, I’ll be frank…I abhor waste. This abhorrence is at least in part due to growing up with parents who experienced various kinds of lack. One parent is a Depression baby; the other parent grew up in England during World War II and postwar rationing. My parents are careful people, like my grandparents were: they don’t waste clothes, food, or any kinds of resources. I still remember my grandmother composting scraps for her garden compost heap many decades ago and how she carefully wrapped each rind of cheese or slice of bacon in brown paper, saving it for another meal. Before World War II she often wore a beautiful purple dress, her favorite. By the end of the war it was a faded gray-blue from so much wearing, washing, and repairs. She might have wanted to save the dress, preserve its beautiful strong purple that so complemented her warm brown eyes, yet when the war began the rationing began, and it continued for many years after the war. There were no more dresses to wear, so the purple dress went on and stayed on, fading day by day as my grandmother raised children, comforted neighbors, and attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst a very uncertain future. Perhaps because of the example of my parents and grandparents, and some rather lean times of my own, I try to be thoughtful about how much I use in terms of resources and how and where I spend my money. Therefore, I’m often surprised by the ways in which other people choose to spend their money—or their parents’ money in the example that first comes to mind. For one of the most profound examples of waste I have seen are the giant trucks, usually driven by college students, that I often see in Alabama towns. As a former Alaskan, I am no stranger to large vehicles, from pickups and Jeeps to semis; however, most of the larger vehicles I saw or drove in Alaska were used for specific purposes as working vehicles: carrying hay or feed, pulling fishing boats, or hauling freight. The expensive (to build and maintain) vehicles I have seen spinning around these Alabama towns seem to serve no purpose but transit for one, possibly two, people: a curious use of resources. Unlike Alaska, there are no snowdrifts, potholed dirt roads, or vast uphill spaces of rugged terrain to be surmounted, yet here are these showy trucks, all polished and bechromed, posing as working vehicles. They are like flashy Playgirl models pretending to be firemen and cops without any of the dirt, sweat, or actual work of these professions. So too the trucks seem to betoken a strong working ethos, a performance of genuine rugged action, yet they really exist for the 5-block cruise to the local wing joint, a trip done at high speed with tires squealing. These vehicles are certainly a sight to see—and hear: jacked up and then raised even higher on massive wheels, gleaming with vast chrome grills that could encompass the steel production of old Pittsburg for a year, and sporting one, two, even three exhaust pipes pouring out odiferous smoke. Some even have smokestacks, as if they were steamboats on a nonexistent river, and many have unmuffled engines so that if one by chance misses the sight of one of these vast vehicles one can certainly enjoy the earsplitting roar as it races by. Given the relatively narrow streets of some Alabama towns and the price of gas (going down now, but certain to rise again), one would imagine that these vehicles are highly impractical, especially as some of them are so tall and unstable that a couple of toddlers and an errant breeze might toss them over to lie impotent on their sides, like beetles on their back, massive wheels uselessly spinning. Despite this, many people here (people = young white men) drive these trucks, as I have witnessed in the towns in which I have spent some time, often towns with significant college populations. I have nicknamed these trucks codmobiles, the name derived from my guess at the reason for these giant, impractical vehicles. Cod is, of course, Elizabethan slang for a certain body part, one often a focus of period texts, ripe with naughty puns. The codmobiles are an embodiment of that body part, a display of preening via a roving performance of chrome, steel, and glass. Given the frequency with which I see these massive trucks, there is a good deal of lack out there and with it much (over)compensating. Perhaps the massive codmobiles are meant to inspire feelings of admiration and wonder in the eyes and ears of all who see and hear them, providing countless thrills (though mostly thrills of fear as everyone tries to get out of their path). Perhaps the owners of the codmobiles are particularly interested in drawing the attention of the women of Alabama, although the reaction to them may not match the owners’ desires. I cannot speak for all women, but I can say what I think as a codmobile goes roaring by. I smile a little and shake my head, then two words quickly come to mind: “small cod.”

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