What Happens When a TreeHugger Drives a Giant Truck?

©. Sami Grover

This thing is ruining my hippie points.

I sent a friend a photo of the truck I'm currently driving. Here's how he responded:

"I'm going to get a paparazzi-style photo of you exiting that thing with a Big Gulp, and post it as a comment to every single TreeHugger article from now on."

So I figured it's best I out myself before he does. Here's the story:

Our much loved Pacifica Hybrid is back at the dealership for (hopefully minor/easy) repairs to the navigation system. And because the dealer had to hold onto it over the weekend, he kindly offered a loaner car, which I was delighted with.

Until I saw it.

I've now spent the last three days driving around in a Dodge Ram 1500—a truck so big I almost literally get vertigo once I climb into the cabin. Given our constant, probably tiresome griping about pickup trucks and SUVs taking over the world, it's a little surreal to now find myself behind the wheel of one. Rather than simply lamenting the horrific size and inefficiency of it, I thought it best to use this moment to get a better handle on what these beasts are really like, and why people choose to drive them.

But first, let me say this: I'm a professional writer and brand strategist who avoids manual labor at all costs. I am sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons why construction professionals and other tradespeople buy and use these vehicles. I'm by no means out to knock their use altogether, but I am interested to learn more about what the more casual user—who commutes to work in one of these things, and occasionally runs to the dump—might see in such a gigantic vehicle.

Here are my initial impressions:

1) They Really Are Huge: I might have mentioned this already, but this thing is big. Driving home from work, I considered joining the throngs of panicked Durhamites lining up at Whole Foods to stock up on sparkling water and kombucha before Hurricane Florence hits, but I just couldn't face the parking lot. In fact, I've yet to find many parking spaces that this will fit into without sticking out at one end or the other.

2) They Really Are Dangerous: I don't think I've ever driven more gingerly than behind the wheel of this thing. You only have to pull up next to a cyclist or pedestrian to understand just how much of an imbalance of power there is on our roads. And while I'd probably get used to it, trying to see what's around you or close up when reversing just feels impossible.

3) And Yet, I Bet You Get Used To Them: I used to think minivans were huge, and now having driven our Pacifica Hybrid for over a year, I barely notice its size. Trucks are likely the same way. Indeed, my morning commute yesterday was considerably less nerve-wracking than when I drove the thing home on Friday. I confess, I even caught a glimpse of why people enjoy the experience as I pulled onto the highway without my usual nerves in my Nissan Leaf.

And that last point is the trouble. Large vehicles breed an environment where we get used to and feel safer in large vehicles, and where we feel increasingly less safe in our smaller ones. In other words, the very thing that makes us feel safe as individuals is also the thing that makes us feel the need to feel safe in the first place. Unlike walking, biking or using mass transit—which reclaim public space for the public—the larger the vehicle you drive, the more public space you are enclosing and enforcing as private, and the harder you make it for others to claim their own piece of the outside world.

It's a vicious cycle. And it's a seductive one. But so far, at least, I can't wait to send this thing back to the dealership. I just might make one more run to the hardware store first...