August 30, 2015
Riding in the back of the pickup was normal in the sage canyons east of Saugus. Though not common, the seat of a 1956 Ford pickup holds only so many people, so when the family went to town in the pickup you’d find my younger brother, sister, and I arguing, singing, or yelling those all-important conversations back in the pickup bed. During baseball season, daddy would have half a dozen boys in the back heading home after a ballgame. Town being thirty to forty minutes from the house, meant a fair number of memories were made in the back of that pickup.
Then daddy and mamma bought a 1969 Ford three-quarter ton Camper Special—with seatbelts. There began a change in the way mamma and daddy thought about pickup bed traveling and other than the local gravel road, a pasture, or the stockyard in town, the seat belted three-quarter ton ended back of the truck forty-five mile-per-hour conversations.
Thirty years later Belinda and I were driving down Fort Road on the reservation. We were following a pickup full of kids, doing forty-five maybe fifty miles-per-hour. By then we were fairly sure of our good opinion thinking something along the lines of, “What are they thinking?” Thirty years of seatbelts had something to do with our thoughts, but also being from California had something to do with it as well.
Years earlier Californians passed a law keeping dogs from riding in the pickup bed. After it passed, you could not have a morning coffee at the local café in rural California, where working dogs in the bed were common, and not have a conversation about the dog law. Statements were often rural verses urban, along the lines, “Yep, isn’t it just like those folk who don’t live where men, women, and dogs work together would pass a law against dogs in the back of the truck…and never give any thought to a law keeping children out of the back of pickups first.” Well, enough years of such conversations made us pretty sure those kids in the back of the pickup shouldn’t be, and dogs should be cut more slack.
It so happens that while California has its who-cannot-ride-in-the-back-of-pickup law, Washington State code sees it a little different,
This section only applies to motor vehicles that meet the manual seat belt safety standards as set forth in federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 and to neighborhood electric vehicles and medium-speed electric vehicles. This section does not apply to a vehicle occupant for whom no safety belt is available when all designated seating positions as required by federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 are occupied. (RCW 46.61.688, Sec.2—as of 2008)
Not enough seatbelts? Well, then you can pile a load full of children in the back of the truck.
Focusing on the law though misses what we really saw that afternoon driving down Fort Road. The reality is that everyone cares for the wellbeing of children. No one wants a child thrown from the back of a pickup. The problem we saw was not one of safety but of economics. Communities of poverty learn to get by with what they have. Say what you want of urban poverty, there is a public bus—you might not afford the toll, but there is a bus. What I missed that afternoon is rural poverty is something different. There is not a bus, light rail, or subway. There are your feet, hitchhiking, and maybe a neighbor with a pickup. Paying attention and caring means, if you have is a pickup, some time on your hands, and 100-degree weather, what is just is to gather up the neighbor kids and haul them down to the creek. It may not be the best or the ideal, but it worked for our parents. Until people truly get serious about poverty and public transportation, there are times that justice calls for a ride in the back of a pickup.
When I watch a pickup load of kids heading to the creek these days, I think there is nothing wrong with being sure of my opinion, as long as I recognize my opinion may surely be wrong.