The summer before I went to college, I worked framing houses for my contractor uncle. I didn’t have my own car, but I borrowed an old jalopy of his and drove it around town for that summer. That’s all anyone trusted it to do, though, and I knew I needed to find a car before I left for school.
So I saved all I could and spent my spare time that summer scouring the internet and used car lots for my dream car. Not exactly a rich man, I set my budget at $1,500. My only other requirement was that the vehicle run.
A couple weeks before the start of fall semester, I found a promising hit on craigslist. I called the number, and my dad and I went to town to check that baby out.
It was a white, rear-wheel-drive-only ’87 Dodge Dakota with a long bed and camper shell. The brakes were touchy and the speedometer was about 10 mph off. It was tough to get into second gear and the ashtray was overflowing with cigarette ash. And I wanted it bad.
I could just see my bad college self shifting from third to fourth, then slyly letting my hand rest on the knee of the babe next to me on the bench seat. Don, the old hippie who was selling the truck, was asking $1,500. Before I even finished my $1,100 offer, old Don yelled “Deal!” and shook my hand. From his reaction, I probably could’ve gotten it for $800, but I didn’t care. I finally had my own ride.
I drove it home, vacuumed out the ashtray, tore off and burned the old smelly Navajo blankets that had served as seat covers, and left three boxes of baking soda in the cab to soak up the last of Don’s flavor. It still didn’t look like much, but I was pretty proud. I’ve never been one for naming inanimate objects like cars, but my pickup was dubbed Donnie in honor of its former owner.
Donnie and I went off to school and had a great time. Eventually I met a girl who wound up spending a lot of time with Donnie and me. True to his potential, Donnie frequently guided my hand to her knee as I shifted from third to fourth. He chauffeured us to the arcade, the Dairy Queen, the drive-in and, after a while, every jewelry store in town looking for the perfect ring. When we moved into our first tiny apartment, Donnie and his camper shell served as a storage unit for everything we couldn’t fit inside.
A couple years later, we sold Donnie. The next day, I realized that we didn’t have a single photo with that old truck in it, and it made me a little sad. That pickup got terrible gas mileage and couldn’t handle even a dusting of snow, and an objective third party might have argued that I should have been the one paying to have it taken off my hands. But, like so many things in life, Donnie was extremely underappreciated.
I think that, as the folks working to provide the world with something to eat, we in the ag industry feel just as underappreciated as Donnie was. The general public doesn’t know where their food comes from, and it often seems like none of them care. We face public distrust and skepticism every day as growers and processors, and sometimes it starts to wear a little.
I wonder, though, if sometimes we don’t appreciate the common consumer as much as we ought to. We live in a consumer-driven market and, like it or not, our livelihood is largely dependent on yuppie consumers’ decisions. They need to be understood and appreciated just as much as we do on our end.
So here’s to not taking anything for granted. Next time you’re inclined to complain about something, take a moment to appreciate the good it does for you. It’ll make your day better. I promise.