The independent news organization of Duke University

Life in a pick-up truck

My earliest memories are of tagging along with my mom on her delivery trips from city to city. Riding in a white Grandia under the friendly glow of clip lamps, I learned my mom's elegant cursive script between stop signs, and acquired a taste for '80's music while shuffling through the playlists of an impudently snatched Nokia N90. I wore Spandau Ballet's suave bravado wherever I went, and prayed that whenever I belted a track, the fogged-up glass would be enough to shield the world's ears.

"Sorry that the chairs are all worn

I left them here I could have sworn."

The slick groove of "Gold" kept me in the mind of a madman orchestrating an ingenious city heist under the moonlight shimmer. I would pause only to play my first make-believe game, "Astronauts," where I hoisted myself up to moonwalk on the car ceiling. The stunt, of course, was heavily inspired by no other than the Prince of Pop himself. I knew all of Jackson's lyrics by heart and inhabited his carefully curated character through the catchy responsibility of “Man in the Mirror and the smooth swagger of "They Don't Really Care About Us." 

Had my mom not heeded the stories circulated by sleep paralysis, we could have dozed off in the mobile for nights and ridden on for weeks, perhaps even months, unnoticed. The makings of home kept us busy. We had a life in the awkward space between school supplies boxes, decor packs and a healthy nuisance of cousins who would carpool us to school. If we were lucky, we had all five rows of seats to ourselves, and more than a few potty jars and pillow forts under the seats, in case the traffic got bad. Everything essential was already right here. The rest we outsourced with takeouts and laundry services like any typically busy household.

The long drive through the gentle slopes of the old metro highway made me forget that we were needed somewhere. It would only pull me back much later, with the sudden dim of the mall's tunnel entrance or the clang of a metal gate while we back into a customer's driveway. Once we arrived, the ride's lethargy slowly dissipated, eclipsed by the frenetic energy that would preside over anyone operating under a tight schedule. Mom was a woman on a mission, meticulously going through school supply racks when she frequented shopping malls and bookstores. And I, ever the dependable sidekick, took the important task of reporting all the wonderful takeout places around, after we successfully captured the hottest items available. 

We would reach our last destination shortly after 9 p.m., and somehow, we found the time to fuss over the unprecedented delays in our many trips together. "Birthday balloons?" I thought as I eyed her purchase, with my "Are you kidding?" expression, challenging its logic and untimeliness. As far as I knew, the next family birthday was still far down the year, which meant that mom was picking up the slack again for a near stranger or a distant relative. "Mom, you can just say you don't have a spare," I reminded her. Mom would insist on helping. If an argument were laid out, her thoughtfulness, sense of initiative and uncompromising grip on the item would win out upon check-out.

Our simple life on the road ushered in an era of happiness on the go. Months after I started junior year, we finally parted ways with the aging white Grandia. I spent most of my latter adolescent years with friends, while Mom tended to my youngest sister entering third grade. 

I trained well after school, to trade school days for province-bound road trips where the next big science competition awaited us. By design and force of habit, I would be in transit. I would go through the decorated alleys of Chinatown to grab a full-belly meal after a tiring calligraphy showdown in Liberty Hall or wait in line in the nearest cafe with friends.

Before sunset, my phone filled with messages from Mom, telling me that my ride back home was on its way to me, carrying my favorite takeout. She loved to surprise me even on the most mundane days. Sometimes I would be caught off-guard by the change between her warm presence to distant text exchanges. With time, I learned to lean into it. Even curt messages were a reminder that she continues to journey with me.

My nineteenth year of existence was unceremonious and daunting. For a while, I thought it was an impossible situation — life in dusty quarters, unmoving, unchanging. But as it is, I am grateful that this unfavourable situation has regaled me with a new form of travel. I am now in the front seat of my own delivery truck, picking up curious discoveries every so often: Who would have thought that those statistics exercises I did in high school now involved coding? And that there is an actual gene that dictates which side of your hand would be the pinky and the index finger? As a student, a journalist in Durham and a language instructor for Jiangsu hospitals on the weekends, I try to live abundantly. And then I unload.

Everything from sustainable living during a pandemic to rocking a winged eyeliner — I would share what I’ve learned with new-found appreciation. I sit down with students and leaders of different start-ups to impart my own research stories, hoping that it would one day be a gateway to future collaboration. Every day, I am riding through town, tagging along again.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Life in a pick-up truck” on social media.