“Don’t lock it,” says my dad as he hands me the keys to his old Ford pickup truck. “If you lock it you won’t be able to get it open again.” With the abundance of Mercedes Benz and BMW models on the Houston roads, leaving this old beater, with its rusted out bed, mismatched or missing hubcaps, and tattered upholstery open to vandalism seems a paltry game. My dad has earned the right to kick around town in a great old truck, as he’s fought to hold onto it while others in the family badger him to let it go. Neighbors have declared it an eyesore, but it’s a fine sight for me, who so desperately needs a second car to get around in.
The old engine takes a couple of tries to get it started if it’s sat idle for more than a half hour and the steering is as loose as the helm of a ship, but I don’t care. The truck’s shortcomings, the little nooks and crannies that need a special twist or a secret turn to get it working, that’s where the charm has gathered, like veins of gold through rock. Without those annoying quirks, its rickety workings and worn out shocks, it would be just another Honda Civic (not there’s anything wrong with a car that starts and keeps you in your seat going over a pothole).
Just today, in fact, the truck’s absurdly outdated trappings led to a minor adventure. There’s nothing but a tape deck in the thing, and seeing as I haven’t even seen a tape in a million years, I rumbled over to the Sand Dollar Thrift Store to see what kind of cassettes I could scare up to ward away the terrible Houston radio (Ichiro is not the only reason I miss Seattle). Next to the records was a scrappy collection of tapes, most of them Christmas music or classical. Tucked behind some Frank Sinatra was a beige little number by the one and only Billy Idol. “Rebel Yell” would save me from the Matchbox 20 marathons.
I climbed back into the cab of the pickup and slid the tape into the deck. The slide and snap is a muscle memory buried deep in the reptile brain, and there isn’t a CD player around that can reproduce the satisfaction of sinking the tape into the machine. I turn the engine over, wait for it to die, and turn it over again while Idol lets it go. Did Billy Idol go through a reggaeton phase? Did Billy Idol get to enjoy any kind of phase during his career? There were hints of ska guitar riffs. Perhaps this was an experimental album.
Ten minutes down the road, it hits me: the Billy Idol has been taped over. I’m listening to somebody’s Spanish pop music mixtape. The mystery of Billy Idol’s creative journey now solved, the Latin beats are fast and fun, the vocals joyful and full of life. I jam out, in full acceptance of the switcheroo that caused me to alter my expectations and enjoy what was given, rather than what I desired.
The midseason Astros are like my dad’s pickup truck, and the Billy Idol tape represents all of the strange, amusing, and interesting things that can happen to a terrible baseball team that the rest of the world is oblivious to. This is our team, now more than ever. We are free to enjoy it whichever way we choose, whether it’s “White Wedding” or “La Chica de Ayer,” whether the A/C works or the sweat pours, and whether the doors lock tight or if they are open to the world.
It’s a liberating feeling to leave the doors to your truck unlocked in a busy parking lot. To paraphrase Janis Joplin, freedom is having nothing to lose. The Astros have nothing to lose, and much ground to gain, with young players who can develop and some interesting trade chips if it comes to that. The engine is just starting to warm up with the trip half over, but the salsa beat is picking up, and it’s up to us to sing along.