A silver truck, a Dodge Ram, is a familiar sight in this parking lot. I walk inside and find the owner working on an art project. They furiously color something on a pad of drawing paper. Eli doesn’t seem to have noticed me, but they respond with a “Hello” when I greet them. I run outside with my camera and tripod to get pictures of the truck first. Eli still hasn’t finished when I return, but they’re able to answer my questions while continuing to meticulously color their art project. I quietly envy their multitasking skills from across the room. The truck, which they affectionately refer to as Babe, was a 16th birthday present to Eli and has become a kind of fortress of solitude for them over time; a home away from home.
She’s a 2006 Dodge Ram 1500 single cab model with a long bed. She has custom headlights and an aftermarket stereo, which was a present from a family friend of Eli’s who also sold their parents the truck. The truck also has an in-bed toolbox and a spray-in bed liner. The check engine light is always on, too. I guess it could be said that Eli’s truck is just like pretty much every other old truck in the country. The only thing that’s unique are the hidden compartments that Eli is pretty sure were intended for hiding and smuggling drugs at some point in the truck’s life(I’m not going to joke about that too much though. I’ll explain why in a bit.)
Eli has a few stories to tell about the truck, including the one about the secret drug compartments. Fortunately, after discovering them, Eli had them checked over by an expert who ensured that there weren’t any drugs lingering inside waiting to be found by a drug dog. To clarify, Eli knows this wasn’t the doing of the family friend who sold them the truck. The family friend owns a used car lot and used cars and trucks are sometimes really sketchy. We’ll leave it at that. Overall, the truck has been pretty reliable for Eli in spite of that “Check Engine” light always being on. There’s only been one time that the truck has broken down.
Eli was driving to church to leave with a group for a church conference. However, something went wrong with the serpentine belt and Eli was stranded on the side of the road not far from the church. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan towed Eli the rest of the way and Eli was able to call their Dad to let him know what happened. The truck was fixed by the time Eli returned home. In a way, the truck is generally a source of positive vibes for Eli. Sure, they’re often asked for help with moving since they have a truck, but Eli has also formed a habit of picking up furniture off the side of the road to use at home; something that’s possible thanks to their truck. However, that isn’t the biggest reason why the truck is such a comfortable space for them.
Sometimes it takes a very tense and uncertain time for one to realize how important something is to them. For Eli, their day-to-day situation has made Babe, their truck, irreplaceable to them. You see, Eli is a nonbinary trans person who was adopted into a fairly religious and socially conservative family at a young age. They are still closeted from the rest of their family and are completely unsure of how they would react to being outed to them. The tension of feeling forced to hide something like that from family is a horrible daily experience to have, so having something – anything – that makes one feel safe is a blessing. For Eli, this is their truck. If you think about it, the fact that they call their truck “Babe” is pretty indicative of how important this truck is to Eli.
“Babe” is such an affectionate term. It’s reserved for loved ones. For people you feel the most comfortable around. Eli’s Dodge Ram gives them a way of getting away from their family if they’re ever outed. Even with her small single cab, she can be a place to sleep in a pinch and a means of driving to a friend’s house to sleep on their couch if Eli is ever forced to do that. Babe is more than just a means of getting from point A to point B. She’s a lifeline for Eli in case their worst fears ever come true and they can’t return home. Eli more than likely isn’t alone. There are probably so many other LGBT youth who feel the same way about their cars.