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Senior Correspondent

Every time I see a red box wobbling down the road I wonder if it's the one I drove for about a decade. It was so ungainly and ungraceful that it looked like a sawed-off 4X4 on wheels from the rear and a bad imitation of a Jeep from the front. That's the only time I think about that old heap these days — until I got an email note the other day from the folks who in Raleigh who long ago kept it rolling for me.

"Dear JACK,
Based on our records, your 1990 ISUZU TROOPER is due for its 322,500 mile manufacturer recommended service. Click here to schedule your appointment online 24 hours a day or call (919) 872-1999 within the next 30 days…"

It brightened my day. It hadn't really occurred to me that a 1990 Trooper 2 with more than 300,000 miles really could still be on the road — despite spotting the occasional Trooper that looked mighty like mine. Well, may one with 250,000 miles, but the way I drove mine — hauling stuff all around creation, yanking stuck tractors out of the mud and pulling an old 17-foot McKee Craft down to the coast and back time and again — made me think it would have worn out long ago and put to pasture in some parts yard along U.S. 70. I traded it in nearly 13 years ago and was happy to be out of it.

There were times when that truck scared me to death. If you've ever driven U.S. 70 east of Raleigh down to Morehead City, you know there are something like 10 billion stop lights — okay, maybe only 85 or 90, but it seems like a lot more — and those lights turn red fast. If you're moving along toting a boat and trailer that are a bit much for your engine, not to mention your braking system, you know what sheer terror is: just when you have coaxed the whole rig up to maybe 50 miles an hour in traffic and you're trying to beat that light south of Smithfield or coming up on Princeton, the light a quarter-mile down the road turns red and you have to stand on the brake pedal while shifting from third to second to first, holding your breath and closing your eyes and hoping you stop before that tanker truck comes flying through your passenger-side door.

That truck was kind of shackley, as some of my friends would say. When a pal and I were planning to drive down to the coast shortly after the devastating floods from Hurricane Floyd, he insisted on driving. "Why?" I asked. "The Trooper will get us there." And he replied, "Yeah, but I don't know if it will get us back, too."

And it was uncomfortable for some. When Eva M. Clayton of Warrenton was running for Congress in a special election in 1992, I got an interview with her to write a column for The Charlotte Observer on her effort to become the first African American elected to Congress from North Carolina since George White in 1898, and the first African American woman from the state ever elected to the U.S. House. The interview ran late and she asked me to drop her off at a political event. But when I brought the Trooper around to pick her up, she looked stricken and said, "You expect me to get into that thing?" She had on high heels and a nicely tailored business suit, and I had no idea how she would get up into the thing from her perch down there by the side of the road. But somehow she did, and I delivered the soon-to-be-Congresswoman safely to her next appointment.

The Trooper had about 172,000 miles on it when I traded it in during the summer of 2000 on a pickup truck that still, with about 195,000 miles today, is the best driving vehicle I ever owned. I think this one might well make it another 100,000 miles — knock wood — or maybe more, if I baby it along. It has pulled heavier vehicles out of ditches — including a few weeks ago one big handsome black SUV that probably cost three times as much as the pickup. But I don't expect it'll be pressed into duty for transporting members of Congress around their districts any time soon. Out where we live, there aren't enough potential voters for a politician to ever set foot looking for a hand to shake, or a ride somewhere. Seems like a fair deal to me.

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