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Spare Parts: Rolling rude

By Ernie Copper

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I rolled up in the left turn lane behind a lifted red Ram truck. The guy riding shotgun in the rear had his arm out the window. We’d all missed our chance to turn left on the arrow due to the traffic, but there looked to be a break coming so I made ready for the opportunity. The truck rolled out slowly, then opened the throttle just as I had started my turn. My wife and I were immediately engulfed in a thick cloud of black diesel smoke and were now flying blind through a left turn across three lanes of traffic. We’d been coal rolled.

In case you’d never heard of the practice, rolling coal is the intended result of modifying a diesel engine to run rich, thus emitting the desired (by the operator) thick black smoke reminiscent of the antagonist’s truck in the movie Duel, starring the late Dennis Weaver, a.k.a. Chester from Gunsmoke or McCloud if you prefer.

Fairly angry and only mildly aware of the fact that the Ram’s crew cab was likely carrying enough occupants sufficiently younger than me to kick my ass in the event of a parking lot altercation, I set sail after them, winding through the shopping center’s access roads with purpose. Floorboards were grinding to the left and the right as I zigzagged the curves leading to the parking space right beside the coal rollers.

As I dismounted the bike, about to give them a who to, a what for and whatever was necessary after that, they pulled away. It’s probably just as well for all involved.

Rolling coal is not new. Coal rollers even have their own stickers. “Black smoke don’t mean it’s broke,” “Choke on my smoke,” and “If it don’t blow black, take it back” are a few. It’s said that they have an affinity for smoking out the environmentally friendly such as Prius drivers, bicycle riders and runners. If my recent experience is indicative, I guess I can include motorcyclists on that list now too.

I have nothing against pickup trucks. I’ve owned one for the last 30 years and still have one today. Our little corner of western Pennsylvania has been blessed, or cursed, depending on your point of view, with oil- and gas-related jobs in the last five years, which accounts at least in part for the insurgence of diesel-powered pickups in our area. It is not uncommon to see full-sized rebel flags flying from truck beds in our area either. Many of those flying the stars and bars are 20-somethings who are not old enough to understand the civil rights struggles of the 60’s and are undoubtedly too young to be Civil War veterans. Why the native youth of a clearly Yankee culture identify with a flag that is not their own confuses me, but my point is that here you only see the stars and bars flying from pickups, not from car windows. I’m not sure what it stands for to these guys, but I’m guessing sons of the south are not impressed with their exuberance.

I recently took a vacation that covered many southern states including Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and ironically I see more full-sized rebel flags flying from pickup trucks and more pickup trucks in general within 30 miles of my home in a week than I saw during my 3,000-mile trip. Are we now seeing posers in the pickup world?

I’m a live and let live sort. If you want to drive a big truck and you want to make it taller and louder, have at it. Want to ride your bicycle for daily transportation? That’s fine too. Nothing says America like blatant excess and most of us are guilty of that practice in one way or another. I love excess as much as they next guy and I enjoy a good truck or tractor pull or NHRA event (they win the excess award hands down). But be respectful of your fellow man—that’d be me in this case—and be responsible for your actions. I try to practice what I preach too.

Our area has a relatively large Amish population who travel the same roads we use with horse and buggy. I’m always mindful of them and pass at the lowest possible rpm to keep from startling their horses. I give them what sailors would call a wide berth—lots of room.

Show some respect for the lives of others. Most of the people I ride with do, or I don’t ride with them very long. I’m pretty sure that had the driver of the coal roller in question gotten out of his truck next to me that day, my conversation wouldn’t have been this well thought out or nearly as civil, so yes, I can learn from this too.

The moral of the story? Share the road. There’s a time and a place for everything and in my face when I’m turning left with the love of my life packing is not that time or the place to roll coal.

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