Have You Seen A Cybertruck Yet?

I hope this will not come across too much like bragging, but I have seen a lot of cars. Most of this is because—and again, sorry to brag—I go outside pretty regularly. But in my youth, this was apparently an obsession. My parents say that when I was little I would park my little bowl-cut self in front of a window and authoritatively announce the name of whatever grandiosely named Reagan-era sedan was rumbling by at that moment. I have no idea if I was correct, and they don’t really either, but it seems fair to assume that I was at least saying things like “Buick Regal” and “Chevrolet Celebrity” with enough authority to convince them that I knew what I was talking about.

But there are reasons to doubt this story. My parents once maintained and for all I know may still maintain that my nephew, during a gabby pre-verbal stage when it mostly sounded like he was saying some version of Steve Cishek’s name all the time, toddled up to one of their air conditioners and very clearly said “it’s quite hot” and then didn’t say his first word around anyone else for another few weeks. They take a free approach to family lore, is my point, and favor tone and pace over rigor. If there is anything to take away from this, beyond the rich imagery in all you’ve just read, it is that I once had an attribute that might have allowed me to make it extremely big in the contemporary automotive industry, which is “acting like a precocious doofus child while saying possibly-false car-related stuff in a way that favorably inclined observers found compelling.” That can get you pretty far in the industry. I know this in a way that I didn’t just a few days ago, because, finally, I have seen a Tesla Cybertruck with my own eyes.

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The experience was not any less startling or unsettling for how ready I considered myself to be for it. I had read about the Cybertruck for some time, and watched numerous videos of Cybertrucks doing rudimentary four-wheel-drive shit with the sort of dexterity and confidence generally associated with concepts like “George C. Scott’s first capoeira class” or “Robocop doing burpees.” I have also been following Elon Musk’s uncanny transformation into the single most unfortunate middle-aged outcome for the Butt-Head character from Beavis And Butt-Head. I knew that his pretty vile company had made him very rich, and I also knew that despite some duffed hagiography and thanks mostly to his world-historic dedication to showing his ass, Musk himself is now most famous as a wrecker and creep, and also that the cars he makes, the Cybertruck in particular, extremely do not work. I knew what he was like, and I knew that this dorky truck was his passion project. This would seem like pretty good preparation for seeing his latest vehicle, but I can tell you that it absolutely was not.

The long-gone version of me that once excitedly called out passing Datsuns and Oldsmobiles would have been unable to process at the most basic level what I saw. Some of this is by design. The Cybertruck was made to not look like other cars and trucks, which is a statement that would scan as a compliment if you had not seen a Cybertruck. The Cybertruck is mostly but not entirely car-shaped. It is stiff and very gray and looks like home electronics looked when Bill Clinton was president; it is both too jankily long and too upright for its amusingly normal-sized tires, in a way that makes them look like small, cheap dress shoes. There is a lot of vertical space serving no evident purpose, and the vehicle is somehow imposing and goofy in exactly equal measure. It looks like if Hot Wheels made a VHS rewinder, or like what the cars would look like in a version of Freejack in which a circa-now Rob Schneider was the star. Imagine a neckroll-equipped NFL fullback from 1995 who gets himself onto a frankly risky steroid program and simultaneously stops working out and you are maybe some of the way there in terms of the proportion.

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And I knew all this, or thought I knew it. But I was not ready for how it would feel, how it would seem. I knew that this vehicle was a boondoggle—that Tesla can barely manage to manufacture it at all, let alone properly, and that it will power all the way down like a stressed-out C-3PO if run through a car wash and ages like brass if left out overnight in the rain. Through an episode of the What A Time To Be Alive podcast, I was caught up on the astonishingly grim Cybertruck Owners Club Forum, which is surely one of the best places on the internet to find adult men posting things like, “I just want to thank Mr. Musk for creating a car door that’s both heavy and sharp enough to sever my leg below the knee, which mine did, and which was both entirely my fault and an experience for which I am very grateful.” I have heard friends tell me about how stricken the Tech Alphas they’d seen driving one of the few Cybertrucks currently on the road—no less sympathetic a source than the Cybertruck Owners Club forum put that number under 4,000 last month—had seemed when they realized that the effect on observers was less Driving The Future and more Tentatively Doing Errands From Within A Super Nintendo. I can confirm all this, but I can also confirm that is insufficient.

What I can tell you is this: I saw my first Cybertruck stop at a red light near the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on Sunday, and this car sucked in a way that had strangers on the sidewalk making Oh brother faces at each other. I could not have been better prepared to encounter this vehicle, and yet I was not prepared at all. It is one thing to have an image in your mind that roughly corresponds to “Albert Pyun’s Homercar: 2049” and quite another to watch that actual vehicle turn, seemingly on drunken tiptoe, onto Columbus Avenue. It is an experience that everyone should have, I think. The stupid, tacky future that our culture’s reigning mediocrities are making every day can feel abstract and almost poignant when encountered through a screen—a thing that no one but them wants, and which does not work very well, trying and failing to seem like progress. It is much more useful, I think, to see how ridiculous—how gaudy and cheap and patently unwantable—that future looks trying to navigate the world in which everyone else is trying to live.

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