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Matthew Alice:

I'm new to San Diego, having just moved here from England. There seems to be a fascination with pickup trucks here, but I've yet to see one carrying a load. What is the combined load capacity of all the pickups in San Diego County? Would it be enough to replace road haulage if pickup owners were required to carry a useful load to their destination?

-- Mark Holmes, University Towne Centre (and why the nonstandard spelling?)

Your adventure in puzzlements has just begun, Mark. In fact, don't look too closely at much of anything here. Oz has nothing on So. Cal., land of the inexplicable. However, the pickup truck is a true American phenomenon. As recently as two years ago, the quarter-ton Ford F-150 pickup was the single largest-selling vehicle in North America. San Diego buys its share, but I'm sure you'd find counties in Texas that have more pickups than people.

Despite considerable digging, we could find no clean count of pickups registered in the county. I'll give you an answer, but in the end you won't know much more than you do now. We took sales figures, DMV counts. We perused parking lots and then wet our index fingers and held them up to the wind. We massaged the numbers and estimated that there are about 300,000 pickups registered in San Diego. That's one for every five passenger vehicles. We used pretty much the same technique to estimate bed capacity -- about 60 cubic feet per truck. By now we're out on such a flimsy demographic limb we've decided to give you more realistic load statistics. The odds on any pickup owner carrying something useful in order to reduce semi traffic are so remote, well, it's laughable. A truck is a statement, not a utilitarian item. So here's our estimate if all San Diego pickups were filled to capacity: 8.7 million spare tires, 10.8 million surfboards, 5.1 million leaf blowers, 64.8 million six-packs, and 2.4 million Labrador retrievers.

As for "Towne" and "Centre," we think that's British. We think anything British is classier than anything American. (See Oz, above.)

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