Happy Van-iversary

On Thanksgiving 2017 we received a call back from a nice couple who was selling a sweeeeet van. We’d already looked at the vehicle, but it was promised to a buyer coming in from out of town. Alas, that party backed out and the van was ours. November 25 is our Van-iversary. 

On day one, Monica sized up the “way-back” seat.

Initially I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed driving a big conversion van as my “daily driver.” It’s huge and the engine purrs with pent-up force as I roll through our neighborhood. I can see why people like cruising around in sports cars – yet I can drive the van without looking like someone having a midlife crisis. (Perhaps a van like this is a commitment to a life-long crisis, but I don’t care.) 

It’s okay to be jealous

People love the van. Twice recently, we pulled the van in front of the nicest hotel in town, and two different valets greeted Monica with an enthusiastic, “Nice van!”

I’ve lost count of how many fellow dads have pulled me aside and quietly admitted their envy. “My wife would never go for it,” they lament.  Some people aren’t too keen on a vehicle with so much stigma surrounding it. Vans are creepy. Weirdos live in vans. Weirdos who live in vans send pipe bombs in the mail and get arrested on national news. I know that some of the Little League mom’s were hesitant to talk to me. Without my wife in sight, I looked like a divorced dad who kept the kids in his van every other weekend. 

But vans aren’t the only vehicles that carry baggage. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan, while others say, “I can’t have too many cup holders.” The Hummer said, “I don’t care what the price of gas is, but I’m afraid you won’t notice how important I think I am.” A Prius says, “I care about the planet and I don’t care what you think.” A Subaru says, “I like to hike and I plan on driving this until Greenland melts.”

I have a friend who drove a Miata for several years after college. Our group of friends has teased him relentlessly for twenty years about that cute little ride. I know people mutter comments under their breath about the van – but no one in their right mind would say anything to a van driver’s face. 

Rock star? Kidnapper? No, just hitting the carline.

For each negative stereotype, there’s a positive. The interior of a pimped out van is sort of like the inside of a small private jet. Nice seats, nice view… no restroom. And there are all sorts of good reasons a person would need a vehicle of this size and power: “Is there a rock band in that van?” 

No, I’m just an average guy whose wife picked out a badass van.

The stigmas disappear when Monica is around. She looks like a boss behind the wheel. People might expect her to have about 3 more kids than we have, but a woman who’ll forgo the minivan for the maximum version is someone to take seriously. When she steps out of the driver’s side, she looks like she’s holding yoga classes inside. And unlike a woman who drives an F-150 pickup with extended cab, there’s no rural sentiment behind the van as we roll through the city. No Kenny Chesney will come out of this sound system. The van spans cultures. 

With Monica around, the van is transformed from lurking menace to 17 feet of high-performance cross-country comfort.
At this point the van knows the way to the beach without the need to steer.
And she parallel parks.

The van also offers function you simply don’t get from other vehicles. It’s a rain shelter, it’s a changing room, it’s a place to take a nap, and it’s a hotel. And our’s still looks like it did when it rolled off the lot sixteen years ago. The first owner put 17,000 miles on the van in fifteen years. We added another 18,000 miles this year. 

Here are some highlights from year one

Our maiden voyage to the Florida Keys found record low temperatures – in the 60s. 
Another “Southernmost” trip taught me the importance of knowing the height of the vehicle. We’ve been denied access to a parking garage or two. 
We did a photoshoot for a Creative Loafing article about our family. The outtakes reveal our true personalities and sweat patterns. Photo credit: Cathy Salustri
Father-son trip to Daytona 200 motorcycle race. He hung on to the side-board all the way across the state on I-4. 
One of my favorite stops all summer was one of the first: The Great Smoky Mountains
Death Valley. On the van’s toughest drive, we dropped 5,000 feet into the abyss and followed it with a nearly 10,000 foot climb to Tioga Pass. It was 117 degrees that day. 
Near that 10,000 foot pass, the van gazes at Half Dome. 

What’s in store for year two?

We already have a few new adventures on tap in the coming year. Without spoiling it too much: we’ll hit a beach campground we’ve never visited, I’ve planned a father-son trip to a different race track, and we’ll meander some Southern back-roads this summer. We will also board a plane for a land that can’t be reached by van. Stay tuned for more on that. 

In the meantime, the van is due for some service and about 99 more trips through the school carline where the teachers no longer look at me with wary eyes. 

Never miss a post by clicking the FOLLOW button or entering your email address on the bottom of this page! Do it now! We also have a public Facebook page. Be sure to “like” it for more pics that don’t make the blog, and post updates. Instagram is linked to this page. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking hard enough. 

“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.

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