You may have noticed some cosmetic changes to this page. The banner photo at the top has changed, and now features our van du jour – the Westfalia.
I’ll be honest. Buying a 1995 Volkswagen Eurovan Camper last spring was an impulsive move. We already had a 2002 Dodge that was hard to beat. But experience and van lore told us that if you don’t act, you miss out. If we didn’t buy it, we’d forever wonder what life would have been like with a Westy. If Instagram was any guide, ownership of a VW van comes with a lifetime supply of desert sunsets, wooden bowls filled with granola and acai (whatever that is), and a wide brimmed ‘influencer hat.’ We couldn’t let the opportunity pass. When we found ourselves owning two old vans last spring, let’s just say we were “van rich” and poor in, well… all other aspects.
We also owned a third vehicle, a 2007 Jeep Compass with an engine that wouldn’t quit and a front end that rode so rough, it could knock your teeth out. The Jeep Compass is not a Jeep. It’s a Dodge Caliber with a different body and a Jeep emblem slapped on the hood. One interesting thing about that 12 year-old “Jeep” is that I never had to fix the power windows or power locks – because it didn’t have them. I mean – the Jeep Compass DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A COMPASS. We couldn’t give that car away. I’m not exaggerating – I offered it to not one but two people who didn’t own cars – for FREE. They both said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Apparently the transmission was doing weird things that Monica failed to mention over the past few months – but that cheap thing kept on rolling for us.
The car insurance didn’t justify owning three vehicles and would soon cost us more than the “Blue Book” values of the aging fleet. But the Blue Book didn’t care that our Dodge was in pristine condition, with only a few minor quirks. In a perfect world, we’d get rid of the Jeep No One Wanted, and live with two sweet vans. But that meant Monica would be driving a giant Dodge conversion van on a daily basis. It’s not exactly practical or efficient for a life of short trips. I need to drive the Volkswagen because I want to hear it, and feel it, and sense any trouble it may be having (since I fear Monica may not report a problem until it’s on fire).
Considering functionality and future resale value, the Dodge had to go and the Westy had to stay.
With under 40,000 miles and a brilliantly written Craiglist ad extolling the power and virtues of our beloved Dodge, I soon had multiple buyers interested. The first person to see it – a super friendly beach-bar musician with an almost identical mid-1990s Dodge van – made an offer. Before I knew it, I was counting a huge stack of $20 bills in his dining room while my kids played with his grandchildren.
Farewell to the Dodge. The last two pictures are taken about a day apart. In the course of less than 24 hours that van took us to one of the lowest roads in the U.S. to one of the highest, in temperatures over 115 F. with the AC on. (First photo credit: Cathy Salustri)
Friends, it was hard to part with her. It was like saying goodbye to a beloved pet. The kids cried. “Why do we have to sell the Dodge? Why? Why Why?”
It’s not easy explaining resale value to children who don’t understand society’s bigotry against the conversion van. Where other people see a menacing mode of transportation preferred by kidnappers and hoarders, my kids thought the Dodge was cool. They were totally desensitized to its strange mystique, putting them in danger of hopping in any creeper van offering candy or puppies. Kids, we did you a favor.
I missed the Dodge for a few days – they way you miss a favorite restaurant. But the decision to keep the Westfalia was reinforced a few days later when a total stranger drove by our house… slowed down… then parked… knocked on our door… and offered me $15,000 for it. It was good offer, but I had to say no.
There was still the matter of the Jeep That No One Wanted. On the advice of my insurance agent (yeah – I’m old school – I have an agent) we went to Carmax. Why Carmax? My agent said they’d take junkers even if you didn’t buy a car from them. They actually offered us 4 figures for that Jeep (yeah, the first figure was a “1”, but we jumped at the offer.) And Monica, missing her very first car said, “I want a Ford Explorer.” She wanted something comfortable and reliable, and not something with a “creepy” reputation. She found a used Explorer she liked, and we were the easiest sale the guy at Carmax ever made. We didn’t even bother to test drive it. I feel like a time traveler going from a 2002 to a 2016 vehicle. This thing has all sorts of features that the rest of the world thinks are normal: automatic windows that always work, automatic open/close rear hatch; separate rear climate controls; a backup camera.
And keyless ignition.
Can I rant for a moment about push-button ignitions? How dumb is this? So I don’t need the key in my hand to start the vehicle. It can stay in my pocket – if I can fit in in my my pocket, massive as it is. Why does my key need to be half the size of a cell phone? I don’t need to get the key out to unlock it – BUT – if I get out of the vehicle with it running – I have to LEAVE the key behind – or the car starts honking at me. And don’t switch drivers or drop off the person with the key. Less than week into owning the Ford, I dropped Monica somewhere, and she took off with the key. I parked askew in front of our house to run in and get something, turning the engine off. It sat there several hours until she returned because the batteries in my fob were dead. People – these are issues mankind NEVER had over the course of a century with normal keys.
Yeah, the Ford feels like a Ferrari compared to the VW. Yes, I enjoy it’s modern AC system and not inspecting the ground for leaking fluids every time I leave a parking space. Still, I prefer driving the Westy. When I take the kids to school, all the other parents see us and wave. “There goes Jon in that funky van.” In the Ford, I’m invisible. Nobody waves. No one has ever said, “Hey man, cool Ford Explorer.” Driving a reliable vehicle is boring, and deprives me of the gratitude I feel every time I turn the key on the Volkswagen… and it starts.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Monica is a marathoner, baker, freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.