Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trading in the Big Red Van for a Sportier Model

For the past ten years or so, our main vehicle has been a huge, red, 15-seater 2000 Dodge Ram Van that we got secondhand. When we bought it, it was a only year old and had less than 20,000 miles on it. It looked brand new; obviously, no family as messy as ours had owned it before we bought it and put our stamp on it. (Think Pigpen, from the Charlie Brown comic strip. If our van was a person, it would be Pigpen.)

We always wondered if our van had been used for some sort of commercial transportation, like an airport limo service or something of that nature, in its past life. Years after we bought it, we got our answer when I noticed for the first time--because the dust layer was just so, and the light in the garage was hitting it just right--that the words "Boston Coach" had once graced the passenger side front door. Just enough of the residue from the glue or paint that had been removed had been left behind to make it so that, if the conditions were perfect, the words were still discernable. So before this van became an indispensible member of our family, it had had a very different sort of life: it had been a clean and well-kept little passenger bus, ferrying sightseers around Boston perhaps, or shuttling folks from their hotels to Logan Airport. That van took on a whole new purpose, and logged a whole lot more miles (about 225,000 of them), when it became the Pearl van.

That big red van has been a real workhorse for our family over the years: it has taxied our children and their friends to and fro and made countless trips to school, to church, and to visit relatives many miles away; it has taken smelly high school football and lacrosse equipment--and often stinky players as well--to games and back, when the team bus didn't have enough room on it; it has carried the long tables and coolers necessary to put on tailgaters at our sons' sporting events and team picnics; it has acted as a U-Haul truck when our four oldest sons moved away to college, with most of the benches removed to make room for all of their belongings, and brought them home again after the four years were up; it has taken the place of a moving van for several of our sons when they moved into their first aparments. And although it has been a real godsend for all of these purposes while we were raising our family, it only got about 2 miles to the gallon. A van that size isn't exactly the most gas-efficient (or cost-efficient) vehicle on the planet. It's not very green, as they say these days. It doesn't love the environment nearly enough.

But I have loved driving that enormous thing, believe it or not. I love it that you feel on top of the world, almost invincible, when you're at the wheel of such a massive van. I love it that I knew my van would "win" in most cases if it got hit by another car, which always made me feel that my boys were fairly safe when they were riding in it. It has been like a home on wheels for me, with plenty of space for my coffee mugs and gigantic purses, grocery and shopping bags, and all of the various things I've had to cart around to keep my life in order. That van never had the neatest interior, though, to put it mildly. Sometimes when people were exiting from the back, rubbish like empty cans and plastic bottles would spill out onto the tarmac, causing my husband to dub it "the garbage scow." But it's kind of nice, when you have five kids, to have a vehicle that isn't too precious--one that can handle dirt tracked in by muddy cleats, food crumbs and spills, and even a football player vomiting on one of the back benches (which happened once, when I was taking freshman players to a game hours away, driving on a hilly, winding road in the boondocks...but that's a story for another time).

As great as that van was, though, it became too unreliable--with breakdowns along the side of the road in the middle of long trips (more stories for another time!)--for us to trust it on the trip out to the Midwest to bring our youngest son to college. And things had stopped working: luxuries, like AC, and more necessary things, like doors. And engines. You know, those sorts of things. So shortly before our #5 son was due to leave the nest this past August, we bought a new car for the trip: a charcoal gray 2011 Nissan Maxima. This little beauty is so sleek and comfortable, it gets about 30 miles to the gallon, and it's such a pleasure to drive. Nowadays when I leave a store and scan the parking lot, looking for the easily-spotted big red van with the Red Sox and Notre Dame magnets on it, I have to remind myself that we own a sporty-looking little number more suited to our new life as empty-nesters. I have to pinch myself when I go to put the key into the ignition...which I don't even have to do, because this car is like something out of the Jetsons: to start it up, you just have to push a button! It's very cool.

We keep our new car as clean as a whistle. Everything works. We even have this Blue Tooth set-up so that when our cell phones ring, we answer by pushing a button on the steering wheel, the radio automatically turns off, and we talk on speaker. I tell you, it's the Jestons. Have you heard of this newfangled gizmo? It's amazing!

The only sad thing is that people always used to know we were coming when they saw the big red Pearl van/garbage scow/former Boston Coach bus. Now, we just blend in with all the other shiny little sports cars on the road, and nobody waves at us anymore.

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