A man needs a van

I keep noticing vans lately.
I’m not talking about minivans or cube vans or the brand of
skater shoes. I also don’t mean those big 15-seat monstrosities
used as airport limousines, shuttle buses and wagons of choice for
big families such as the one I grew up in.
I keep noticing vans lately.

I’m not talking about minivans or cube vans or the brand of skater shoes. I also don’t mean those big 15-seat monstrosities used as airport limousines, shuttle buses and wagons of choice for big families such as the one I grew up in.

I’m talking Dodge Tradesmen, Ford Econolines and VW Vanagons, equipped so one could take off at any time and live out on the road until one saw fit to return.

Some people prefer campers, but I don’t want anything that obese. RVs are just plain ridiculous to me. I drove a moving van across the country last summer, and the experience was, to put it mildly, stressful.

I see vans everywhere in Gilroy, but I doubt I’ll ever own one. My wife, I’m pretty sure, isn’t too keen on the notion. Wretched gas mileage aside, I suppose bedding down in the back of an Econoline would be pretty tight with our family of four.

Maybe she’ll reconsider when our younger daughter (one month old) moves out of the house. Only 18 short years to go!

Then there’s the inescapable fact that I have a job that doesn’t let me take off for weeks at a time. Sigh.

Still, the idea of a van is brilliant. To travel the back roads seeking wisdom, like William Least Heat Moon in his book, “Blue Highways,” would be spiritual bliss. Then again, Least Heat Moon didn’t have a wife and two kids.

My wife implies that this may be the beginnings of a midlife crisis. I hope not. I figured that, at 29, I was free and clear for a while longer. Dante was 33 when he had his. That’s ages from now.

I guess I’m just envious of my younger brother, John, a Vancouver art student who has a Fargo Tradesman. Yes, Fargo, a Canadian-only Chrysler van brand back in the day. His is a 1972, which, he tells me, was “the last year they were made before they gave over to making only Dodge.” The last of the Fargos, one might call it.

One could also call it by its name: “Sweaty Betty” – rather vile, if you ask my mom. Betty looks kind of sweaty, though, with her faded red paint, ratty curtains and interior plastered with stickers that betray her past owners as snowboard bums.

John didn’t invent Betty’s name. He bought her in Banff, Alberta from a British rock climber named Saxon, who needed to sell her before flying home. As a condition of the sale, Saxon made John swear to keep the name in perpetuity.

John didn’t quibble. He needed that van, and right away. His ’72 VW microbus had bitten the dust on that fateful trip, and Betty’s price was too good to pass up. Saxon charged $700 Canadian, which in U.S. currency comes out to about 75 cents.

Betty has let John down only once, falling under the influence of a fouled transmission filter on a one-lane mountain road in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. They made it back to civilization, though, with a delay of only three days or so.

As the used-car ads say, she “runs good.”

All John’s adventures remind me how, when I was his age, I passed up buying a red and black Tradesman with shag carpet and everything. I knew I’d regret it, but I figured I’d regret it even more being saddled with a gas-guzzling, cop-magnet travel rig when I could hit the road almost as easily in my Japanese compact car.

My wife thinks that was a good choice, but every once in a while, that van bug still bites.

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