I drive a 1998 Chevy Astro Mini Van. It has well-worn gray cloth upholstery, bench seats that are heavy and awkward to move, a tape deck (yes, that’s right, a tape deck), and one sliding door that rattles and squeaks. There are no power doors or remote power locks, which means I actually have to walk up to my vehicle and insert a key into the door to unlock it. The driver side power window rolls down without a problem, but doesn’t always come back up on the first, or second, or third attempt. Oh, and did I mention that it is rear wheel drive?
While all of my van’s quirks can be slightly annoying, they are really not a big deal in summer time. However, we live in Minnesota: land of 10,000 lakes AND 5-6 months of winter. This particular winter has been brutal, with near-record low temperatures and plenty of snow. The weather has accentuated all of the van’s bad habits. Summer quirks have become winter headaches.
For instance, it’s never a quick and easy stop at a gas station or a fast food restaurant with three kids that are five years old and under. Do I really want to drag three kids out of the van to simply get a cup of Caribou coffee or indulge in a McDonalds’ cheeseburger? No way! The drive through is still too enticing for me to resist, despite the fact that I will suffer the icy cold blast of winter (for the next 10 blocks) because my power window won’t roll up!
A rear wheel drive vehicle probably has its advantages, but it is a pain IN THE REAR after a Minnesota snow storm. If I was a teenage boy who enjoyed fish-tailing down the road or doing “doughnuts” in parking lots, then maybe I would feel differently… but I’m not! I don’t know how many times I have gotten stuck trying to go up my own driveway. Tires spinning, snow spraying, car inching along, only to stop midway up the driveway. Back up. Repeat. Until finally, I give in and pull out the snow shovel. My kids have learned to be patient as they watch mom huff and puff and shovel our way up into the garage.
And then there is this special characteristic that only happens when the temperature is especially cold when the external key lock likes to freeze. Many of you would probably never even notice if your locks froze, but remember, I don’t have remote power locks. Fighting the below zero temps is bad enough, but when you are holding a baby carrier in one hand, diaper bag slung over your shoulder, teeth chattering, hands shaking, all while you physically strain to turn the key in the door lock – you start to question your choice in vehicles.
My husband and I finally agreed that it is time to start looking for a new vehicle. Carsoup and Craigslist will, no doubt, quickly become part of our nightly routine. And while I’m looking forward to the prospect of something new, more reliable, and more convenient, I have to admit there is a little nostalgia creeping in…
You see, I have a tendency to lose things: keys, purse, cellphone, my car. It’s true! I like to believe this is because I’m so smart and my brain is moving at such a ludicrous pace that I can’t keep up with my thoughts. But, for whatever reason, it’s hard for me to keep track of stuff. So it is a comfort to know that when I run into Target for a couple of items, and then come outside with an overflowing shopping cart, I am assured that I no longer have to feel bewildered because I have no idea where I parked… I can always find my boxy red beast. The lone 1998 maroon (and usually dirty) Astro mini-van faithfully stands out in the crowded parking lot of modern-day Dodge Caravans, Chrysler Town and Countries, and Toyota Siennas.
Did I mention that my van is 16 years old? It was built the year I graduated from high school… a long time ago! And you really don’t see too many of them driving down the road anymore. So when we do, it’s almost like seeing an old friend… like we are part of an exclusive and elusive mini-van club. My five-year old son is actually really good at spotting other Astro mini-vans. It has almost become a little game for us when we are on the road.
Unlike current mini-vans that have the same frame as a car, the Astro mini-van was built on a truck frame. This means you have to step up a little higher to get in and out of the vehicle, but it also means you sit higher in the van and can see everything around you better. It also comes in handy when there are large, unavoidable objects in the middle of the road – like perhaps a deer carcass. That’s right… I ran over a dead deer at 65 miles per hour. With the exception of our running board that was already hanging a little loose, there was almost no damage. I can’t say the same was true for that deer…
While the seats are heavy and awkward to move, once they are out of the van, there is a ridiculous amount of room inside. I am always amazed by the amount of stuff we have been able to haul with this baby. Our van – which belonged to my parents before me – has helped to move various members of my family in and out of college dorm rooms, apartments, and eventually helped get our personal belongings into our first house. Couches and beds, dressers and tables: no problem! You want to take the luggage, dog kennel, and an inflated inner tube on vacation? Well, why not throw in the baby swing and bikes, too? There’s always room!
All jokes aside, I think the thing I’m going to miss the most about our van is how it has enriched our lives by teaching us valuable life lessons. Yes, my van has taught me quite a lot over the past couple of years. For instance, it has taught me the value of generosity. We would never have gotten this van, if it hadn’t come in such a generous fashion. My parents basically gave it to us for free. Their gift to us, a vehicle without a car payment, is priceless.
Then there is the lesson of humility. I remember meeting up with my sister and mom at a fancy restaurant in Edina, MN. I hadn’t owned the van for very long, and as I pulled into a parking lot filled with Mercedes, BMW’s, and Audi’s, I was struck with the reality that “one of these vehicles doesn’t belong.” And it was obviously mine! At the time, my husband had just recently finished school and I had also decided to stay home with our two kids. With loads of school debt, a new house, a new baby, and little savings, we would not be driving anything fancier than our Astro mini-van anytime soon. And honestly, that was okay.
One last lesson that our van has taught me is thankfulness. Despite its old age, lack of modern conveniences, and unfashionable exterior, it has always transported me to where I need to go. It has taken us back and forth to church, preschool, appointments, the grocery store, and family vacations. It may not be the fanciest ride on the road, but at least it’s been a reliable one.
So, as I look ahead with anticipation for a new vehicle, I look behind with gratitude for our old one. Thanks old Red! I’m going to miss the time we’ve had together! Drive on….