Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Two Van Family

I once asked a wise and salty sailor friend of mine the difference between tequila and mezcal. The question arose moments after he retrieved a bottle of mezcal from a hidden corner of a dark room and plopped it down in front of me and several fellow revelers on the tail end of a long night.

He held up two weathered fingers and replied, “Mezcal has two worms.”

Two worms: Twice as potent; Twice as frighteningly hallucinogenic; Twice as cool.

This definition of mezcal ended up being based more in folklore than fact. But it illustrated a point. Often, two of something good makes it a little better. Two dollars are better than one. Two Pizzas. Two Touchdowns (Sorry, Denver). You get the drift.

Years later, however, as I look out the front window of my house and see the two vehicles in our driveway, one relatively new and one slightly older, I realize the rule of twos does not apply to minivans. Two minivans, to be precise. Two minivans that belong to me.

Many formerly-cool feeling new parents have a moment when they realize they’ve become the suburban-dwelling, soccer game-attending, lame-ass people they never imagined they would. It usually happens when buying their first minivan.

Look at the badass grill on the new ...
Town and Country minivan.
Groceries be warned: We're coming to get you.  
We had a moment like that six years ago. It was about then that my wife was pregnant with our third child – very pregnant – and we realized that, with a third kid and the necessarily-ginormous newborn car seat that comes with it, there was no way our entire soon-to-be family of five could fit in either of the cars we owned at the time. Back then, my wife drove a Subaru Outback L.L.Bean-edition, and I had a fuel-efficient cross-over sport utility vehicle, with 4-wheel-drive and a stick shift.

I’m not a terribly materialistic person, and certainly don’t judge people by their clothes or the cost of their cars. I couldn't give a crap about designer purses, expensive shoes, or foreign luxury vehicles. But I also know that cars – with so many varieties, utilities, styles, colors – can be a form of outward expression. And both of these vehicles said something about who we were.

Yet, neither of those cars could fit more than two car seats or boosters. One had to go. And we had to get a vehicle that could serve as our primary family transportation.

We knew then that we needed a van, no matter what that might say about us. So we opted to trade in my sport-utility vehicle. We surrendered ourselves, turning in our “cool cards” and accepting our lot as suburban, soccer parents.

The van was great, as was the third child. We loved it, after we got used to the tricky handling and the sheer size of the thing (the van, of course).  With the new van, we could easily get our whole family places without taking two trips, or two cars. And that was essential. If nothing else, it proved extremely practical.

We also noticed almost everyone we knew had either a minivan or a really stinking-big S.U.V. that got 2-miles-per gallon and was pretty much akin to flipping the bird at the environment. For our part, we like the environment. As the fictional superhero The Tick said about the Earth, “That’s where I keep all my stuff.”

So, we were fine being minivan owners. We really were. It was all good.

In recent months, as the Subaru aged and began to show it, we started talking about the next car. Our choice was either to get a replacement run-a-bout vehicle, like a Jeep (I’ve owned Jeeps in the past and have a “thing” for them), or get a new van and keep the old van as our other car.

A Jeep would be cool; I could keep fishing gear in it and use it to travel for business. But getting a second van seemed far more practical, eliminating the need to do the old car switch-a-roo, or the car seat swap, whenever the parent on backup-call needed to do dropping-off or picking-up duties.

We couldn’t decide. So we waited.

Then, about a week ago, I wrecked the Subaru. Don’t worry, I was unscathed. And no other cars or people were involved. But the decade-old Outback, with 150,000+ miles on it, was ... well, the opposite of unscathed. Scathed? No, it was totaled.

Suddenly, we needed a new vehicle (new to us, anyway) and had to decide. Our deliberations came to a conclusion on a drive with all the kids in the old van, right after I banged the dashboard with my palm to stop the radio from popping – one of the multiplying quirks of our 2007 Town and Country, which has carted the family around for the past 6 years and shows the wear.

“It’s decided then?” I said to my wife.

“I guess,” she replied.

“It just makes the most sense right now.”

“It really does.”

“Would’ve liked a Jeep, or something.”

“Maybe someday.”

“So, we're going to be a two van family.”

With that, it started to sink in. I don’t think life could wring anymore of my former coolness out of me. But, then again, maybe there is something cool about being practical. Right?

Who has two thumbs, and
two Chrysler minivans? This guy!
(Not this guy as in Fonzie,
but this guy as in me).
Fonzie was practical, wasn't he?

Oh God. I just used Happy Days as a reference point for what's cool.

I am old. And, my daughters are right. I am not cool.

But I do have two minivans if anyone needs kids driven some place … or two different places at the same time, even.

Having one minivan is good. Having two, it's just practical.

Thinking back on it, there is one other thing I've learned related to twos. If you’ve eaten one worm out of a bottle of mezcal, it’s probably not a good idea to eat the second one.

Because, two of a good thing isn’t always better.

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Kim said...

When my four children were young and I had lost all hope of being cool, the car I craved, and eventually did buy used, was a Chevy Suburban. Complete with 8-track! It was a behemoth! The three boys could sit where they couldn't even touch each other! And my daughter was old enough to sit up front. We would pile a ton of kids in that thing and "double buckle", which you probably can't (and shouldn't) do today. All the kids have fond memories of riding in the Suburban, singing along to Creedence Clearwater Revival on the 8-track. It finally died, and we moved on to a few mini-vans. I was 52 when I finally downsized to a small SUV. It's not as great as you (and I) imagined it would be, because I would give anything to trade it for an old Chevy Suburban with an 8-track filled with my children and their friends singing CCR!!

Unknown said...

Good luck with the new van. I'm
sure it will drive all the kids to jazz, ballet, Irish step, lacrosse, soccer and other sport team practices for many years to come. It is very practical.

Unknown said...

Having a van for a big family is a great idea. Having two vans is a lot more practical too. At least this time, you and your wife can take two separate vans if the kids ever need to go to two different places, right? Anyway, I'm glad you found the new van as really helpful. Thanks for sharing that! All the best to the whole family! :)

Edward Taylor @ Laguna Niguel Auto Center