Minivan Mama

I’m proud to say that I’m a Minivan Mama.  Our minivan is as dear to my heart as the family dog–sometimes dearer.  Actually, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I should probably admit that I prefer the minivan to the dog.  Only because the minivan doesn’t shed, bark, need to be fed twice a day, or constantly need my affection and attention.  The minivan’s fuel only costs a little more than the dog’s food (he’s sensitive….) and it is easier to wash.  I’ve never seen the minivan chew up any toys or report cards.  And I never, ever, ever have to pick up piles of poop left in the yard by the minivan.

My current minivan is a Sienna named Cindy.  Which is why I fell off my chair laughing when I received an email from one of our cousins, Cami, with this in it:

What made this even funnier was the note from Cami that accompanied this link:

We are Sienna owners, but definitely not the updated one in the video with all the extras.  However, they didn’t mention the ability of the minivan to act as a delivery room, which we proved should be added to the list of “perks” or ammenities.  Can you imagine the commercial they’d make with this family/couple if that feature was listed?

Yep, it’s true!  Cami had one of her babies in the minivan.  (Not on purpose.)  Thanks for the laughs, Cami, and I hope you had a happy Mother’s Day!

I’ve had a few friends complain to me that they’ve felt less hip ever since they acquired a minivan….that their cool factor drops by a factor of ten every time they pull their minivan into the gym parking lot.  Huh.  I never felt that way.  Perhaps that is because my cool factor–when it came to vehicles–had no where to go but up.  Way up.

I learned to drive in one of these:

I come from a family that has a long-standing tradition of naming their rides.  This Buick was christened Big Blue by my mother, who always had the last word on car names.  Big Blue’s namesake was Paul Bunyan’s big, blue ox, Babe.  I kid you not.  It was a name that suited, since Big Blue was indestructible.  Once, in college, I high-centered Big Blue on a curb getting in line for the bank ATM.  On a Friday.  At closing time.  Like I said, no where to go but up!
Few people would consider my next step “up”, but then again, most people have never high-centered a Buick Century.  I acquired my next set of wheels through marriage.  
Shortly before I began dating the Bionic Man, I had an unfortunate string of boyfriends/dates who were very attached to their cars/trucks.  One in particular kept telling me that he had a big, expensive surprise waiting for me when I returned back to college from my summer job.  He even went so far as to hint to me that it was shiny, and it was obvious he hoped I would really, really like it.  Somehow I got the impression that the surprise was a big, expensive, shiny piece of jewelry…..imagine that……so the relationship fizzled fast when the surprise turned out to be A TRUCK.  To add insult to injury, Bad Surprise Boyfriend told me, when he proudly picked me up in the truck for the first time, that he’d appreciate it if I’d just get in on the driver’s side door, because he didn’t want to wear out the hinges on the passenger side.  I’m not kidding.  
Shortly after Bad Surprise Boyfriend drove away forever, another date picked me up in a car that he was obviously very proud of.  Couldn’t stop talking about it, in fact.  I think our conversation on that first–and only–date went something like this:
Ruth: So, I understand you are getting a MBA.  Tell me what that program is like.
Date: Great, it’s really great.  In fact, my marketing class really helped me to decide which car was right for me.  I mean, I really was able to sort through all the advertising with a keen eye, and pick out this little beauty for her actual merit.
Ruth: Um, yeah, that’s great.  Sounds like real world learning, there.  So, which class have you–
Date: (interrupting)  Listen to that!  Can you believe the way this baby’s engine purrs?  That was a seamless shift from second to third.  That’s what I’m talking about.  
Ruth:  (gives fake smile)  That’s awesome.  I can tell you really love this car.
Date:  (Sighs wistfully) More than anything.  (Pulls into parking space.)  Now, if you don’t mind letting yourself out, I need to attach my security system to the steering wheel.  Can’t open the door for you and keep this little beauty of a car out of the hands of thieves, at the same time, can I?
Um, did I mention I went to college in one of the most crime-free cities in the U.S.?  This guy left twice during the course of our date to check on his car.  

I’d like to say that I had only two suitors who showed more chivalry to their car than they did to me, but that spring they seemed to pop up in epidemic proportions.  Okay, maybe “epidemic proportions” is a gross exaggeration of my college social life, but there were more than two who seemed more fond of their cars than they were of their date, and they all asked me out in a span of 4-5 months before the Bionic Man asked me out for the first time.

At some point during one of our first conversations, between asking for directions to my parents’ house and telling me what time he’d be picking me up, the Bionic Man said something that made me start to fall in love with him, then and there.  “I have to warn you,” he said, somewhat shyly, “that I don’t have the nicest car.  I hope it won’t bother you.  It’s really, really old, but it works.”

“Old cars don’t bother me at all, ” I said honestly.  “I like old cars.  They have character.”
The Bionic Man laughed nervously.  “Well, my car has a lot of character.  Probably more character than you’re used to.”
It was just a few days later that he pulled up in front of my parents’ house in this:
 
My father–himself, a fan of cars with character–was rendered almost speechless as he looked out the kitchen window to see what was making the strange racket in his driveway.   He stared, for a moment, before saying with a slow smile, “I like this one.”
Joining my father at the window, I looked out at the Bionic Man getting out of his car and smiled in satisfaction.  Clearly, this was a car I could compete with.  I was sure there was no car payment and no security system and maybe even no hinges on the passenger side.  “I like this one, too.” I replied.  “I like this one a lot.”
Right then and there, I started to fall in love with the Bionic Man’s car as much as I was falling in love with him.  A Datsun B-510, she shared a birth year with the Bionic Man.  She had been tossed aside in an empty lot, where she rusted for several years, alone and unloved as the weeds tangled around her fenders.  Then one day, the Bionic Man and his tool-savvy, adventurous roommate Nate saw her for the money-maker she could be.  They offered the owners $25 for the car and the title, pumped her tires up with a bicycle pump, and towed her back to their apartment complex.  After tinkering with her for a couple of hours, they had the little car up and running.

The Bionic Man went and immediately applied for a job as a pizza delivery boy at Dominoes, and was gratified to recoup the $25 cost in less than an hour, thanks to tips.
The little Datsun came into her own once she was under the protective wing of the Bionic Man.  He and his roommates painted her for special occasions.  They purchased old trophies from thrift shops, and used the shiny gold figures as interchangeable hood ornaments.  They named her Gabi, 
 
short for Gabriella Sabatini, the tennis player (I haven’t asked).  Gabi the Datsun proved herself over and over again, as she transported the Bionic Man into collegiate financial security as a pizza boy, took the roommates on roadtrips, and managed to be the primary mountain vehicle for paragliding expeditions.  She could go anywhere.

The Bionic Man proposed to me during our last year of college.  My father claims he never questioned the Bionic Man’s ability to provide for his daughter, despite his youth.  “I figured if he could keep that car running, he could do anything,” my dad has said.
And so we married, and drove away to wedded bliss in Gabi.  Actually–that’s not quite true.  Gabi wasn’t invited on our honeymoon.  Perhaps that was the reason that Gabi never actually warmed up to me the way I warmed up to her.  I’m convinced it was jealousy.  Despite the Bionic Man’s best efforts to teach me to drive Gabi, I never could keep her going.  Then, there was the matter of him accepting a job 2500 miles across the country….we knew, as much as she wanted to, Gabi just wouldn’t make it on the cutthroat streets of the Northeast.  (If you’ve ever driven in Boston, you know what I mean by cutthroat.)
We made our first big purchase as a married couple, before we moved, a two-door Nissan Sentra.  As eager as we were to begin a family, I have no idea why we picked a two-door car.  Of all the two-door cars out there, I have no idea why we picked that one.  The Nissan wasn’t notable enough to be named.  It had the distinction of carrying us from West coast to East coast in the course of one summer.

On our college graduation roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest.
 
But there was something seedy about that Nissan.  She kept getting involved in strange goings-on.  The two strangest were the transmission repair by the Polish-American mafia, and the way we were almost swindled out of a cool $500 when we sold her to three quiet “students” from Boston shortly before 9-11-01.  (They paid in cash….piles of $10 bills…..and didn’t want to wait for the Bionic Man to count all the bills.  He made them wait…..they were $500 short.  Funny, they had 50 more $10 bills on hand…..)  All I’m saying is that we had a bad feeling when those students drove away in the Nissan that was not longer ours.  I’m convinced that Nissan was abandoned at an airport somewhere in the wee morning hours of 9-11-01, or possibly seized during a Homeland Security raid.  I’m pretty sure the poor car came to a bad end, somewhere.
The Nissan of questionable character was replaced with our very first minivan, a Doge Caravan.  The boxy, original version.  After putting carseats and toddlers in and out of that two-door Nissan for almost three years, getting a minivan was like nirvana.  We loved that van.

Our first minivan allowed us to become a family who did things.  Who went places.  Who saw things.  Not that we hadn’t been before, but there is something about the hauling capacity of a minivan that just opens up doors to a young family, isn’t there?
Despite a rocky start early on with a bad transmission (this one was NOT repaired by the Polish-American mafia), the Caravan proved itself to be a car of character.  It was the climbing of Mt. Washington that really cemented the Caravan’s place in our family.  She brought us all the way up here

and earned this bumper sticker

“This car climbed Mt. Washington”
 
even though there were naysayers who said it couldn’t be done.  Namely, all the drivers of the vehicles behind ours on the way up Mt. Washington.
It was after we made it safely down Mt. Washington (with smoking brakes) that we officially named our Caravan “Fran.”  An East Coaster through and through, Fran’s namesake was Fran Drescher,
 
the actress with the nasally New Jersey twang that we’d become so familiar with during our years on the East Coast.  (Um, the nasally twang, that is, not the actress.)
When we moved to the Midwest, we took Fran along.  I think she missed her East Coast home, because she never really thrived in the Midwest.  It became necessary to replace Fran.  We replaced her with a new-to-us Toyota Sienna.  I tell you, we felt like we’d arrived when we drove home that Sienna.  We purchased the Sienna from a woman who was so lovely, so kind, and who obviously loved that Sienna so much that we felt the Sienna had enough character by virtue of past history alone to be named immediately.  The Bionic Man and I call her Cindy, in honor of her former owner, who kept copious maintenance records.  The children call her Sidney, because–well, they just never could get that the name was CIN-dy. 
But it took us a while to say farewell to Fran.  The truth was, Fran was functioning as a truck.  If you don’t believe that a minivan can haul anything a truck can, you need to take a look at these pictures of Fran:

 
Yes, that is a 20′ telephone pole in the back of Fran, thank you for asking!
Fran eventually moved on to a new life with a family who was just as excited to drive away in her as we were on our first day as minivan owners.  
The Swagger Wagon.  Hah!

Comments

  1. The Chidesters says:

    I just feel more and more, Ruth…that we have things in common we are just discovering. You know, Pete's car when we started dating was a '89 Volvo. He's always been a car man…but not a NEW car man, and OLD fix-it and make-it work car man.

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