On Vans, Toilet Paper and the Unbearable Heaviness of 3 Rows of Seats.

By now it’s no secret that we have recently wasted vast amounts of time shopping for the vehicular equivalent of toilet paper. A necessity perhaps but hardly something to fret over for hours on end…. and yet I do. Of course send me to the store to buy toilet paper and I will fret over the 10 cent difference between one brand or another, I will wonder if the softness and luxury of the brand with butterflies on it trumps the low cost of the strangely coloured economy rolls. If, in a pinch, it can be counted upon to treat my blown nose kindly and wipe up spills. Is it versatile yet able to adeptly accomplish its intended purpose. I almost always regret my decision even as I hear it thud into the bottom of my cart. And so I find myself now trying to decipher the difference between the LXI and the EX and LS on vehicles I couldn’t care less about. I mean how many cup holders does one ugly mass of people moving metal need? Does each person need to spill 2 drinks while watching a DVD and listening to separate radio stations? Do the seats need to disappear, should they be suitable for captains or configured like church pews in worship of the road passing unfelt below our amply cushioned rear ends? Why is it that 2 sliding doors are a necessity over the will to drive?

I ponder all of this while passing listlessly from one sales pitch to the next. The salesmen know my heart is not in it. I am unable to summon enough of a feigned interest for them to feign enthusiasm in trying to sell me what I need but do not want. It is the same attitude they seem to bring to their jobs. They need the money but don’t want to be selling minivans to men who don’t want them, while wives and children look upon both sets of men with the urgency of moving on to the next urgency. So we are stuck, the salesmen and I in a dance of small talk about tire tread, the weather, convenience, how great the car I drove up in looks, how fast it is, how deceptive in its small package, anything but the car we are both prodding, opening doors, and trunks and hoods, looking under seats and mats, in glove boxes, hoping desperately for something to be so wrong with this one that we can rule it out (rule them all out), but also for everything to be fine so we can say this is the one, the one that will end this search and let us move on to the grocery store and school and friends’ houses, possibly with friends in tow and room to spare for all the crap gifted by well intentioned grandparents.

I think back to my own childhood in the back of a giant caprice classic station wagon, seats folded down flat and three boys rolling around on spread-out sleeping bags and playing games amongst the various suitcases and coolers with easy cheese for crackers, celery for my dad, and Oreo cookies if we were lucky. I wonder if my father who grew up in an age of muscular American cars, whose plastic models he collected from the local dealers and assembled growing up, felt a similar sense of loss when he loaded us all up in the cavernous expanse of that wagon which floated across the Midwest’s highways like a boat on an almost tranquil sea, gently rocking over the dips and around the curves of towns and country in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Kentucky. I remember that sensation of floating even now when I think of those long car rides from one small town to the next and wonder how my children will remember the inevitable journeys of their youth as we glide, sway and labor across the continent from west to east and back. Stuck unhappily behind un-passable tractor-trailers and RV’s like a forlorn caravan transferring its contents from here to there in workmanlike fashion, anticipating home or homecoming.

It is an odyssey that must have an end. A resolution. Our little sporty Volvo will not rendezvous with Montana again. It will not, most likely venture beyond the 150 mile radius of its new owner’s driving life. We will move on, albeit not as fast or stylishly.

We will buy a van and spill drinks and food in it and clean it up with toilet paper laboriously selected for the occasion.

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