Greetings from my mobile office on the road that leads to the land of heat and humidity. My (relatively) sincere apologies for the somewhat lengthy, rather unplanned absence. All I’m willing to say about it is: my waking hours in the last week have been dedicated to unexpected school closures, a streptococcal attack sur toute la famille, picking cilantro (true story) and yet another car search.
If you’re keeping track – and who could blame you if you’re not; who would cast judgment if your eyes are glazing over, or rolling into the back of your head at the mere mention of the word ‘car’ on this blog – this would be our 3rd family car in 9 months. (Apparently we Johnsons have a fondness for both moving house and switching vehicles.) So for both your sake, and mine, all I’ll say about this particular car search is it involved copious amounts of driving around Calgary looking at vans that smelled of dog or Febreze (or both!); having forfeited their vehicular will to live long ago.
It was an arduous search and I’m not talking about the business of scouring overly optimistic ads whilst trying to interpret words like ‘great’ and ‘no problems at all’. No, I’m talking about the business of convincing the car-loving professor of our need for a seven-passenger ‘vehicle’ (let us not use the word minivan); of convincing him that a teenaged 15 miles-to-the-gallon member of the Range Rover family was not in our collective best interests.
Honestly, I wanted to be the person who drove 5000 miles with her three kids and husband in a Volvo 850. A friend of mine made a similarly ‘epic’ journey a year or so ago with her three kids and husband…..in a Prius. She was a paragon of efficiency and ecological mindfulness and I desperately (err, sort of) wanted to emulate her.
And then we drove to the outskirts of Calgary with the boys. They were fighting and I was stressed about time running out and I sensed I might lose the last remnants of my mental faculties if I had to drive to the Midwest in that car.
(Also, my friend, she’s small. I am what most would call ‘large’. I am not Prius-sized or even sedan-sized. I am minivan-sized (or possibly Infiniti QX56-sized). And with this realization, I abandoned my halfhearted attempt at a family first in favor of maintaining [some of] my sanity.
It was a month-long process that, in true Johnson fashion, came down to the wire. Three days before hitting the road we obtained our current ride and, two hours later, sold the teal special. [I would really like to post something un-humorous about the EMT for whom we made a house-call to deliver the teal special, who then proceeded to reject the price we’d agreed upon, all whilst a red Ferrari sat in his garage. The nicest word I can think of is……tacky.]
On Monday night we abandoned our search on the Dodge Caravan classifieds (i.e. Kijiji) and set our sights on the previously owned stock of car dealers. Recalling one mechanic’s words when I sought his advice on what car to get (‘get a Toyota’) I consulted my other friend Google. Who led me to the Canyon Creek Toyota Dealer. Who led me to the picture of a seafoam green Toyota Sienna with a cord hanging out of the grille.
It was love at first sight.
Which is, of course, a total lie.
For the last vestiges of personal pride that still resided within me, raised their long-suppressed voices and chorused semi-audibly ‘you can’t drive that van’. They’d expressed a similar sentiment when the smitten professor had inspected a circa 2000 sixteen-miles-to-the-gallon Land Rover which looked nice enough on the outside…..until you peered inside its obliterated doghair-laden interior; all hints of Rover-cache vanishing instantly.
Twenty-four hours after laying eyes upon the Sea(foam) Monster, the last vestiges of pride abandoned me, undoubtedly in search of a childless college student still clinging to the notion that appearances matter, and the professor and I drove to the dealer with the tacit realization that we were about to cast aside the teal special and climb into the arms of an unfashionably old pale-hued Sienna.
On the hottest day of the year, we stood upon sweltering asphalt and stared at our vehicular future, a reporter-turned-salesman named Paul at our sides.
He unlocked the van and discovered the battery had died. It was, as first impressions go, not a particularly good one. I found myself wondering if it was the kind of ‘sign’ people refer to when they’re recently divorced and talking about their deadbeat spouses. But my train of thought was rudely interrupted when Paul summoned us to the (now) running van. I opened the creaky-yet-solid door and sat down upon the beige-grey leather seat, which was wide enough for my linebacker shoulders. I sniffed the air and detected not a hint of dog nor Febreze; the panicky feeling of ‘I can’t be in this car any longer’ conspicuous for its absence.
I was home. Only to no home I’d ever known. (Nevermind, that was Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle talking about his late wife, not his minivan.) ‘It fits my shoulders,’ I whisper-announced to the professor, referencing a comment I’d made upon discovering that the seats of the Volvo station wagon we’d purchased in 2008 were narrower than my shoulders.
If he heard my inside joke, he did not acknowledge it, because he was too busy concentrating on his geographic whereabouts. ‘He’s great at the mechanics of driving,’ I tried to explain to the slightly bewildered Paul, ‘just not so good at the directions.’ How else to explain the man’s geographical ignorance despite driving around Calgary for nearly five years?
In addition to the Sea Monster’s false, err non-start, its air conditioning was what some might call feeble. At best. ‘It’s really working now,’ Paul tried to sound enthusiastic. The professor and I looked at each other. If we were heading to the land of 58-degrees-Celsius we would need Kijiji’s promised ‘ice-cold’ air conditioning, not the Monster’s whisper of tepid air.
Though in its favor, it did have the ‘coveted’ Toyota logo and the seats were enrobed in leather and not some repellent synthetic fiber. And it didn’t smell.
So we bought it.
Maybe it’s all in my imagination, but as I ran errands the day before our scheduled departure, there was a spring in my step and a smile on my face as I stepped up, into the van rather than falling down upon the sedan’s seats; the boys separated by feet (and rows) rather than nano-inches, the way God intended.
Oh, did I say I wasn’t going to talk about the car search?