Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Word: C-H-A-R-A-C-T-E-R

In February of 2009 we were on our way to a small town in the middle of Utah. It was 8:00 p.m. and dark. I signaled to take the town's exit when I saw lights flashing in my rearview mirror. Oh, bother. I pulled over. The officer approached (on the passenger side), and I surrendered my driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. He went through the formalities of asking me how fast I thought I was going and then telling me how fast I was going--10 miles more than I THOUGHT I had been going. Apparently, our speedometer needed a lube job. As he glanced at the registration, he said, "This is a '96? Hmm--it looks a lot newer than that."

It sounded like an accusation, and I was unclear how best to present my defense. So I just shrugged and offered a sheepish smile. I would have been interested to hear his arguments, considering the facts as I saw them: 1) It was dark, 2) We were packed in there like preserves with barely enough air space to exhale, and 3) Upon closer inspection--in daylight--he could have easily ascertained that the van was at least 13 years old. Maybe more.

We drive a 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan, and frankly, we pride ourselves in that fact. Or at least we did until the passenger side window went down (automatically) three days ago and gives no indication of ever wanting to go up again. While our van, admittedly, falls short of being a luxury mobile, it does serve many worthwhile purposes--like developing the character of every passenger humble (or desperate) enough to embark, for instance.

We entered the proud class of minivan drivers on September 30, 2002, two weeks after our third child was born. To date, that minivan is the only vehicle that my husband and I have purchased in our nearly 13 years of marriage. We also drive the 1995 Toyota Camry that I purchased before we even met. So 4 1/2 years and three children later, we made our first joint vehicle purchase.

When we bought the van it was in perfect working condition. No bells and whistles (i.e. CD player, DVD player, custom hubcaps or steering wheel cover). It was just a reliable way to get us from here to there and back again. Well, it DOES have power locks and windows... sort of, but I am unclear if those qualify as bells or whistles since my six-year old speaks covetously--seriously, in a state of true wonder--of cars that actually have "HANDLES that you can turn to roll down the windows!" Amazing.

But back to building character... Within 18 months of our purchase, I had a slight run in with a metal rod that was sticking out of a truck as I tried to maneuver around it. All it did was dent the front passenger-side door enough to make it impossible to roll down the window... until three days ago when it spontaneously descended, that is. Living with it up seemed less character building than living with it down.

Next the rubber seal on the same door came detached. If I didn't position it just right when I shut the door, it hung through the seam of the door. Having my limitations (believe it or not), I eventually convinced my husband to find a way to "just glue the stupid thing in place." He did and it worked swimmingly.

Our tape deck apparently qualifies our van for Vintage status, considering that one of the kindergartners in my carpool asked, "What is that!?" like it was a foreign contraption that she ought to be wary of. I gave her a little history lesson and then promptly texted her mom to be sure she asked, "What did you learn in carpool today?" when her daughter walked in the door.

The glove compartment (did anyone else call these "jockey boxes" growing up?) was a casualty of leaving a three-year old to find his own way out of the van one day. He must have misunderstood and heard "bum compartment" or something and they are not built to hold three-year olds... at least ours isn't. It's still in place and it still holds its contents, but if you don't hold it open its contents will end up all over the floor.

While we can boast power windows--well, window anyway--and power locks, the rear passenger door handle has given way to the yanking of little hands when it was still locked. Consequently, it can no longer be locked with the touch of a button. Now it must be MANUALLY unlocked. The truly unique quality--and this is where the CHARACTER comes in--is that when we reach a speed in excess of 15 mph, that door locks automatically with a sound effect not unlike that of a machine gun. While we have grown accustomed to this sound, first-time travelers always request an explanation. Apparently, they are not accustomed to hearing a round of open fire as they drive exit the neighborhood. I guess that's a good thing.

Our van was made to seat seven passengers. In our four-is-the-new-six society, that suits most families very comfortably. However, in our we-didn't-get-the-memo-about-four-being-the-new-six family, it doesn't quite work. Prior to the birth of our sixth child, we found ourselves in a quandary. Were we ready to part with our Dodge Caravan? After 7 1/2 years, it was practically part of the family besides being the source of so much character.

We searched online and in the papers for a new van-just to see what was available, but nothing promised anywhere near the character of the van we already had. (Well, except my sister's red 29-passenger van, but it wasn't for sale.) So, we did the unthinkable--we PRAYED. The next thing I knew, I was searching the internet to see if a three-seat bench could replace the middle two-seat bench in our van. Pay dirt. We managed to find a three-seat bench for $100 at a salvage yard--and it was even relatively clean.

You can probably imagine the relief on our children's faces when we informed them we wouldn't have to part ways with our van just yet... yes, I'm sure they were sighs of RELIEF.

In case you are wondering whether or not I got a ticket on that dark night in the center of the state... I am uncertain whether it was the stellar condition of our van or the fact that we were packed in it like preserves--or the officer's desire to flirt with me over my husband who was seated next to me (tears of laughter here), but I did get off with a warning. Miraculously, I didn't even have to cry. Character, I'm telling you.


  1. I bought a new car last week. Perhaps I should have read this first. Also, you do write things people (this person) like to read.

  2. You are SO very funny. I just don't know how other people survive without Rebecca in their lives.

  3. Oh Rebecca you are so very funny. I will have to remember to check back more often.