Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gettin' the Heck Outta Dodge

I have never felt defined by the car I drive. I believe my dad cured me of this when, upon turning 16, he gave me a 1976 Honda Civic that had been sitting idle in the garage since 1952. The paint had faded (I’m assuming, since no self respecting car should ever be this shade of orange), there was no air conditioning, no stereo, and the passenger seat was broken, so that the left half of the seat kind of fell to the side, letting the passenger rest on the driver’s shoulder. This was perfect for dates, but not so great for my friend Steve.

Anyway, being 16, I threw in a stereo, and the car was perfect. I could not care less about what anybody else was driving, or how I looked cruising through the high school parking lot listening to Beastie Boys with Steve nestled on my shoulder. In fact, I specifically remember one time seeing a guy get out of his Chevy Camaro in the parking lot, and he was blasting Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” on his car stereo.  I thought to myself, “How embarrassing for him. He’s OnceTwiceThree Times a Nerd-o. He’s Nerdy Like Sunday Morning. I wouldn’t trade cars with him if he threw in a BrickHouse!”  So clearly, to me, music was more defining than the car.

And now, as an adult, I am equally disinterested in the kind of car I drive. My criterion is that the vehicle be able to comfortably get me from one place to another as inexpensively as possible. Alas, our 1996 Dodge Caravan could no longer perform this task, so we had to finally get rid of it.

We bought said Dodge Caravan in late 2001. At the time, it had about 42,000 miles on it. Final count as of April 2008: 193,842 miles on that baby, thank you very much. Really, it had wanted to die since last April. But we just wouldn’t let it.

The final hoorah for this poor van was last August. My parents and siblings and us were all getting together for a reunion in Breckenridge, Colorado.

We left Vegas and headed north that fateful morning. The sun was up and it was already 146 degrees. We got about 3 hours into the trip, just outside of Cedar City, Utah, when the air conditioning went out. It wasn’t Vegas Hot, but it was still miserable. Hours later we were all sweaty, stinky, suffering from heat exhaustion, and a little bit cranky. The stereo had gone out on the car months and months prior to this trip (so in my mind, the car had already been useless for quite some time), so we just drove in silence. Nobody was saying much to anybody, unless they were breathing threatening remarks about staying on their side of the seat or shouting “Stop singing songs from High School Musical!”  But in my defense, with the oppressive heat, things were hazy, and I just couldn’t think of any other songs to sing.

As we finally reached Breckenridge, the temperatures were bearable. However, the transmission started acting really funny. It would take a while for the gear to catch. Hmmm. But we were distracted for a few days by the fun and frivolity of family and outdoor recreation. No sense worrying about the van. Who knows if we’ll ever really need it again?

Oh, right. We have to get BACK to Las Vegas.

Coming out of Breckenridge, we stopped at a gas station, and I poured some transmission fluid into the car. Truth be known, I resented even spending that much money on the car. I could feel the death of the car looming. I knew the end was near. It was time to pull the plug. But first, we needed to get back to Vegas. That’s all we needed. We needed to push this baby another 10 hours, and then she could give up. I wasn’t going to put another dime into this car. Not for the transmission, not for the air conditioning, not 25¢ to pump up the tire. Nothing. I wanted this van to coast right into our driveway and pass away, the way Johnny Depp’s boat sank just as he stepped onto the pier at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean.

I stood outside the van in that gas station parking lot. The air was still. The family, already sweating. But I knew we could make it.

Three hours later, I was feeling pretty confident. The transmission seemed to be holding up and we were making good time. But then, somewhere in the vast wasteland that is western Colorado/eastern Utah, my daughter Roxanna (3 at the time) started to complain about her tummy hurting. 

“My tummy hurts!” she said.
“It’s the heat, Sweetie,” reassured Katie. “Have a drink of water.”
“But it reaaallly hurts!” answered Roxanna.
“Just hang on,” said Katie.
“Baaaaaarrffffff,” went Roxanna.

I mean barf of Biblical proportions, ladies and gentleman. To make matters worse, she had eaten a bunch of pizza before we left. To make matters even more worse, she barfed into Abbie’s hair, who was sitting in front of her. To make matters even the most worse, it was 112 degrees, so now we’ve got Barf Potpourri going on in the car for everyone to enjoy. 

Katie climbed to the back of the van, holding out a towel for Roxanna to perpetually barf into for what seemed like longer than your average span of Vomit Time. There was nothing but freeway around. No towns, no rest stops, no gas stations, no off ramps…nothing. So I kept barreling down the highway until I could find something.

“It’s in my hair!” screamed Abbie.
“This is why my tummy was hurting!” Roxanna stated, in a kind of ‘I told you so’ fashion.
“WWWAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” said a 20-month old Tanner, who was sick to death of his car seat and was happy to join in the anarchy.
“JUST WATCH A VIDEO!” I gently whispered to my children who weren’t barfing.
“THIS IS THE WORST BIRTHDAY EVER!” shouted Abbie, who was enjoying her 10th birthday on this very day.

Finally, I see a Shell gas station. Out in the middle of nowhere, with no neighboring town, there’s a Shell station. I don’t know where the employees are bussed in from, and frankly, I don’t care.

I pulled off the freeway, behind this gi-normous 18 Wheeler, but before the off ramp ended, the truck lost a tire…and I hit it. I mean, I hit it hard. We got some air between us and the ground. And as we pulled into the gas station, I could hear something underneath the van, dragging on the ground.

After I pulled into the gas station, I got out and look under the van. And there was this thing hanging from the van, and dragging on the ground. There were no fumes, no leaks or drips…nothing. So being the mechanic that I am, I knew exactly what do to. 

"Where is your duct tape?” I asked the attendant inside the little convenient store adjacent to the gas station.
“Over there,” she pointed, as she put out her cigar. 
"And your Wet Wipes?”
“We don’t have any.”
“You don’t HAVE ANY?” 

She looked up at me from her Hunting magazine, and I shuffled two feet back from her, a little caught off guard and nervous that she was going to stab me with the bathroom key on my way out. I grabbed my duct tape and a bunch of ice cream bars for my desolate family.

I taped up this pipe thing under the van, Katie cleaned up the barf and the people covered in it (I am so in love with Katie, the most selfless person in the world), and off we went. We still had hours to go, and there were moments of uncertainty with the transmission, or the heat, or the pipe becoming un-duct-taped. But by the grace of Dodge manufacturing, we somehow made it home.

The next morning I was prepared to take the van out into the dessert and shoot it, but Katie suggested that we could actually get some more mileage out of it. Not another road trip, but at least around town. So we got the air conditioning fixed (for around $100!) and actually squeezed some more miles out of it.

By last December, the van would only go 25 mph, and it would not shift out of second gear. We knew the ol’ girl was done. We bought a new mini-van (Toyota Sienna, 8-seater), and the Dodge sat in our garage for a while. Until last Saturday, when I sold it to an acquaintance from church with the know-how to put in a new transmission and sell it for a higher price than I could ever get for it.

So hopefully the ol’ Dodge can do some good for somebody else now. But she’ll always have our love…our love…our Endless Love