Sorry, Mom: A Short Reflection on a Few of the Yeehaw Things I’ve Done in My Van
The first visit my husband and I had with my mom since moving into our van, we helped her hang a swing on a tall tree for my little brother. She’d been struggling with it for what seemed like hours, and when she couldn’t find an adequate place for her ladder, inspiration struck — we could drive the van up next to the tree, and she could just climb on the van. This seemed like a completely reasonable thing to suggest, particularly coming off of the heels of installing our vent fan in the middle of the woods in Montana. Climbing on top of the van was totally fine and normal. She looked at me like I’d suggested we form a human pyramid, but eventually gave in.
Initially, I’d offered up our ladder for her to use, a ladder which we had made ourselves that couldn’t have cost us more than a few dollars to make out of some wood, some strong rope, and a carabiner. The second I started describing it, though, my mom told me to stop talking, which was absolutely understandable. Sometimes it’s sort of easy to forget that, when you’re living in a van that’s at least as old as you are and dirt cheap, some of the things that happen to you are a little weird.
Take the time in Eugene, OR, for example, when the van (her name is Rhonda, and she has so much personality that it feels like sacrilege to not use her name and pronouns going forward; besides, she’ll be mad at me if I don’t) stalled out in the middle of an intersection. We were sort of used to her doing this, and typically when she did, you could just start her back up immediately and drive off — this time, though, all we heard was a fatal click. Oh no.
My husband put the van in neutral and I hopped out to attempt to push her into a parking spot, but she would not budge. She wouldn’t budge, that is, until a random woman pulled over and hopped out of her own car to help. Then, after she started to roll ever so slightly forward, they came: what felt like a clown car’s worth of teenage boys hopped out of their vehicle, barrelled towards us, and helped us push Rhonda to the nearest street parking. My fear turned to delight as this pack of strangers helped shove our van to safety, and I couldn’t help but laugh. When we finally “parked”, the woman stayed to help us after the gang of teens ran back to their car; it turned out that she was a formed mechanic in the Army, and she gave us some advice and some tools to help us get Rhonda up and running again. We ended up replacing the starter right there in the street parking, and strangely enough, that did it — we drove off just fine.
Then, there’s the way we got Rhonda in the first place. We had a van before Rhonda, actually: his name was Dave, and he was a fucking nightmare.
To be more fair, he was well-loved, he was a barrel of laughs, he was valuable experience, he was incredibly unique, and he was a fucking nightmare.
He was a gorgeous teal 1972 Chevy G30 Van, and an absolute rustbucket. In fact, his name was actually an acronym for “Dusty Ass Van, Esquire”. He stalled out at least once every single time you took him for a drive, no matter how many repairs we did on him, oftentimes in the middle of busy roads. His ignition switch went out right around the time I was supposed to get my second COVID-19 vaccine shot, and since this was early on in vaccine distribution and I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get another appointment, I ended up walking the entire round-trip ten miles to the (drive up) clinic. When I went to turn in some equipment from a home sleep study, his horn spontaneously decided to go from not working ever to blaring, nonstop, in the sleep lab parking lot. I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck in a hospital parking lot full of security officers with a car horn that will not turn off, but suffice to say it’s not my favorite memory in the world.
Dave died on the highway when his engine threw a rod, causing him to smoke and shake and scare the living shit out of all of us. We stayed in a hotel in Cottage Grove until we found Rhonda on Craigslist, and when we went to go see her, we knew she was the one. She kind of had to be, because she was the one van in our price range that also functioned and had a bed and running water, but that’s besides the point. She was a beautiful, scrappy 1997 Dodge Ram Van, with half of her paint sanded off by her previous owner and replaced by the kind of art you hope to see on a hippie van — some waves on one side, and a surprisingly colorful warthog on the back. We vowed to paint her as soon as possible; seven months later, we still have not painted her.
Those seven months have been filled with a menagerie of home mechanic repairs: battery replacement, brake work, speed sensor replacement, changing the spark plugs, the list goes on. Most recently, and most notably, we traced the source of some very troubling issues to an unlikely cuplrit: a fraying wire leading the positive terminal of the battery that had disconnected itself entirely. At this point, this was small potatoes for us; we were able to crimp the wire, reattach it to the terminal, and drive off just fine. Please, though, nobody tell my mom.