The big van was new in 1976, and as this is 2011 that makes it thirty five years old. She still runs, still gets stuff from point A to point B, provided the points aren’t too far apart. The steering is squishy, you turn the wheel to the left and the axle thinks ‘maybe left isn’t a bad idea, I’ll try it’, and within twenty seconds or so you are going left. It isn’t a vehicle I like to drive very far, it doesn’t work with you, it does not ask you where you want to go. It’s like a huge untrained dog, it wants to do whatever you want it to do, it just takes so long to figure out what you want. The battle tends to sap your energy quickly.
Then there is the color. It was once a bright red, I think, but it’s been a multitude of reds since then, Mark painting it an orangy-red until his spray can ran out of paint, then switching to a maroon. But both those colors have worn off, leaving a rusty-red, one that is pretty close to the rust that covers much of it. And as with every political issue, there are grey areas on the van.
It has all the latches and hinges of an old van giving it a certain steam-punk look. Did they really have vehicles in 1976? Is this how they looked? Well, yes, they did have vehicles, and this is sort-of how they looked, except without the extra ventilation holes, with much more paint, a bit of a shine, and often a mural painted on the side and a bumper sticker that either read “If this van is rockin’, don’t come knockin'” or “Don’t laugh, your daughter might be inside!” Mark can no longer use one of his favorite sayings with this van, that’s “shiny side up, greasy side down.” That’s not enough information, the up side might be greasier that the down side, and there is certainly no shine.
The passenger side mirror has come un-mirrored, the silver paint crumpling into grey chips behind the glass. The mirror Mark bought and glued over the glass is broken, but none of this matters much, because no matter how hard you tighten the bolt, in order to get the passenger side door to close all the way you need to slam the door, and when you do the mirror looks down, sadly, at the pavement. If you should happen to get the mirror arranged and not use the passenger side door, well, rest assured, the first bump you hit on the road will humiliate the mirror and it will again be staring sadly at the pavement.
The large steering wheel has lost it’s horn and inner workings, it rests sideways as you cruise down the road. You must fight your intuition to straighten the wheel or you will be constantly turning left.
The driver’s side door handle has been fixed, a fix that worked for once, and you no longer have to open the window and reach for the handle on the outside to get out of the van. That is a wonderful convenience, especially in winter. Unfortunately, the fixes never worked for the sliding door on the passenger side, but the bungee cord is pretty easy to hook from the handle to the seat belt bracket, and the door stays somewhat shut.
Never fill the gas tank, not that you could afford to. If it’s much more than half full, it wants to leak. I think the poor van is overwhelmed at what we are willing to pay for gas, and can’t stand to have something so valuable in it. Remember, in 1976, gas cost about sixty cents a gallon, the van has a hard time conceiving of today’s prices. There is an old joke about having a full tank of gas doubling the worth of an old jalopy, well, gas is probably the only thing that gives the old van any worth.
What it does have in spades is space. There is plenty of room to store many things. We can fit all our radio parts, a big tent for shade, and still fit several console radios without any real configuring. And she makes it to Lansing and back every July with that load. A faithful servant, we are hopeful to get more years of use from her.