There comes a time for most parents when they realize they’re just not that cool. For many, including me, that time coincides with the purchase of a minivan.
It’s not that I drove anything extravagant beforehand. I’ve owned trucks and sedans, none of which were terribly sporty. But, still, the idea of a minivan — the very quintessence of minivan-ness — suggested a capitulation to the realities of convenience. Sure, it would be better to have side doors that slide open with the touch of a key fob. Of course, it would be nice to have all that room for strollers, diaper bags and groceries, not to mention Grandpa. But did we really have to?
Yes, we did.
Grandpa had just moved in, the kids were 3 and 5, and there was no way we could fit everyone into my Honda Accord. And so we went shopping. I checked ratings for safety and reliability. We test-drove Toyotas and Chryslers before settling on a 2006 Honda Odyssey, sky blue and with heated front seats, gray-leather interior, CD player, DVD player and a baker’s dozen of cup holders. In other words: every dad’s dream.
No doubt the Odyssey’s name was meant to invoke a sense of adventure. What its makers don’t emphasize is that the Greek epic the vehicle was named after features a war refugee who took 10 years to get home and spent much of that time fending off a Cyclops, resisting a witch-goddess, enduring the sirens’ call, and generally dilly-dallying about the Mediterranean. Promising.
Not to say our “Odyssey” hasn’t brought adventure. Over the years, our minivan has accumulated its share of war stories. Like the time a tire came bounding across six lanes of highway and thwacked our front bumper as we were heading to the 100th birthday celebration of a great aunt. I can still picture the slow-motion trajectory of the tire advancing toward the windshield before striking and causing about $1,500 in damage. Now that’s living on the edge.
Then there was the long scratch on the left passenger door, incurred when I pushed the key fob without noticing the woman bending over between our cars to unload her child from a stroller. Nobody was hurt, except the van — and my pride, for mindlessly failing to check first.
This minivan has taken on untold amounts of dirt, mud, sand, pine needles and rocks. It’s rear wiper no longer works. The air conditioning was on the fritz for about a year. That faint smell of chocolate milk, spilled perhaps a decade ago, hasn’t fully dissipated. Last summer, when the scratched passenger door wouldn’t close, I found a green crayon wedged deep in the door’s lower track. I’m guessing it’s been there almost as long as the chocolate milk odor.
And yet this minivan has taken us to so many places: Mount Rainier, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming. It has carried kayaks to a pristine lake in British Columbia; delivered our kids and their friends to movies and the ice-skating rink, to pizza parlors and homecoming dances. I’ve filled it with junk for the dump and donations for Goodwill. I’ve loaded it with lumber to build a deck, a treehouse, a bunk bed and a guinea pig hutch.
Minivans might not be terribly sexy, but they are the John Stuart Mill of vehicles: thoroughly utilitarian. Vans, in general, have been enjoying a kind of hipster renaissance — think attractive couples and their attractive dogs touring our country in attractive ways — garnering “influencer” status on Instagram with their own hashtag, 184,000 posts and counting.