In early 1996 I was a newly-single dad with two young sons and one of the things I needed sooner rather than later was a new car. I had given the situation some thought and had decided on the optimal features of our new vehicle: an all-wheel drive (because we live in Maine) conversion van (because it would have captain's seats front and back and a TV/VCR - extremely rare in those days - to make our frequent trips to visit friends in the Boston area more pleasant. All other options were unimportant; we wanted a used AWD conversion van with a TV/VCR - this is not a easy vehicle to find.
So when on my daily commute to the office in South Portland I spied a conversion van on a dealer's lot right on my way, I had to stop and check it out. It was a 1994 Chevy Astro AWD high-top conversion van with 51,000 miles, recently returned from a two year lease and it was perfect for my needs. Of course I bought it, and so began a love affair that lasted for 12 years (longer than any of my marriages) and 300,000 miles.
"The van", as it came to be known, became our means of escape and our home away from home. Want to go camping with Grandma and Grandpa at Beaver Brook? No problem, we'll take the van. Trip to East Boston to visit Josie and the family - what movie do you want to watch on the way down? The van was more than our transportation, it was our escape. Snow boarding at Sugarloaf, paintball tournaments in New Hampshire, Boy Scout camp, school trips or just ramming around - the van was the way we rolled.
My older son learned to drive in the van and used it to take his driver's test to get his license. And when he borrowed it to go to a friends house shortly after he obtained his license, but decided instead to take a joy ride with some unallowed passengers, the van called home to rat him out (that's a classic story worthy of its own post). The van was truly a member of the family.
Most of the miles wracked up on the odometer were due to my daily commute to work in Augusta, a round trip of more than 80 miles. All those miles were not trouble free, but the few breakdowns that I experienced were generally at a time and place that minimized the inconvenience. The exception to this was on a trip back to Maine from Maryland, when the fuel pump (which had already been replaced previously) failed while we were on the Tappanzee bridge in New York. When you break down on the Tappanzee bridge and call 911 to report your problem, the push truck (it's faster than towing) is in your rear-view mirror before you hang up from the call. With the assistance of AAA, the repair was made quickly (because it's a Chevy) and we still arrived home the same day. And because the previous fuel pump replacement was a "Mr. Goodwrench" repair with a lifetime warranty, I was reimbursed for the cost of the new fuel pump! God, I loved that van!
But all good things must come to an end - by mid-2008, more than 12 years after it came into our lives, the van was tired. With 350,000 miles on the odometer it still ran like a champion but there was a cancer in it's belly. Rust had rendered it uninspectable and my mechanic pronounced it time to let the van go. And so I did.
I scoured the used car (I don't buy new) ads until I spotted a vehicle that seemed to fit my new requirements: a 4WD regular cab pick-up with a short box (a Chevy, of course). (The boys are grown and my needs have changed.) I took it for a test drive but I knew, just as I had known when I first saw the van, that this would be my next (and maybe my last) vehicle. I picked it up on January 20, 2009, the day President Obama was inaugurated, and I think I'll keep it for a long time. Maybe someday it will get its own post here - but I doubt it will ever have as many stories to tell as the van.