Saturday, August 28, 2010
It Takes a Man to Drive the Van
I reported at length on the pending purchase of the Man Van, but I have not told you how my life has been working out in the three weeks since. Well. I'm happy to report that life is good. Very few material objects in this world can actually make you happier, but I've now identified three: Sharp tools. iPhones. 2011 Toyota Siennas. I could make myself delirious with pleasure by bluetoothing my iPhone to my ManVan while driving to the hardware store for a new chisel. I may do it. Today.
Yesterday I put a ball hitch on the van. Doesn't that sound manly? It is. Now I can pull things around with it. I could pull a small boat if I had a small boat, which I don't. I could pull a snowmachine on a trailer if I were ever to get such a thing. I could pull a large camp trailer for a very short distance. Mostly, I will pull an empty 1-7/8" chrome ball around demonstrating the potential to do any or all of the above. It would be a place to mount the Truck Nuts, I suppose, but I no longer have the, uh, will or desire to do it. I do have a 4x6 utility trailer to pull around which I can fill with garden soil for the wife's beds, mulch, stuff for the landfill. But I have to admit it doesn't look that great on the back of the van. Like putting a backpack on your grandma. Love the old lady. Love the pack. Best to keep them apart.
The van is the singularly dopiest looking vehicle I've ever owned. And this from a man whose first car was a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief. But, like the Star Chief, once you slide behind the wheel you are in a rather massive world of your own mounted to a liquid ride. It is a gas bubble of pleasure in a flat water world. The ManVan also reminds me of the bulging Bonneville Grand Safari my parents owned throughout my high school career. I could fit all of my friends and three strangers in that car and often did. With a seating capacity of 7 in the ManVan, I can almost accomplish the same thing today. If the folks' Grand Safari had the second row captain's chairs and fold-out footrests of the ManVan, my crummy friends would be in it still.
My friend who also owns a ManVan (I'll call him Bo because that is his name) agrees that the van is a continual source of pleasure and -- being Men of a Certain Age, married with children -- we are not inclined to worry about our masculine bona fides. In fact, quite the opposite. Bo knows that real men don't need the props. Ditch the Mustang. Park the Navigator. Take a walk on the mild side, boys.
It takes a man to drive the van.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Former Senator Ted Stevens died yesterday in a plane crash -- the traditional death of real Alaskans. Stevens, aka, Uncle Ted, and Senator-for-Life made Alaska what it is today: the site of the largest per capita federal spending in the country. He did this by shamelessly demanding more huge, expensive, and often ludicrous pork than anyone else in the US Senate. No small feat. As his Senate seniority grew, so grew the pork pie. This endeared him to Alaskans in such a way that even though a merciless and smelly Federal ethics and corruption trial in the midst of an election year did cost him his Senate seat, it was a squeaker. But Senator Stevens also secured the loyalty of Alaskans by taking care of them. Not just with bridges, airports and radar installations. But with passport problems, tardy social security checks, and tributes. He was famous for his angry outbursts on the Senate floor, but that was the only place he did that. He was a warm, sharp, approachable politician when on his home turf. Almost everyone who's lived in Alaska for more than a few years, regardless of their political views, has a happy story about Uncle Ted. Here's mine.
I was on my first book's publicity tour in the fall of 1985 -- a complete and beer-soaked rube with a hardback tucked under my arm and one foot back in Alaska and a small construction business. I still had roofing tar jammed under my fingernails as I signed books in Boston, New York, Philadelphia. On the way to Washington DC I got word that Senator Stevens was planning a reception for me at the Capitol. To put this in perspective take the meager, oddball celebrity I have today and divide it by 162. In the firmament of American stardom I was one dim blink of a passing satellite. And a United States Senator was throwing me a party.
He'd invited the Washington press corps and many of them came to the ornate room in the old Capitol Building, not because of me, but because he'd invited them. I was ignorant at the time of the prominence of most of them, but I do recall chatting with James Fallows for a few minutes at the bar. The most comfortable conversation I had was with the bartender himself who was embarrassed and actually said to me, "You should go talk to someone else." Then the Senator swept in.
I was meeting him for the first time, but Stevens put his arm around me like we were old war buddies. He introduced me at length and without notes to the assembled press and asked if I'd read something from my book. After I'd read a couple of things, the Senator worked the room with me at his side. He didn't stay long and the party broke up soon after he left, but the glow of that day remains even now.
I disagreed often, if not always, with Stevens' policy positions but I voted for him every six years and would have the last time too were I still an Alaska voter. I owed him that. A lot of Alaskans who disagreed with him felt the same way. However the world may remember him otherwise, Ted Stevens was a first rate politician and exactly right for the time and the place in which he lived.
Ted Stevens' death in a plane crash, for all its tragedy, is the perfect ending to his story. Had I thought of it I would even have wished it for him. Rest in peace, Uncle Ted. And thanks again.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
While waiting over two weeks to close the deal on my triumphant conversion to a Man Van, my motoring life has stalled in limbo. I'm driving the same good truck I was a month ago, but it seems a worn copy of its former self. Like being on a date with a girl you know you're going to break up with, it's the inversion of the first date when you are looking for all the qualities and signs that this was meant to be. I've definitely moved into the I don't know what I ever saw in you phase. And the truck knows it.
The driver's door gives up a pathetic little squeak when I open it. Something is rattling in the console -- a nervous tick I never noticed before. It seems to be collecting more dirt than usual. The rock dot on the windshield is spidering. This rig definitely knows it is being dumped and has stopped taking care of itself. When our favorite song comes on the radio I swear the engine lugs. What, you and your car don't have a favorite song? What kind of American are you?
Americans love their cars. Until we don't. First cars we always remember. Cars we might have had for awhile but didn't really deserve we remember. Trade-ins just get added to The Number -- no more indelible than your roommate's girlfriend's friend from Grand Rapids, or that bartender in Harrisburg.
So, fare-thee-well Toyota Tacoma double cab with the five foot bed, I hardly knew ye. Hello Toyota Sienna. Park it anywhere. Make yourself at home. Afterall, it is a three year lease.