One of the most definitive chapters of my life came to an end today. Maybe it means I’m a grown-up, maybe it means I’ve sold out. You decide:
The summer I graduated from college, I shaved my head and moved into an ’85 Volkswagon camper van complete with stove, sink and fridge. Why? Because all the other post-modern feminist Jewish girls were doing it. I had read a lot of Beat authors and I knew my destiny would be found on the road, and because there was no f*n way I was going to grad school.
I remember shopping for said used vehicle with my dad, who thank G*d felt like fulfilling his fatherly duty of making sure his daughter had a decent set of wheels to live in. I knew I wanted a van, a cool van, not the weird conversion minivan with pimped out running lights and a Cheech and Chong horn he insisted I test drive. “No way, Dad. All the other homeless kids will make fun of me.”
No, the punk princess with a scalp full of stubble and vintage Ramones t-shirt had to have the VW. “Fine,” my dad sighed. “Drive around on the blood of your ancestors. You’ve already broken your mother’s heart with that haircut.”
I was heading for Alaska by way of the California coast, working odd jobs (I read tarot cards in San Luis Obispo, built a horseshoe pit in Saratoga and cleaned up after the Shakespeare Festival in Napa) until my adorable German van went kaput! near the little hippie town of Fairfax.
By the time I had scraped the money together to get a new engine, I had found a job, roommates and a boyfriend. So I stayed. But I kept the van; I became the most popular girl in town when it was Burning Man season (I’ve still never been.)
I found a Jewish guy who liked me for more than the van. He proposed to me in the van. We conceived our first child in the van. The child was almost born in the van, but his head got stuck.
When I got pregnant with our second child, it became evident that the van would no longer suit our needs (translated: no responsible parent can justify dumping $500 every other month for repairs into car with no airbags.) I sold the van to a cute Jewish hippie girl in her 20’s. When I passed the keys off, it felt like a Fellini movie.
Unable to succumb to sensibility, I bought another, slightly newer VW van. (VW stopped making the Vanagon in ’91; it followed up with the Eurovan in the late 90’s. The Eurovan looks nice, but every VW head I’ve talked to thinks they’re for yuppies trying to fake a rich hippie vibe.) Although the new van kept me happy for awhile with its fat tires and CD player, the mechanic’s bills began to add up. And frankly, I was starting to feel like a real poseur since we had only camped twice in two years. (Some people camp with their kids. Apparently we’re more of a rent-a-condo-in-San Diego kind of family.)
So when my cousins announced they were moving back to Israel, I began eyeing their Mazda minivan. It was beige, dent-free and the A/C worked; it was younger than my son! I crunched numbers: For what I could sell the van to some sucker for, I could buy the minivan and have enough left over to pay off all the credit cards. Sure, I’d be selling my identity as “carefree hippie mom”, but it’s hard to be carefree when gas is three bucks a gallon, organic milk is six bucks a gallon and a gallon of blog posts doesn’t add up to diddlypoo.
So now the deal has been done. I am no longer a VW owner with the cachet that it comes with; I’m pretty sure Mazda minivan owners don’t flash each other the “Peace” sign when they pass each other on the road. But then again, the guilt trip of driving a Nazimobile is over.
I don’t know why I (and lots of other people, I guess) identify so much with what they drive; maybe it’s just California. In any case, it won’t be long before I take the Beige Behemoth and make it an art car.