Monday, August 14, 2006


I can't really talk about the van without sharing some of the back story.
We've been looking, searching for a van for months. A half-dozen slipped through our fingers, including the one in the neighborhood, sold 15 minutes before we were ready with cash in hand. More common was the seller who opted to keep the van. There's love in these babies. Telling their stories, listing their attributes or even mentioning the work soon to be needed must be inspirational to a would-be seller. So we didn't get the van in Seattle. Or Kent. Or Everett. Or Spokane. By late July, the search grew to any and all western states.

I made calls to Arizona, Nevada, Colorado. A minute into a conversation with K in Utah, I realized his van was not for us. He, like every other seller I've talked to was happy to share his Volkswagon wisdom, so I listened. Turns out he has a "stable" of Vanagons, including two campers and he'd be willing to part with one. A few more conversations and a chat with his mechanic and I'm on my way to Salt Lake.

Initially, the signs were hard to recognize. The van wasn't ready the day I arrived. It just needed a few things. An emergency break cable, a headlight. Noon tomorrow, for sure.

At 3:00 the next afternoon, I'd been at the mechanic for hours. We have to find a spare tire. An exhaust piece is missing. Warning lights signaled from the dash and I feel the start of an ulcer. (I should mention that I've never paid more than $2,000 for a car and am generally really happy driving my '79 Volvo.) We'll need a new alternator.

"You know, I feel like this just isn't coming together, and I'm in a bit of a time crunch, so I think I'm gonna head back to the airport." Ukiah's birthday was a few days away and if I was driving, I needed plenty of time.

Was I sure? That would be fine, no one wants me to have a car I'm not comfortable with...

My phone rings. Val assures me that she can work for me since there's now no way I'll make it home by Friday.

K pulls a part from another van. It will only take 5, maybe 10 minutes to install. Deep breath. I'll wait.

My phone rings again. Dawn says "Nora, I found your van! " It's in Issaquah and belongs to her friend. I flew to Utah. I spent all day with a British mechanic and a guy who at any given time owns 8-10 vans. I'm buying this van. Plus, it just got a new alternator.

You'd think I would have noticed, but the tabs on this baby expired in 2002. They're strict in Utah and no one wants a ticket, so we tow the van about 60 miles to get the title. We should make it to the DMV just before closing. Except there's traffic.

Two hours later we're at the bank for a cashier's check. My bank assured me I could buy one anywhere. "Any bank can run it as a charge on your debit. No problem, " they told me twice. Not so. At home in Seattle, I sent Brad rushing for a check that he deposited directly to the seller's account.

So we missed the DMV, but I'm willing to brave the possibility of a ticket. K has to unpack his fishing poles and camp gear. And replace the radiator overflow tank. I have dinner with his mom while he runs down the street for a part. Turns out she's a retired preschool teacher and immediately turns the conversation to the disturbing trend of introducing academics to 3-year-olds. We have plenty to talk about.

Handshakes, smiles, a pit in my stomach and I'm on the road. Finally. The brakes feel soft and I'm taking mental notes on the cleaning supplies I'll need. What's that rattling sound? If I can just get to Idaho...

Highway 84, about 1/4 tank of gas and truck stop ahead. I stop in Snowville to fill up. Three tries but the machine won't take my card. I ring it inside. $3.05 a gallon, I leave the pump to do its thing. The van smells hot. But what do I know. $32, not bad. What's that sound?

Gas pours out the underside of the van. I try not to cry. The guys at the station help me push the van, my van, to rest away from the pumps. I call K. My voice shakes when I tell him I want to reverse this deal. I want him to tow this bad boy back to his house. I know it's late. I'm at a truck stop in the middle of no where. He knows just how I feel. One time he bought a car and then it broke down... I start to panic. Then, I remember AAA.

It will take about an hour and a half for the driver to get out to me. I'll have to pay extra mileage to being it all the way to SLC. I buy a bruised granny smith apple and call a few friends for moral support.

The tow truck driver was fantastic. In Utah, a buyer can return a car within 48hrs for a full refund. "The Mormon church owns Coke so they have vending machines at some of the church gyms, but they don't sell coke, just water and sports drinks.." He use to be married. He always meets good people from Seattle, three girls broke down last week on their way to a rainbow gathering. He's not going to charge me for the extra mileage. He'll make sure I get to a decent hotel. We pull over when the sliding door rolls open. It won't latch so we tie it shut with a seatbelt.

I check into the Day's Inn a little after 3am. I'm not sure if it's the bed or just me that's uncomfortable. Morning turns to afternoon and I wait in the hotel lobby. Another guest asks my story. He calls his buddy in California and they find me a van in Eugene. It's a '77, I'll love it.

Eventually, K and I share another round of smiles, handshakes and this time apologies. He hopes the experience hasn't turned me off VWs. They really are wonderful, all that German engineering. I offer that it's probably a great van, but I just don't have time to stay and work the kinks out. I don't mention my sympathy for the loss of income that was going to help him settle his divorce after 22 years of marriage.

The flight home is rough. The pilot apologizes, drink service can't be completed as the attendants need to be buckled in.

We had brownies at Ukiah's party and it only rained a splash. 13. How time flies.

In Issaquah, Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles stuck to the fridge in Scott and Mercedes' Westy. Just like our fridge at home. We adopted her and our mechanics seem to think we'll do all right...

Hard to believe this is the short version of the story.


Amanda said...

It's going to be SO all right for you guys. I just know it. Even for me here, missing you, my dear Nora.

Sorry we didn't really say goodbye to Brad! We'll miss you too, Brad.

Rock on.

Anonymous said...

K. sounds sooo much like an alcoholic friend I ONCE had -- we divorced! I had story after story like yours, but none so protracted! OY! I feel your pain.


Anonymous said...

Posted by neighbor, Julie (VW Rex's mom... the Westy, not dog) - I feel your pain... I REALLY do! What an ordeal!!! I feel terrible that I wasn't able to be a more supportive neighbor\Westy owner in your time of need... all of my 'extra' had to go to the new baby! I'm glad that your search had a happy ending! Also, I'm pretty proud of myself for being able to identify your new van as an '84 just by looking at interior an exterior. Have you named it?

Nora said...

Thanks for all the support, Julia. Hope all is well in the parenting world? We'd like to call our van Buttercup (after our friend the powerpuff girl) but Ukiah hasn't agreeded. Yet.