duct duct duct DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories   duct
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Mystery Van

Helen Rafferty

I drive a mini-van with 90,000 miles on it. I tell myself (and anyone else who will listen) that my mini-van is practical, comfortable and economical; at 27mpg highway and 18mpg city, a rolling testament to my good sense and environmental sensitivity. I can buy out an entire tag sale and cart it home with my 3 rd row of seats out. I can safely and comfortably transport my daughter's brownie troop to the zoo and back. Every spring, a dozen flats of impatiens enjoy a luxurious, unhurried ride from the local garden center to my backyard. And the five-hour ride to grandma's house is a breeze, with the kids anesthetized by the 14-inch video screen that folds down from the van ceiling. I'm free to blast my Joni Mitchell CD's while they enjoy the latest Disney movie (at least, that's what they tell me they're watching). Yep, it sure is a smart, practical, economical and environmentally correct vehicle, this old mini-van of mine. I drive it every day. I drive it everywhere. And it is only through a monumental act of will that I refrain from driving it into some New Jersey swamp and leaving it to rot, multiple cup-holders and all.

Brownie troops? Tag sales? Impatiens? This can't be my life! And this sure as hell can't be my car. How did I end up driving a high-mileage, low-profile Mom-mobile? There's been some terrible mistake and I guess I'm the one who made it. My ride of choice is really a '69 Mustang convertible with a matte black paint job and a muffler that could moonlight as a siren for the town fire department. It's a lean, mean machine that I'd employ to speed away from one disastrous romantic entanglement after another (and if I had a sexier car, I'd be entangled). My car should not be a family room on wheels, damn it. My car should be as sexy and dangerous as I am, at least in my imagination.

Now, realistically speaking, would I trade the family and the life I've spent twenty years building for a more glamorous car, a more glamorous life? I guess not. After all, I've piled my husband and my kids and our dog into the Town& Country for years and it has gotten us wherever we wanted to go. Truthfully, I wouldn't give up a single mile that my family and I have happily journeyed together in that van.

And yet, sometimes I watch that zippy little sports car zoom past me as I cruise the middle lane and wonder - would I take a less-traveled road through life if I could go eighty miles an hour without getting a serious case of the shakes? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I'm on the right road, life-wise. But still, I wonder if I could handle making an occasional detour into adventure, even if the folks at Good Housekeeping have stamped their seal of approval on my car and on my life. And would an escapade out in the wider world be any more satisfying than my fantasies? I don't know. I do know that the car a woman drives gives no clue as to the roads she's traveled or how many dangerous entanglements she's sped away from, Joni Mitchell blasting on the stereo and 27mpg highway assuring a happy ending to yet another adventure on the road.

Notice the next mini-van that drives by. The driver will more often than not be a middle-aged woman like myself. She may be dressed in head-to-toe Talbot's and ferrying kids, dogs, gardening supplies or all of the above. She may not look like she has an unconventional bone in her body. But observe more closely. Look for some sign that her inner wild woman is alive and well and I bet you'll spot one soon enough. It may be as obvious as a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from her rear-view mirror or as subtle as her fingers tapping on the steering wheel as she listens to some particularly raunchy rap music.

I suppose I could make my van a look a little sexier, a little more dangerous. Maybe I should get some of those fuzzy dice or get flames painted on the side. I could add a provocative bumper sticker or two - "Honk if You Like Leather Interiors!" or

"Moms Know the Facts of Life!" Then again, why give anything away that easily? A little mystery makes any life more interesting. I think we'll just keep everyone guessing, my mystery van and me.


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