One of my early blog posts, back in December, 2008, was about my van. I've never been really happy about driving that ultimate symbol of the heterosexual suburban lifestyle. I've always wanted a Jeep, based largely on a fantasy life that exists only in my head. However, the van is much more practical for my real life, which involves a lot of dogs.
The second and third row seats were removed and stored in my shed, where they remain in pristine condition. A rubber mat covers the entire cargo area. There are two, 24" x 36" crates behind the two front seats, an ideal traveling size for most dogs that I ever carry. Behind the crates there is room for two or more good sized dogs to ride uncrated, and the crates create a barrier that usually prevents them from joining me up front. So I can carry four dogs easily, and have carried six or more when necessary. With this set up I've made countless trips to adoption events, to shelters, to pick up dogs from owners, and to deliver them to adopters.
The 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan has been an essential part of the rescue operation and it's been reliable in spite of my sketchy record of oil changes and routine maintenance. I have nothing bad to say about it, except that it's not a Jeep.
Last week the odometer passed 300,000 miles. I had decided that if it reached 300K, I wouldn't ask any more of it. Over the years it has shed some unnecessary parts and accessories while others have just stopped working, but it still starts and runs like a champ, albeit an aging one. I've only been doing essential repairs in recent years, carefully balancing the cost against how much more I could get out of it. I lived without interior lights for many years, and for several years with a window that would take most of the day to roll back up if I put it down. It's been burning oil and leaking power steering fluid to the point that it required a thorough warm up before driving. The air conditioner went out last fall, and I consider that to be essential for the health and well-being of all occupants of the vehicle, human and canine.
The time had come for a new vehicle. I was mired in my middle-aged angst, torn between the vehicle I wanted and the one I actually needed. Clay, ever the practical one, lobbied for another van, and he found one that fit my needs at the local Carmax. We stopped by yesterday on our way into town to check it out. It's a 2014 Toyota Sienna, a former fleet vehicle owned by some company in Massachusettes for a couple of years, with less than 17,000 miles on it. Because it was a company van, it didn't have the video system that they put in most vans to entertain the kids. It's actually pretty basic, but it has interior lights, windows that work, a sun visor that I haven't had in several years, and most importantly, air conditioning. The critical factor was whether the crates would fit, but the salesman provided a tape measure and we confirmed that they would.
I looked longingly at a Jeep and went over to sit in it, knowing that was probably as close as I'd ever get to having one. But in the end, I came home with the van as I always knew I would. Ironically, if I had owned a van for the typical reason of hauling kids around to school and soccer games, I might now be ready for the Jeep. But fur kids don't grow up, go to college, or move out on their own. I'm pretty much stuck in doggy dad mode, and realistically, that's not likely to change any time soon. Besides, it's black, sleek, and shiny, pretty bad ass looking, for a minivan.