The Van

The twelve of us shivered in an awkward, don’t-touch-me sort of penguin huddle in a parking lot, waiting to load our luggage into the vehicles. We were about to get underway on a week-long choir tour of the Northwest, and I was no longer sure that it was going to be the exciting adventure I had told myself it would be. I was also the official driver of the large white fifteen-passenger van that functioned as our luggage transport and carried six people, including myself. I had never driven one before. It felt like a Great Dane cavorting through Grandmother’s crystal when we passed through the midst of gleaming, new swathes of vehicles on the interstate. The least mis-step threatened collision, stopping took much longer than was reasonable, and the problem child that was our gas pedal only responded to abusively heavy treatment.

The wind was picking up and the sky was spitting menacingly when we scraped our piles of assorted suitcases, bags, backpacks, dufflebags, instrument cases and equipment together, loaded it in like a Tetris puzzle and then began to sort out who wanted to ride in the mini-van and who wanted to ride the dangerous looking behemoth. As people wavered, and looked longingly at the new air-conditioned, sparkling, sporty minivan, I turned to my charge and was underwhelmed. No cushy individualized seating here, just one-size-seats-all benches. No slick passing and slipping between traffic, but slow waits and oh-come-on muttering. I could see the gloomy looks settling into the faces of those around me who were considering the whole week-long trip they faced in this bottom-heavy monster. Then, out of the grey sky, a curious little mood lighted on my mind. This was going to be good. I wanted the challenge. I wanted to wrestle the behemoth and show him what I could do and make it respect me. I wanted, suddenly and oh so badly, for everyone to want to ride my bus. I could not promise comfort, but the muse was tickling, and one thing I knew I could promise: a good time. In an inspired moment, I circled my right hand high in the air like I was rounding up a squad of soldiers, and shouted “If you’re all ready, the Fun-vee is rolling out.” The muse pulled off the unlikeliest of shots, and there it was: that magical hint of a smile on one girl’s face, and then it was all over the place, like someone let loose a toddler with a marker. Everyone smiled, and in that moment, the trip was made. The individuals galvanized, grouped, and entered the van like a single unit. If I was going to be a bus driver, then I was going to be a lively one. I don’t know if the behemoth was fishing for me, or me for it: but either way, it was in for a ride.

The doors slammed as the grey sky broke and fell in on us, too late to soak us, huddled inside our van with a rear full of luggage, instruments, and expectations. It was snub-nosed, ugly as sin, and if it ever tried to twerk, we’d have needed the Richter scale to properly judge it, but beyond all reason and common sense, it was ours. I have never felt so possessive of anything in my life, except my wife: and I know that my occupants felt the same way. How did I know? Except for once, all week, not one of my passengers ever tried to switch out of the big van. In fact, we talked about the other vehicles in a tone of slight pity, as if they wished they could all be driving with us. It probably wasn’t true: really it wasn’t at all, but it was, for us. They weren’t members of the Fun-vee, which was clearly a prestigious and exclusive privilege, bestowed once, and discontinued thereafter. Whatever happened, we were a gang for a week, and Lord, but we had fun. There was a time I had to request a break from the fun because my mouth hurt from smiling too much, and my driving was clearly suffering when I laughed long and loud. Yes, that thing was a behemoth. But true to biblical prediction, we would never forget the attempt to ride him.