As I was on the cusp of entering early adulthood, the minivan was becoming the family car of choice. I distinctly remember my twenty-something self saying, “Oh my God, I will never have a minivan. I will never be that vanilla.”
But, it’s twenty-years later, and oh my God! Yes, I am that vanilla. I’ve had three consecutive minivans, and I confess the bland doesn’t stop there: All three were Honda Odysseys, and all of them were silver.
My lease was up about seven days ago and I was finally ready to step outside my mini-van box. This is not a decision I took lightly. I am married to someone whose career has focused for decades on IT disaster recovery. Remember Y2K? He was one of those guys.
My husband is a master at finding the disaster lurking behind ordinary things. Couches with loose back pillows? Complete domestic disaster, they will look rumpled years before a tight back couch will. It took us four years of research to find the right replacement for our old couch and nine years to find the right house.
Two years into my three-year car lease, John says, “We need to start researching a new car.” For normal people this would be plenty of time and possibly even overkill, but as you can see from previous purchases, we are not normal people.
In fact, I have friends whose car died an untimely death and they had to buy something in two days. Color me astounded to discover they walked into a dealership and drove out with a car, perfectly happy. They did this without watching hours and hours of YouTube comparisons nor did they spend weeks test driving every vehicle in its class multiple times. They even did this without spreadsheets.
I became hopeful. Surely, John and I, with a year, could muddle through and figure something out.
My requirements were fairly simple. I wanted third row seating. I did not want a giant SUV (I have a problem with hitting curbs, the house, my Mother in law’s car). And in no uncertain terms did I want another Odyssey.
The contenders competing for the new family shuttlecraft looked so sporty and fit on the starting line. But, like the American Gladiators, they would get halfway through the course and into the pit they would fall.
The Toyota Highlander? Great price, good gas millage, and comfortable. But wait: not comfortable at all in the third row. In fact, there is not enough legroom for a four year old. SPLATT!
The Volvo XC90? Not only safe and comfortable, but also beautiful with super cool smart technology. Sure, a little pricy. But wait! It was loud on the road and underpowered. Do we really want to spend that much for a noisy four-cylinder in Dallas, home of the never-let-a-person-in-your-lane driver? SPLATT!
On and on it went, contenders falling left and right. In the meantime, so was our year buffer. Time was slipping. We were at four months, then three, and then two. At two we started getting panicky and being snippy with each other.
John and I have been married for sixteen years. I realized, not too long ago, that if we went to a wedding reception with one of those marriage dances, we could actually be on the floor a while. People would look at us, completely engaged, thinking how sweet. In reality we would be staring into each other’s eyes, intently hoping for the answer to our car dilemma.
A week before the official turn-in date, we had narrowed it down to three potential vehicles. At the top of the list, the Ford Explorer.
Let me be honest: I have only owned one other American car in my life and it was my dream car, a Jeep Sahara. My parents were mortified when I bought it. They couldn’t believe anyone would give me a loan. In their defense, I looked pretty shaky on paper. I’d only been in my new job for four months and my apartment for four weeks. Yet, despite a horrifying interest rate, I got that beautiful Sahara.
Once, the engine fell out when I drove over railroad tracks, but both the car and I survived.
I had a corporate job at the time, and actually had to wear business skirts and pantyhose to the office. Let me just say that neither pantyhose nor actual business attire are the proper apparel for a jeep. It is sacrilege. I stopped counting the number of times I would be standing in a parking lot wearing sensible heels, skirt and a suit jacket fighting with the canvas and plastic jeep cover as raindrops were starting to fall. I think it was being a jeep-owner trying to get the tiny cover back on the frame that helped me fine-tune my cursing skills.
Still, it was a glorious time in my life, being a twenty-six-year-old with a jeep. I felt like an REI commercial even though most of my drive time was spent in Dallas traffic. That was a mere technicality. In my mind, I was really off-roading in the high desert.
Perhaps the Explorer would be the road away from my alter-ego Minivan Mom.
John and I went to drive it one more time. At the last minute John says, “Let’s test out the third row.” Great I think, remembering how roomy it was. I start to move the seat. It will not budge.
The sales guy steps in to show us the ease of moving the seat and getting in and out. There is no ease. It is ridiculously hard. I can barely manage it. There is no way a couple of kids are getting in or out of there in less than twenty minutes. I delay looking at John as I know his disaster meter is going off. One glance confirms it: our big Gladiator hopeful has fallen on the last obstacle.
This leaves the Honda Pilot and by some miracle, the Volvo is back on the list thanks to the Internet. Seems the Volvo dealer’s web page has a stellar deal: the monthly payment is less than the Honda! Yeah, the Volvo is a bit noisy and underpowered. But have I mentioned the TOTALLY cool stay in your own lane technology? Considering my driving skills, the little arrow on the mirror that indicates when someone is in my blind spot would be more than a little helpful. And there’s also magic involved: when under thirty-one miles per hour, the Volvo can drive itself in a straight-away. So. Freakin’. Cool.
John calls the dealership, but first, he figures, just to be safe, he will see if our credit union will get a buyout going on our current minivan. We are now three days to drop-off and time is ticking, but we are really thinking the Volvo is going to be it.
If we get the Volvo, it will be the nicest car I have ever owned.
John reminds me that I’ll have to change my evil ways: No more driving around inside a trash can. I will have to wash the exterior. (Rain doesn’t count.) If I do not keep this car from getting the normal Jeanette-car-smell, he will divorce me, sell the car and buy me a 1968 Volkswagen Bus that already smells bad.
His concerns are not without warrant. I typically drive a pigpen car. A little swirl of dust, several papers, toys – even the odd biscuit – will often fly out during when I’m dropping the kids at school. I always cringe when the Vice- Principal opens our car door.
Before I have too much time to contemplate whether the Volvo is really worth risking my marriage, I hear John in the other room, “Shysters! Total misrepresentative shysters! The price is $400 more a month than on the web page. We will not buy from these people.”
And another car bites the dust.
We are down to the Honda Pilot. John makes it unappealing when he smugly informs me that the Pilot is really an Odyssey. He reminds me that we can only get a white or silver car. Dark colors are too hot in Texas; other colors show too much dirt. Considering I only get the car washed when the dealership does the free oil change, I kind of get where he’s coming from.
John hates the pearly white color currently offered by Honda so that leaves silver. Again. But, it is different enough, and it has blind spot recognition. It is going to be great!
Then it happens: John gets the call from the credit union saying we cannot buy out the Odyssey, if we choose to do so. Evidently, we cannot get a $17k car loan. The repercussions of this are that we cannot get a car loan from anyone anywhere.
You see, John has been at war with Honda Finance for three years over $109 Honda says we owed after the return of one of the previous Odysseys. John insisted we didn’t.
Three years of nasty notes from Honda Finance are seeming more ominous than I imagined now that the current car must be returned in less than forty-eight hours. John now hates Honda with every fiber of his six-foot, three-inch being. “There will never be another Honda in our home after this one!”
After a year of looking for cars, I am actually beginning to question whether I will ever again have a car at all! I try to picture life in Dallas on a bicycle. It is not pretty. On the up-side, I have wanted to lose weight. If I don’t have a car, I can’t go out to lunch or the grocery store.
For some reason I have about 10 cans of pumpkin in my pantry. I am sure the family can live off that until the stalemate with Honda Finance is over.
John concedes and pays the $109 to Honda Finance the next day. Only after making it clear that we will never buy another Honda. Our children will never buy a Honda. Our children’s children will never by a Honda.
He also informs them that if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, we are certain Honda will cause it.
Turn-in day arrives for the Odyssey.
Our credit union calls to say that we are now considered upstanding citizens. The $109 blemish that has prevented us from getting a loan is now gone. We can buy out the lease on the three-year-old Honda Odyssey sitting in my garage.
John asks me what I want to do. I think about the ten cans of pumpkin in the pantry. I think about the year we have spent test driving. The hours we have spent watching YouTube comparisons instead of Downton Abbey. I realize there are worse things than being vanilla.
“Let’s buy the damned Odyssey,” I say.
“Okay,” John says, “now that we have that settled, can I go buy a convertible BMW?”
“Of course,” I say, “but only if there is a zombie apocalypse.
About the Author: Jeanette McGurk
Jeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.
She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.