Without thinking much of it, I’ve tended toward brand loyalty. We’ve been Mac owners since the first 64k. I can’t pass a pub that advertises draught Guinness without a stop. I’ve been with various models of Elizabeth Fuller for nearly sixty years—always a bit of a challenge, but never fails in the clutch. That would be the subject of a book, has been in fact, but this week I want to talk about Dodge vans.
Not the most appealing subject, but a significant part of our lives. We’ve owned four, not counting the first with Theatre X, 1970-74, rehabilitated by a company actor with mechanical expertise. It carried the company and an infant Eli from Milwaukee to Boston, subsequently all over the Midwest. Discomfort aplenty, but it got the job done.
When we formed The Independent Eye, almost all our work was duo touring, and very soon we had a two-year-old and another infant, with another Dodge Maxivan. Elizabeth rebuilt the interior, with an 18-inch platform in back to allow sleeping space above, prop storage below. These were the days before mandatory children’s seats, so our family bounced around within it.
Over the years I’ve lost track of how long we had what. There was a two-tone van, a copper van, a blue van, and they took us to 38 states—no, not quite, as on far-west gigs we flew. Most nights, sponsors lodged us in private homes, but there were nights like an Iowa community college, where the sponsor had failed to secure lodging and was nowhere to be found. We sacked out in the van in the college parking lot. Not sure what we did about peeing.
And I can’t recall the circumstances of their demise. As sad as it is, you can bury cats, but a van is more of a challenge. The only one I distinctly recall is the one we sold to a farmer who intended to haul potatoes. I’d have preferred to keep it within the arts, but I approve of potatoes.
Since moving to California, our touring has been limited to one tour a year, and we’ve built shows to pack into the back of our Prius. The difference between 15 mpg and 40 mpg is significant, and it’s worked okay. But we still have Sheba Big-butt—we can’t refrain from naming them all.
Sheba’s on her last legs. One of these days she won’t pass her emissions test, and that’ll be that. (One of these days, of course, neither will I.) Her main function in recent years has been an inglorious one: hauling trash to the dump. And yet . . .
Right now she’s sitting in our driveway. She’s poised for evacuation from the California fires. She’s packed with cooking and camping gear, some of our electronics, clothing, food, water, and pee pot. She’s actually quite elegant indoors, thanks to a Berber rug in the back and improvised purple curtains that give it the feel of a Turkish bordello. (I’m only surmising that.) If the order comes, one of us will drive the Prius, the other the van. The cats will inhabit the van. They won’t much like it, but we’ll explain that we’ve lived there for hundreds of thousands of miles.
We all have our functions, and eventually we fall apart. An old poem from grade-school English class comes back: “The One-Hoss Shay.” A horse carriage is so well-built that it lasts through generations, presumably cycling through multiple horses, until at last it falls apart in one instant crash. So should Sheba. So should we.