Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Driving To Nevada To Buy A Van: Urbandale 1976

It wasn't that I lacked practical sense, I actually could be a very practical person, but when it came to spending money on big items, I had little sense at all. Which was how I came to be riding in a car with Second Oldest Brother down little dirt roads in rural Iowa trying to find his friend who wanted to sell me his van.
Now, I had been practical enough to save my money from working in the stockroom at Younkers (at the Merle Hay Mall) for almost two years so that I could buy a car with cash. I mean, I spent very little. I had, I think, close to twelve thousand in my little savings account my parents had helped me start as soon as I got the job while in high school (I'd quit football and had gotten the job instead, walking to the mall after school and often working full days on weekends). So, eventually I got the car bug and wanted one of my own. My older brother--Second Oldest--had had cars by then, had had money and had spent money, so I went to him for advice. And he, in turn, went to his friends who were trying to unload certain cars.
In all fairness, Second Oldest Brother took me around to some car lots and I drove some cars from there. I knew nothing about anything: what to expect, what to ask, how much I should pay. Second Oldest Brother was there for that, I figured. Eventually he showed me his friend's vehicle, a Grand Prix (Pontiac?). I liked big cars, more or less, and I drove it around but decided it wasn't for me. I told him what I really wanted was a van, one I could camp in or live in. You see, I didn't tell him this, but I was fresh out of high school and I wanted to get a van, a dog, and hit the highway. I wanted to go out west and live a vagabond's life. So, Second Oldest Brother knew of a friend who had a van. He lived out in Nevada.
Now, this was not the western state of Nevada, that mecca of gambling and whorehouses and deflated housing markets, no this was Ne-VAY-da (as I believe the locals pronounced it), a small town in rural Iowa not terribly far from Des Moines. So that's how I ended up with Second Oldest Brother driving the back roads one summer weekend.
I have to say, it was very nice of my brother to take the time and effort to help me. He drove me out there at his own expense, even bought me some McDonalds as we got a bit lost. Just he and I, he closer to adulthood than me (two or three years older) who had always been the doer in the family, the one to get a paper route, the one to buy his own mini bike, then car and other items, the one who was most independent and anxious to get out of the house. Which was also why he was the most mysterious brother, the sibling I felt I understood the least.
We had been a very close family in many ways, yet also an odd one. Yes, we had both parents and were a family of five kids (four boys, one girl). We were all born in Sioux Falls, SD but from there we moved often: Vancouver, WA, Jonesborough and then Johnson City TN, Des Moines/Urbandale, IA. So, in many ways we were close to each other out of necessity, out of a sense that all other relationships were transitory . . . But as we got older, as Oldest and then Second Oldest finished high school and as we stayed in one spot--in Iowa--for once, we kind of drifted apart. Then again, I should say that we became indifferent to each other. Both of our parents had grown up in broken families, both without fathers (my father's father was in a mental hospital all of his life after WWI; my mother's father ran away, abandoning his family). And we, as their offspring, always had some kind of element in us, one that is hard to explain but that essentially was disdainful of positive emotions, of showing need or affection or cohesion as a family unit. I'm not sure. I mean, we knew we were loved and that my parents loved each other, but, yet, no one could say the word and we were often--as we got older--more mean to each other than nice and then we were, as I said, indifferent. My parents, fatherless children of the Great Depression and young adults of WWII (in which my father fought in Europe), perhaps had learned to deal with sadness and disappointment in their lives through indifference to it, so much so that we kids carried a certain stoic/pessimistic gene . . . Then again, who the heck knows. Maybe we were pretty much like everyone else. (We all get along quite well now, us "kids", but we also live far away from and don't have much contact with each other.)
What I'm trying to point out is that it was strange and somewhat embarrassing to me for my older brother to be helping me out, to care enough to help out. But we did find his friend and the van and I bought it. I paid the asking price because I had no concept that I could bicker--and, Oldest Brother never said a peep that I could ask for less from his friend. Yes, I paid too much. Yet, I was happy to have the van: a 72 Ford Econoline painted in two-tone blue with shag carpeting on the inside and a bed in back, a cooler between the two front seats (Captain's seats) also hidden by shag carpeting. It was quite the 70's semi-hippy mobile.
I never did take the van out west.
I did take it to Florida that next spring, to Daytona and Key West. I took it to Iowa City a few times and when I decided to go to college, it sat back at my parents house until it became an eyesore. I eventually sold it to friend of a neighbor for about $500--more than $2000 less than I paid for it.
So it goes.
I disliked owning a car for many years afterwards.

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