Friday, January 18, 2013

Minivan Follow Up

Remember how I was spending a lot of time stressing over the should-we-get-minivan-when-we-get-a-second-car? question. Well, I'm throughly convinced that some day in the future, at some point in time, we will get a minivan. But not in the next year or so!

There was a point in our long drive home in our little station wagon from Iowa at Thanksgiving; Fritz was riding copilot and I was driving. Now, if you've ever road tripped with a 2 and 5 year old for several hours, then you probably already know that the copilot position is much more stressful than the driver position. Fritz was getting an especially bad dose of copilot, because we had failed to find an appropriate pitstop along the highway. An appropriate pitstop with kids meets three criteria: 1) space to run around (indoors if the weather is bad), 2) food to eat, and 3) a bathroom. What we had managed to find was a mega hunting killer enabling gun selling sportsmen store. For running around and a bathroom, it was great. It was one of those places with live fish and waterfalls, stuffed deer displays, and vehicles that were labeled DO NOT CLIMB ON. (We saw the DO NOT CLIMB ON signs too late. But I think that's because the good folks at Cabela's hid the signs towards the back of the display. In reality, they understand that kids need to climb around in mini-sized jeeps. How else are they going to sell parents on $5000 mini jeeps if they don't enlist the help of the kids?)

Where the mega sportsman store failed us was food. The grill was open, but they told us it would take 30 minutes to make a pizza. Thirty minutes to make a pizza?! Ridiculous. I packed everybody in the car, and informed them we were going to do something REALLY FUN: we were going to the Burger King Drive-Thru! If you deprive your children of these things in ordinary life, then it seems like a real adventure when they are 500 miles from home.

Fritz groaned, but took his place in the copilot seat.

He groaned a second time at the drive thru window when I started handing him the array of bags, boxes, drinks and condiments to distribute around the car.

He groaned many more times as he retrieved cheap plastic toys from the floor, helped the boys insert their straws into their drinking containers, found condiment-acceptable applications, and mediated french fry proportions disputes.

But he really started groaning hard when it came time to clean up. Now, look, if it had been me as copilot, I would have crushed - or folded - all that packaging down into the smallest size possible and put the trash on the floor under Mattias' feet. But Fritz had a sudden round of car sickness (from all that turning around!) and could only manage to fill a huge bag with uncrushed packaging, which he decided to leave sitting on his lap, barricading the entire copilot space. I'm not sure he could even see out the windshield anymore. I don't think it was helping his car sickness.

"Papa? Papa! K├Ânnen wir jetzt was gucken?" Daddy? Daddy! Can we watch something now?

Fritz groaned one last time at the prospect of setting up a DVD for the boys to watch on our borrowed car DVD monitors.

After sitting silently in his trash barricaded copilot seat for ten minutes more, Fritz said forcefully,

"ARGH! Let's just buy the damn minivan!"

There's illness common to all architects. I've touched on it before. But for this post, I'll say it like this: we hate to spend money on things we don't like. If we can imagine something BETTER, then it's hard to let go of imperfections. With the minivan, my disease keeps rearing its stubborn head. What I like about the minivan is the car chassis which gives you the ability to freely move (inside) between the front seats and far back seats. The pure interior volume in a minivan is impressive. And it's comfortable. But from the exterior, the aesthetic of the minivan is just...dated. Really dated. And uninspired. When I'm sitting behind a minivan at a traffic light, I find myself mentally re-sculpting the exterior body. Not just making stupid little changes to the shapes of the windows (Boo, Odyssey!), but rather trying to reposition the mass of the body, reveal a little more undercarriage, perhaps? Something. Something to make the damn thing look less – less minivan-ny. Of course it's possible. Of course it is. It's just that by introducing 7 seat SUVs, car companies thought they could still solve the ugly design problem AND make yet more money. Why bother to truly re-design the minivan, if you can sell more by introducing a NEW product?

Our second car presumption has always been that if I'm the one driving the car, hauling around three kids, the car should be very reliable and (probably) new. But why would I spend $30,000 on a design that I can't really get behind? I'd hate to do that. I'd hate to mis-use my buying power. And that's how I see $30,000. Buying Power. And a Stamp of Aesthetic Approval.

But I don't approve.

One of Fritz's students finished his PhD and headed home to Germany. He was trying to get rid of his 12 year old, 2 door car. It was so inexpensive. The taxes and insurance on it are so low. We bought it for Fritz. That means we've joined the ranks of the two car family after 8 years of sharing one car - and Fritz gets the new addition. I think we're paying less than $400 additional a year in taxes AND insurance. Part of me thinks that it's wrong: here we are producing more carbon dioxide with an old, second car. We're driving more miles than we used to. The real costs in terms of greenhouse gases and less exercise are high. But the out-of-pocket expense? Shamefully low. In the end, maybe you could accuse me of short term, near-sighted action: even if the old car only lasts a year, I felt that, at least financially, we'd come out ahead. Additional benefit: with a 12 year-old car, it's allowed to be an ugly car. The Stamp of Approval is faded and less significant. So, it's done. It's over. We are officially a two car family. But no minivan.

Even though we haven't improved the copilot situation, it feels like we've entered some new world of luxury to have TWO cars. I worry about 95% less knowing that Fritz is driving home, as opposed to biking home, in the dark. (Yes, he does have a very good, strong bike lamp. STILL.) Fritz laughs when I tell him this, because he's been biking home in the dark for years. But it worried me. Maybe I just didn't know how much.

I'll remember this feeling of luxury when I'm cramming all three kids and carseats into the tiny backseat.

Also, baby steps: don't want life to become too luxurious too quickly. Next task? Purchasing the seats to actually fit in the back of the car.

Part 1 here.
Part 2 is what you are reading.
Part 3 here.


Pregnantly Plump said...

Congrats on the new car! And good luck on finding 3 seats that fit. We put all of ours in a row, and the biggest issue is buckling Little Elvis in. It's not too bad.

Anonymous said...

If you ever stop at burger king or such place again, this is what I do: I ask for empty cups in which I then distribute the french fries - easier to handle. no ketchup in the car, period. and I have refillable water bottles (Sigg, if you know that brand) which I then also fill up with fresh water at restrooms. Oh, and for car sickness: sandbucket with trashbag inside - trashbag can easily be shut and taken out at the next stop...

Anonymous said...

We just survived a seven hour car trip to France. Each kid got a mp3 player for Christmas and we loaded different CDs for them, according to age level and interest. It was the easiest trip so far, even though we also had a major throw-up accident at some point. I have to admit that the youngest (five years) was only interested in listening for a little while, but for the older ones it was a big hit (Harry Potter's first book comes on nine CDs - imagine how long they can listen).