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
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! Können 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.