Sometimes there are things in your past that you think about and grin, then shudder and grin again. I have one of those, it is "The Van".
Before I had a driver's license our family had a 1975 Dodge Conversion Van. This van was just like the Napoleon Dynamite van but it had a crazy painted border of green diamonds that was like a screaming finger print. You always knew whose van it was when you saw the paint job.
Before I could drive, "The Van" was so not cool! After I could drive, I discovered that "The Van" was a teenagers dream come true. It was a house on wheels that we could escape in and be covert in our adventures.
We traveled in "The Van", we partied in "The Van", we got in trouble in "The Van" and we escaped in "The Van".
We traveled to points far and wide, Winona, MN; Starved Rock State Park, IL; The Dells, WI; Turkey Run, IN; Kansas City, MO and all points in between. The partying happened pretty much all the time. If there was more than one teenage human in "The Van" then it was a party. We use to load up "The Van" and drive around looking for something fun to do. I can't go into the details of the partying because I don't want to incriminate myself, suffice to say that we were adventurous teenagers and definitely pushed the boundaries of.....well.....everything.
Often, the partying is what led to the getting in trouble, by the police, security guards, parents, passersby and other good deed doers. I actually got hand cuffed by a security detail at Northwestern University once because they found my friends and I hiding in a really big bush in a lakeside park. What were we doing in a really big bush? We were hiding from the security detail so that we could stay at the lake front park and not be bothered. We weren't doing anything felonious, we were just being obnoxious teenagers. The security detail shined their flashlights to try and find us in the really big bush but our whispered laughter made sure that they didn't have to look for too long. As we exited the bush with our hands up, I said something that I don't recall but whatever it was.....I was pushed up against "The Van" and the cuffs were put on. I was then placed in the back of the rent-a-cop squad car while they interrogated my friends. We were finally released on our own recognisance and escorted out of the area. How exciting.
We escaped in "The Van" too. We escaped from school, from church, from boring parties, from parents and from our home town. Escaping from school was the pinnacle of our abilities to use "The Van". We use to cram 5-8 people in a small balsa wood closet that had a vinyl accordion door and was directly behind the driver (it also had a nook in the back for eating, cabinets, a stove and a sink) and we would try to leave inconspicuously. HA! We got stopped a few times by the school NARCS or paraprofessionals as they preferred to be called, but I was working on my storytelling and would conjure up all kinds of fantasy to keep from getting busted. The scary thing was I got really good at making up reasons why I was driving away in "The Van" in the middle of a school day. My favorite was...I am sorry but I really have to go and get my mom's prescription because she ran out and needs it. No really! I have to get it now! I think that my teenage dramatic sense was just too overwhelming for them and they would let me go to save my mother's life. Did I mention that there was a small neighborhood pharmacy barely a block away? No matter. "The Van" became a famous, or infamous, hangout for me and later both my brothers.
At one point it became a kind of mobile stunt school.
I am letting that sentence sit alone, out in the open, so that you can digest it and conjure up your interpretation of what this might mean in reality. This was a school that was passed down from sibling to sibling. As my brothers got their license to drive, a new headmaster would be at the wheel and it would go something like this...I would drive and my brothers and their friends would setup the table in the back like a ramp. They would cover the front engine cover with pillows from the benches because this created the optimal landing pad and I would floor it! The student, seated on some small wheeled vehicle like a Big Wheel or Green machine, would await maximum velocity and then SSCCRREEEEEEEECCCCCCCCHHHHHHH! The brakes would be applied and the student would be flung, no, shot through the air into the padded engine cover at the front of "The Van". Now, I see a look of shock on your face, as an adult I have the same look, but everyone survived this and many other semesters of the stunt school. "The Van" however took a horrible beating. One of the students miscalculated their trajectory and ended up demolishing the closet behind the driver's seat, which was obviously intentionally built with breakaway capabilities. Safety first.
I sometimes wonder how each generation is able to survive past adolescence given the stupid things we do. There are many told and untold lessons that were learned in "The Van" but the one that stuck with me was that as a teenager I learned about REAL freedom. The rewards of it, the costs of it and the responsibility of it. I remember to this day all the lessons that "The Van" taught me and the freedom it gave me and I love recalling the crazy fun we had in "The Van".
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