Here’s One for the Cars That Carry Us on Tour, Or, Ode to Minivans
I learned to drive during the rainy season in the industrial district of Northwest Portland. My dad took me out in our Nissan Quest minivan, and while he was white knuckling in fear, I was thrilled at my newfound freedom. Since before even that, I have always loved a long drive in a minivan.
When I was 18, I got a 1985 Toyota van. We are talking a silver loaf of bread on wheels. We called it “The Delorean.” It even had a Flux Capacitor – the thing that makes time travel possible, of course – drawn in Sharpie on the ceiling. I drove that thing on tour for years and slept in it all over the Pacific Northwest.
On my very first tour, though, I drove my father’s sedan for the month-long adventure from Oregon to Texas and back, via California on the way down and through Wyoming on the way back. I slept in that sedan in a Waffle House parking lot in Amarillo, TX. It left a lot to be desired in terms of space and discretion. There was no tinted glass behind which to hide either my guitar or my sleeping self.
When I told my dad that this road warrior music-making thing was what I wanted to do with my life, he bought me a Dodge Grand Caravan and built a bed in the back. I named her Brenda Jo Stevens and she was spectacular. That bed had a plywood base with a locked compartment underneath, for my guitar and amp. You could sleep two people almost comfortably in her.
One August, I got hired on Craigslist to haul a woman’s mattress from Portland to Austin. My friends, Hunter Paye and Trevor Reichman and my dog Hopi, and I drove across Death Valley with no air conditioning, with the plastic-covered mattress in the back. It got to 120 degrees. I stopped taking random Craigslist hauling jobs after that. The woman whose mattress it was is now my neighbor in South Austin. Small world.
I put two transmissions and 150,000 miles on that van. Then I sold her to two Mexican gentlemen, and now I fantasize that my Brenda Jo is still living her second life down in a sunny town south of the border.
That brings us to my Subaru years. I toured for years in two different 1998 Subaru Outbacks, with a brief stint in the middle driving my absolute dream: a 1984 Volkswagen Weekender. I had Miss Piggy, the Pink Vanagon, for less than four months when I realized that a VW bus makes a better dream than reality. She was a mellow Pepto Bismol pink with astro turf on the dashboard and bamboo hardwood floors. Pink and green upholstery finished the look. The ultimate in living comfort, Miss Piggy lacked in just about every other way. She was a gas-guzzling, slow moving, conspicuous, and frankly unsafe beast. After one run-in with a bad turn signal bulb, which required the attention of five different mechanics and an unnamed amount of dollars to diagnose, I knew the Pig had to go. So I traded an unsuspecting Craigslist user who was living on the opposite side of the VW dream, straight across for his red Subaru Outback with 120k miles. As soon as he gave me the keys and the title, I was out of there, quick as a shot. Suze the Subaru took me all over the country, and even to Alaska and back.
These days we tour around in a 2003 Honda Odyssey, lovingly called the Marshmallow. We took our oldest boy, Emmett, on tour all over Canada in that van. In my experience, the Odyssey is the highest evolution of the minivan, thereby making it the best van in which to tour. This van can hold both our kids, all of our gear, and drive comfortably. I sure do love a minivan.
Editor’s note: Pink Vanagon pictured is not Raina’s Miss Piggy.