Until recently I drove a 1998 Ford Windstar van. Oh, it was the stuff of family life and I did sincerely love that van, dated though it was by the time the federal government decided to pay us $4,500 to get rid of it. The room! The space! Then endless transportability of endless streams of my own offspring, various and sundry cousins, friends who were either coming to visit or going home, and my mother. All fit into the hulking beast that was my minivan.
Not that this old thing was the only clunker on the Soileau lot. Ah, no. When Tras and I married he came equipped, standard, with a 1989 Jeep Cherokee that, if you stand back and squint a little, still is a rather stylish vehicle. Oh sure, it’s got a horrible case of psoriasis (otherwise known as a case of the peeling clear-coat) and it suffers from Terminal Take-Apart Tremors, also known as a Project that never quite reached its natural completion. But despite its flaws I do rather like it; it was the vehicle that bore Tras to me when we were dating and I have a long and storied history of forming ridiculous attachments to otherwise worthless objects (ask me about my stretchy cotton headband sometime. I’ve been wearing every night to wash my face since the Carter Administration).
So the van was utilitarian bliss and the Jeep has deep sentimental value — but otherwise these two vehicles were the very definition of Clunkers. As in, Cash for Clunkers, the hot-hot-hot summer program whereby, if your vehicle qualified, you got an extra $3,500 or $4,500 to trade in your, you know, clunker, and it would be summarily destroyed, all for the benefit of the economy. The catches: you had to qualify, you had to buy a new car whose gas mileage met the formula criteria and — bad news for le husband and I — one offer per customer please.
Oh yes,we were greedy when we first heard about this. Greeeeeeeeeeeedy. Two clunkers? They BOTH qualify! Hallelujah! Whee! The gummit’s gonna pay us $9,000 and we get two new cars! Well unfortunately, shortly after Tras and I married, we re-did the title to the van, which previously had been in the name of both my former husband and I. New title: property of Me and Tras. Why didn’t I just put it in my name? Who could have foreseen that this little clerical change would have meant MOOLAH BABY five years down the road? Nobody, that’s who. So, since the Jeep was in Tras’s name also, we had to pick one. One per customer, remember.
So after quite a bit of agony, we decided the Windstar got the axe, mainly because it had a used transmission that the lovely men down at the garage said they’d keep running for us for one year, which was about 18 months ago. So. Gulp. We were living on borrowed time. And although the Jeep wasn’t particularly pretty to look at, unless you squinted, remember, it was somewhat more reliable. And would provide us plenty of backup protection, if one of us needed to be east while the other needed to be west.
After a couple years of musing on the topic, we’d come to an agreement on what Our New Car would be: a Toyota Prius. The car manufacturers, we’d decided, needed to be pushed by Us Consumers to make more fuel-efficient cars, and buying a Prius would send that message. TAKE THAT, HUMMER-MANUFACTURING BASTARDS.
And what a lovely car it is, our Prius. Much lovelier than me here; I think this picture makes me look abysmally fat.
It’s a small car, yes, but we all do fit inside. Of that, we made sure, towing all three children along to the dealership and cramming them in the back seat. There’s room — though I wouldn’t say “room to spare” — but by God, the kids in the pioneer days didn’t get all the way to Oregon by complaining that they weren’t sitting next to the power windows or that the eight speakers weren’t pointing directly into their ears.
It’s slightly inconvenient that it’s not as large as a van, but the reason we got it is to save gas money when we tool around town, which is more than half of our driving, and to Save the Planet. The fact that we got $4,500 handed to us in the process is delicious gravy. The fact that we didn’t get another $4,500 in our pockets with which to buy either a Honda Pilot or a Toyota Sienna is, as I guess Al Gore would say, just an inconvenient truth.