I had to travel for work today, so my work day started with a trip to the rental car agency to pick up my vehicle. AJ the manager checked me in and asked if I wanted a Mazda 5 or a Subaru. When I rent for work, I usually choose something that blends into the background, is relatively conservative and businesslike, and gets decent gas mileage. I asked for the Mazda 5. I signed the documents, grabbed the keys, and looked as AJ pointed me in the direction of my car.
AJ said Mazda 5 and I replied Mazda 5, but I pictured Mazda 6, a nice generic, nondescript sedan, preferably white or grey in color, something that just sort of disappears into the road when I barrel down the highway. I have this fantasy that neutral- colored cars decrease the likelihood of a ticket. The warning ticket tacked to my bulletin board at work is a testament to the falsehood of that fantasy. Still, I believe it.
At first I thought he was pointing to the red car directly across from me, until I realized, to my relief, that it was a
I pulled the door back and looked in to find that there were six, possibly seven seats. I got serious van vibes and worried about my image. Nevertheless, I was running late and had to get going. I put my things in the back seat and drove off.
It didn’t drive like a van. I was sitting up high, but not above everyone. I could maneuver it easily. Clearly, I was driving a hatchback, I reasoned. I sat back, put a cd in the player, cranked the volume, and set my mind on the trip ahead.
I decided to stop for coffee at a place I frequent. I did a u-turn, pulled into the parking place in front of the shop, got out and walked in. Isaiah the barista walked up from the back room. He smiled and greeted me by name. I’m a regular.
Isaiah is twenty-something, a rock climber who wears designer jeans, retro shirts, and whatever you call those shoes that look like something I rented at the bowling alley when I was twelve. His curly blonde hair flows from his head like a bush. His beard makes him look like Grizzly Adams.
“You get a new car,” he asked. I was stumped. He’d come out from the back of the shop when I walked in. It hadn’t occurred to me that he saw me drive up. I hesitated. “Your car. Is it new? I don’t remember you driving a van.”
“I said it’s not a van!”
“What is it then?”
“It’s a Mazda 5.”
He nodded his head. “Right. A van.”
“You define ‘van.’ You seem to be the one with specific ideas about what it is and what it isn’t. I think you’re a little sensitive about this,” he said chuckling. He stepped back to start my drink. The cup was sitting on the counter under the espresso machine. He pulled the shots and began to the steam the milk. “What’s wrong with driving a van?”
“I’m not a mom. I’m, I’m….well, I’m not a mom.”
“Is there something wrong with being a mom?”
“No. I’m just not one, so I don’t think I should be driving a car that makes me look like one.” I suddenly remember that I’d been offered the Subaru and wondered why I didn’t just take it. Sure, it screams lesbian, but I am one. I could drive it with my authenticity intact, and in that moment, we would have had a very different conversation.
The sound of the steam blowing against the bottom of the metal milk container brought me back. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t actually ordered a drink. I was curious what he was fixing me. “What are you making for me?”
“The same thing you’ve order the last 25 times you’ve been in here.”
“I haven’t been here 25 times.”
“Okay. The same thing you’ve ordered the last 15 times you’ve been here. A large mocha.”
“Is that okay?”
“Um, yeah. I was just going to get something different today. One of those Previa mochas.”
“What’s a Previa mocha?” The blood rushed from my face. As soon as he said it, I knew what I’d done, but I tried to cover it up.
“That’s not a Previa. Where did Previa come from? Wait. I know what a Previa is. It’s a VAN, a
He nearly dropped the milk from laughing so hard. “Why did you think of Previa?”
“Well, I have some friends who have one.”
“Really. Do they have kids?”
“So, it’s not a mom-car to them.”
“Well, no. But, it’s still not right. I mean, I drive up to their house and see it sitting there and I wonder who’s visiting them. They’re not van people. I don’t really know why they have a van.”
“Regular is fine. You’ve already started it.” He picked up the cup, carefully poured the milk, creating the perfect swirl of coffee and milk to look like a leaf. I paid and walked away.
“I’m going to go get in my van now,” I said, looking back over my shoulder.
“That’s right. Embrace it, Linda. Embrace the van.”