Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Volkswagen, Please Give Me Back My Swagger

Cruising through the parking lot at St. Clare’s preschool is a very intricate and complex daily maneuver. Upon entrance, you must dodge the old ladies exiting eight o’clock mass and floor it past the handicapped parking spaces before their husbands blindly back their Buicks from staggered spots like some symphony of grenades. If you make it past the chapel unscathed, you must then combat with an endless parade of ginormous SUV’s driven by coffee-sipping, cell-phone toting moms who were given special parking passes in September allowing them to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road wherever and whenever they see fit.

On approach to the Father Hicks center, you must then quickly scan the area for anything resembling a parking space – legal or illegal – in which to shove your car for the two minutes it will take to toss your child into the receiving line. In my tiny little Chevy or Pat’s petite little Passat, the task is not so hard. Making the trip in a big-ass Volkswagen Routan, well that’s a whole other story.

“Ooh, maybe they’ll give us one of those cute little convertibles or even a bug!”

That was me last week, wishfully philosophizing to Pat on our way to the Volkswagen dealership, where a loaner vehicle awaited us in the service department. Let’s get it straight. Despite my enthusiasm about car styles and colors, I was not happy about this at all. After bringing Pat’s car in for service two weeks prior because some light that actually said “STOP DRIVING” lit up on the dash, VW decided to lend us a car while they attempted to identify and correct the problem. Two weeks of sharing one vehicle was not fun and neither was the damage or price tag of engine replacement I was imagining in my head. But after 14 days of scheduling driving time and swapping car seats, the prospect of driving away in someone else’s non-broken sedan was pleasant.

So I waited in the car with the kids while Pat retrieved the keys. He crossed the street, beeping the fob in an attempt to find our new whip in a sea of shiny Jettas and Touaregs. And there it was. Behind the beautiful silver Eos. Right next to that gorgeous red convertible beetle. A gigantic spaceship of a car with the ugly kind of running boards and huge, elongated boxy third row. A Routan – I can hardly type it without gagging – in of all colors, bright neon white.

“Wooooowwwww!!” Erin screamed from the backseat. “Mommy, look at how big that car is!”

Her excitement made it worse. Pat smiled and hopped in the driver’s seat. That made it worse too. Something about seeing your husband behind the wheel of a minivan is a little disturbing.

“Well, we’ve been saying that we need more room,” he smirked.

Yes, but not that much room. Not even the Partridge Family needed that much room. Following Pat home I reassured myself that this was only temporary and I wouldn’t have to drive that behemoth at all. Pat will take it to work and I will kiss every inch of my previously too small Malibu when I get home. But something about EZPass confusion and insurance liability put me behind the wheel of this repulsive car the next day. Excuses, I protested. Pat just didn’t want to drive that wretched vehicle himself.

“Did you get a new car?” the mothers at school asked that morning as I stepped out of the immense box of ugly, fixing my oversized hat, sunglasses and fake mustache. Holy crap, did I just sprain my ankle?

“No, this is not mine,” I shouted sort of loudly. “I would never drive a minivan.”

Dead silence as at least four of five moms in the crowd glanced over at their Town & Countrys.

“Hey mom, check it out, I can dance in here!” Erin broke the awkward silence, having unbuckled herself, running up and down the center of the car, enjoying enough room to kick her legs over her head an even turn a cartwheel. Funny, she never does cartwheels at home.

“Look at our new car!!” she was shouting to her friends.

“It’s not our car!” I shouted back. “And what happened to your brother? I can’t find him in here.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly prissy when it comes to driving the sleekest car in town. I passed my road test on my father’s minivan. Stuffing all of my friends into that thing during senior year is one of my fondest high school memories. And I’m not afraid of big either, I used to be one of those SUV driving moms until the price of gas skyrocketed and we downsized to something more affordable.
There was just something about seeing my family in this bigger-than-life bus that scared me into the realization that I was slowly becoming one of those car-pool driving, Ugg and sweatsuit wearing soccer moms. Nevermind the fact that my coolness factor took a proverbial shot in the foot.

But after one week, I’m already starting to identify some advantages.

All of that extra space made food shopping a breeze. I even carted groceries home for eight of my neighbors.

I found a way to earn some extra cash. Picking up a few passengers on Hylan Boulevard put at least three dollars in my pocket. And next week I’m taking some of those St. Clare’s churchgoers down to AC. A couple of JFK and Newark runs and this baby could turn a serious profit.

Now if I could only sell a little advertising space, the exterior of the Routan might no longer be so hideous.

But the call came yesterday. Our Passat is ready and it’s time for the Routan to go. Something inside of me will miss it. Especially the next time I pull up next to a moving van.