By Catherine Dook
“Just look at it, Darling,” I said.
“Look at what?” John asked.
“Our Execuvan,” I said, pointing.
“It needs a wash,” John replied.
Squatted beside the village, our 1979 Execuvan radiated a kind of 70s ambiance unequalled the length of Cowichan Bay Road on either side or in either direction. Was it the exterior paint in brown and beige and black? Was it the unaerodynamic shape, defiantly boxy? The pocked pattern rusted into the rear fenders? The torn grid cover? Though we?d done our darndest with angle-grinders and spray paint, and though we?d paid hard coin for a new carburator and springs and hoses and whatnot, our holiday vehicle was not up to the standard we?d heard rumours of on other vehicles. We lacked the dazzling white exterior and marble-countertop interior of that RV we saw in Merritt, or the four pop-outs and lush upholstery of the one parked beside us in Hope. We had 30-year-old beige shag carpet instead.
But what was truly beautiful about it was what it meant. Our Execuvan, which is the only holiday vehicle we?ll ever be able to afford, represents escape from the usual. The usual is actually pretty terrific because we live on the edge of the ocean on a boat, but once we?re sitting in our orange plaid bucket seats with the wind blowing in through the windows, possibilities unroll before us like the open road. There are places to go and people to see ? there?s scenery to admire and miles of highway to burn. We once camped at an RV park in Grimshaw whose owner mailed us a card at Christmas. In a gravel pit in the Northwest Territories we watched a galloping herd of buffalo cows and calves, whom as soon as they saw us, camouflaged themselves behind the boulders and scraggy trees of a nearly flat landscape and disappeared instantly. Then a senior member of the herd signaled the all clear and they thundered off. The earth really did shake. Later that night, a lonesome buffalo bull scratched himself against our chassis, but when the van rocked on its wheels, he melted into the dark. On the way into Valemount we spotted a bear cub with sticking-out ears peering at us from out of a ditch ? or maybe he spotted us. By the side of Highway 16 we met a man and his grandson who told us the road with which we could swing into the south of Edmonton. In Campbell River we left a tip for a waitress with a warm smile. In Port Alberni we talked publishing with a bookstore owner. On Saltspring Island we met Arthur Black.
Is our van a magic carpet? An enchanted vessel that transports us to unimagined places? It doesn?t look it. Its ratty appearance and backfiring rear elicit emotions ranging from suspicion to hostility in those RV camp owners who think we look like the type of customers who might not pay. But our Execuvan takes us on wonderful adventures. John loves the van, and often thinks up ways to improve it. I think buying a rear camera and installing fog lights is sort of like making a silk purse out of a sow?s ear, but whenever John talks about spending money on the van, I keep silent. John does not discard and buy new ? not shirts, not socks, and not vans. This is a character trait some women might find annoying, but which I esteem highly. After all, I?m not as young and sleek as I once was either. My best-before date predates the 70s, and over the years parts of me have fallen by the wayside too, just like chunks of rusty chassis. Function outruns beauty down the highway of life, and recycling rules! Any man who clings like death onto a van as dreadful as ours is unlikely to trade his wife in for a new model, and that?s a fact. See what I mean?