Driving a cargo van

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 29, 2022, 8:26 PM | comments: 0

In my first "real" full-time job, as the first ever cable TV coordinator for the City of Medina, Ohio, I had the excellent experience of getting to buy a cargo van. I needed it to transport all of the video stuff associated with the gig. It was a pretty standard 1997 Ford Econoline van sourced via a state-wide bid contract.

Those vehicles don't really have the typical "new car smell" that you might associate with your average consumer vehicle. The inside of the thing doesn't have a lot to it. The two seats are some kind of fake leather-plastic, and the flooring is one big piece of rubber. There's still a smell though, and it didn't go away for the next two years that I got to drive it.

I'm obviously an EV enthusiast these days, but there was something remarkably... shitty about those things. I had previously worked part-time for the neighboring city, Brunswick, for my counterpart there, which might be part of the reason that I got the job. They had a similar van, only theirs was blue instead of white. These things had not changed very much in many years, and on average inside the city they rarely would accumulate more than a few thousand miles a year. So when I took delivery of mine, it was certainly familiar. I remember in particular the tactile feel of shifting it into gear, with the big lever on the steering column. Despite the huge engine, it wasn't particularly robust, and I recall getting stuck in snow. The radio had a simple four-digit LCD display. When I would load up my equipment in road cases with my part-timer, Allison, I would use straps to clamp it down to the holes in the framing on the side of the van, pushed against the wheel wells.

I drove it to Columbus twice, once to do a documentary trip around various suburban high schools to see how they were handling the growth that Medina was experiencing. The superintendent and board members, along with some city council members and other "important" people, were on the trip. I remember how awkward and out of place I felt that night at the dinner they had arranged (at taxpayer expense), and the odd resentment that I felt toward some of them. The next time I drove it to Columbus, it was to record the girls' Division 1 state soccer final. That time, at least, my part-timer was the assistant coach, and I had a nice time at the bar the night before with them (and was hungover for the game, which they won).

What triggered these memories? I'm watching Oceans 11 for the millionth time, and the vans they buy in the movie are about the same. Isn't that weird? How something like that can trigger such rich memories?


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