Don't Drive a Mini-Van
Here's a word of advice for all those young couples out there debating whether to buy a mini or not: don't. You'll be sorry if you do.
Mini-van drivers are not happy people. Especially the men. In fact, men who own - or who are forced to own- mini-vans are probably among the most dangerous people on the road, and definitely people you don't want to be around if their McDonalds order gets screwed up. They are bitter, angry, defensive people and when they get behind the wheel, look out.
I'm not kidding. Watch the average mini-van driver sometime - he'll be attempting to set the new land speed record, and if you're unfortunate enough to be stuck in front of him, he'll ride your ass until you start going fast enough for him, somewhere around 140 miles an hour. If you piss him off he'll go twenty miles out of his way to follow you and cut you off. I think signal indicators must not be standard equipment on mini- vans because I have yet to see one signal his intention to turn. And watch out for the little four cylinder vans - these guys try to compensate for their lack of horsepower by gunning the life out of their little engines in an attempt to be the first away from the light.
I haven't always hated mini-vans - but an experience I once had made me observe the habits of mini-van drivers more carefully. I was visiting my parents, who live in a bedroom community of a major city, and because everyone who lives in this town makes a lot of money in the Big City, the town is a veritable yuppie paradise, with huge bleak housing developments and trendy supermarkets. And mini-vans. Mini-vans as far as the eye can see. On this day, I took the on ramp to get onto the highway, one of those large circular ramps that make you pull a sharp right all the way around until you can join up with the highway. Because of the nature of these ramps, your speed is limited to no more than say forty miles an hour, otherwise you'd likely lose control of the car. Behind me was a middle aged man in a mini-van. I know he was a middle aged man because he was close enough to me for me to see the gray hairs streaking out of his scalp and the look of perma-rage that had molded his face into something resembling The Terminator.
I couldn't merge onto the highway at that point because of a tractor trailer bearing down on me, but this didn't seem to register with my pursuer. As I gained speed and waited for the truck to pass me, the mini-van roared past me - on the shoulder - and when I looked over the guy was staring straight ahead with his middle finger displayed prominently as an indictment of my driving skill.
I have to say, this bothered me for some time. I hadn't done anything wrong, as far as I could tell. I am not a prudish driver, I can speed with the best of them, but when merging onto a high speed highway from a semi- circle on ramp, clocking 120 miles an hour isn't what I consider wise. For some time afterwards I wished I'd had the presence of mind to bash into him - I was driving an old beat up heap anyway, it wouldn't have been much of a loss - just to see him explain to the police why he was driving on the shoulder.
As it was I watched this guy for some time - he rode the tail of every poor car he came across, and even the fast lane wasn't fast enough for him. He lurched from lane to lane, roared past people, honked his horn and played a dangerous game of cut-me-off, cut-you-off with someone for nearly three miles. If I'd had a cell phone I would have reported him, but the last I saw of him he had left the highway, and pulled out right in front of an oncoming car who had to slam on the breaks and skid to avoid hitting him.
From that day on, I became a little more wary of mini-vans, and, I have since discovered, for good reason. This maniac wasn't an isolated case. Every day I encounter some Road Warrior in a Windstar, and every time it's some haggard looking man in his mid thirties or forties, wearing wrap-around sunglasses and an expression that would wither houseplants. Every time he doesn't just single me out, but rather menaces anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. Even the jaunty yellow "Baby on Board" triangles don't deter these guys from careening down winding roads and running red lights and speeding at twice the legal limit through residential zones. Whenever I see a mini-van now I cringe, and try to get as far away from him as possible.
Why should this be? Why are a disproportionate number of mini-van drivers so reckless and malevolent when they get behind the wheel? I have a theory that explains it. The problem is not with the actual physical design of the mini-van - it's just a car, after all. The problem is with what it represents, and what precipitates people buying it.
Every man who drives a mini-van is someone who went from swinging bachelor to family man. Every man who drives a mini-van had it forced on him by his wife, who probably demanded that they get one "for the kids" and who revels in the "soccer mom" mentality - even if it is extremely unlikely that she'll ever have to cart eleven other kids around. And every guy who drives one, no matter how diligent he is with maintaining the aura of "cool", tells the entire world that he's a henpecked family guy who probably hasn't had a blow job since college.
It's fairly evident that no man would willingly drive a mini-van. No single guy ever thought "Hmmmm...Porsche 911 or Dodge Caravan?" Men love the power and beauty of their machines, they couldn't care less about room for a car seat. Men have always adored their vehicles almost as much as they adore women, men have always, since the time of Henry Ford, imbued their cars with the symbolism of status and achievement, of sex appeal and prestige. The fact that the majority of women really don't care what kind of car a man drives is irrelevant to the typical male fantasy of landing a babe because of one's flashy new sports car. And because of this, because of how much of men's egos live under the hood, it's a travesty to the male psyche to bundle all that masculinity up in a turquoise mini-van with a VCR in the back that plays cartoons.
Worst off are the guys who once tooled around on motorcycles and now find themselves chugging along at the speed limit in a great long bus of a car and Barney piping through the stereo system. They may be excellent and diligent fathers, but when their last refuge, the last place in which they can truly feel like a young and virile guy is invaded by juicebox - not cup - holders, it's no wonder they lose their minds.
Women, of course, have no such problem. They love their mini-vans. Mini-vans are at once a symbol of their fertility and a victory trophy, proving that their domesticity was enough to overcome the Harley loving ways of their man. More than that, a lot of women choose to make childrearing their career, the thing they devote the most energy and passion to, and so for them, chauffeuring a kid-limousine is flattering to them, something they want the neighbors to see them doing. But every woman whose career is parenthood has a husband whose it isn't, who has to go out and work to pay for the mini van but who doesn't get the same joy or satisfaction from being seen behind the wheel of one.
What would you think of a woman who drove her kids around in a ferrari? Would you think of her as a good mother or would you think she has other priorities? By the same token, what would you think of the ad executive who drives a mini-van? Men need concrete examples of their masculinity, just as women need concrete examples of their femininity, and more often than not, the most visible place these concepts are challenged is in the kind of car each drives. Nothing challenges a man's sense of masculinity more than turning him into a woman - which is what we expect him to become if he want him to embrace the mini-van lifestyle with enthusiasm. Like it or not, men don't belong in mini-vans and they know it, rebel against it, and make life miserable for the rest of us because of it.
Another problem with mini-vans, as opposed to other large, functional vehicles, lies in the fact that their image screams "kids". It's a car designed to accommodate kids, or at least that's the perception. Good parents don't shove the kids into a Gremlin, good parents splurge for the Voyager with all the kid-friendly accessories. It's like a badge of merit, a sign that says "This thing costs more per month than my first apartment did but look, I'm a good parent". The trouble is, it doesn't mean anything of the sort. It doesn't mean you're a good parent, it means you are kid-centric and too concerned with what other people think. In fact, in my estimation, it means you aren't as good a parent as you should be.
This is a point that's hard to get across. A parent's number one job in life is to provide an excellent role model for their child to want to grow up into - not to spend his or her life catering to the child and rearranging everything in favor of the kid. If you really want to drive a Sebring or a PT Cruiser, do it - the car seat will still fit back there - and more importantly, it'll show your kid that the purpose of adulthood is to earn and enjoy the things you want, not to grow up only so that you can then subjugate yourself to the wishes and desires of an infant. This is crucially important. When a family buys a mini-van, the subtle message is that the kids wear the pants in this family, and that adult sensibilities are of no importance. This can't be good for anyone.
Most people who drive mini vans have two children, not twelve, and absolutely do not need that much room in their vehicle. When I was a kid, my brother and I were driven around in a Chevette for God's sake, and it was more than adequate. And for all those soccer moms who insist they need it to drive the team around - don't these kids have parents? What did sports teams do before the advent of large yuppie-mobiles? You shouldn't have to buy a certain kind of vehicle just because other parents can't be bothered to take their own kids to practice. Equipment, dog cages, strollers, car seats - somehow people without mini-vans still manage to lug these things around, and so can you.
There just isn't any need for a mini-van. Buy a jeep or a station wagon or an SUV if you really need all that room, but ask yourself honestly whether you're want a mini-van because you really need one or because it's "the thing to do". Most importantly, buy something that makes you feel like something other than an indentured parent. Be an adult first and foremost, put your happiness first and buy the kind of car you don't mind paying through the nose for. Don't end up like my frustrated friend, taking his anger out on the road with the very thing that caused his anger in the first place. You'll be happier, your kids will be happier...and drivers everywhere will thank you.