Woman Versus Van

The phrase, “frozen with fear” keeps running through my brain, like those tickers on Wall Street. You know the ones, the red and green ones that tell all the stock brokers how much the economy is tanking? Those ones. Only this one, the one in my brain, is saying “frozen with fear.”

Over and over again.

Then I start to think about how cliché that phrase is but begin to understand why: every muscle in your body is constricted, you feel as though your bones have been filled with lead, and any slight movement might cause a snap or a break in your body. 

My knuckles have turned white from gripping the steering wheel so hard; I think that the only reason I’m still holding on to it is to keep myself from shaking uncontrollably, but through that vice grip is the frozen statue.  So my choices are: A) shake like the last leaf on an oak tree in the middle of November, knowing it’s life is about to end or B) turn into a stone figure at the wheel of this 1991 Ford Econoline Conversion van. 

I am at the wheel of a death machine.

I am in control of the lives that pass by me because I am at the wheel of a death machine.

I am responsible for what happens to this death machine and what it does to others.


I could hurt someone.

I could squash someone.

I could kill someone.



Small four door cars.

Those silly little electric cars that look like they belong in a big top circus filled with little men in red noses.

I could squash them all, because I am at the wheel of a death machine.

Sweat has started to accumulate all over me: my brows, my arm pits, the palms of my hands.  My grip on the wheel is slipping and I’m panicking. I scramble to reclaim my iron grasp but keep sliding on it.  I might lose control of the wheel.  I might crash into something, or someone.

“Get it together Stine!”

A deep breath in and





“Just turn the key in the ignition, you can do this!”

I am trying to pump myself for this:

My first time driving in over 3 years. 

In Chicago.

Where there are idiot pedestrians who walk wherever, whenever they like, and never paying mind to cross walks or signals. The millions of bicyclists who sometimes abide by the traffic laws, sometimes signal their turns, stop, or ride with traffic, I say as an avid bicyclist. Then there are all those other stupid drivers, who never signal, honk all the time, speed when there are all the above mentioned walkers and cyclists, and who text and talk on their phones WHILE driving.

There’s no way I can do this.

“You have to.”

I have to. I do. It’ll be okay.  I just have to take it down the street, only 1.3 miles.  I’m just taking it to get cleaned.  That’s all.  Totally doable.

*kid races by on his scooter*

Nope. Nope, nope, no way, can’t do it.


Also, why is the parking brake on? That light won’t turn off. And, yeah, wait a minute why is that other light on? What does it say?  ”Rear Anti-lock brakes” So, both lights are on?  But the brake isn’t on. Okay, what does this van know that I don’t?  Is it trying to speak to me? Can I speak van? Let’s be honest, I can’t, I never have. And this isn’t a van; this is beast of a van.  A monster, a boat, it’s HUGE.

I’ll just call Scott, he’s a guy, so he most know, right?  Gender roles and all that?

Nope. He says that the lights are permanently on, that it doesn’t matter if the brakes are on or off, the lights will continue to twinkle in their horrifying way.

Okay, here’s the deal.  I have to get this van cleaned before we go on this trip.  There is a high chance we bought this van from a couple of Latin Kings, and if I’m going to sleep in this van for three months, then it needs a deep cleaning.  Let’s GOOOOOO!

Okay, I got this, this isn’t so bad.  Nice and slow.  Easy.  Like riding a bike, it’s all coming back to me, just like Celine Dion said it would.  Just have to make one left turn and then I’m there.  Not. A. Problem.


Left turn successfully made, and, wait, why is the car wash over there? Google said it would be here, but it’s over there.  Okay, shouldn’t be an issue, I can get over there.  Just two right turns and we’re in business. 


I missed it. Who would put a car wash on a one way, with only one entry point?  Ugh, okay, the approach, one more time….

*time lapse of 40 minutes and a montage of 6 different failed van approaches, and one successful hitting of a People’s Gas truck’s side mirror*

FINALLY.   We made it, with minimal van damage (maximum heart damage).  I stumble out of the driver’s seat, legs wobbly, feeling like spaghetti, they manage to walk up to the attendant, he looks the van up and down, then me up and down (which was not appreciated).

“You want that thing cleaned?”

“Umm, yes.”

“Inside or out?”

“I would like the upholstery and the carpets shampooed”

“That comes with an exterior cleaning, too.”

“Sounds great!”

“That’ll be 2 hours, we’ll call you when it’s ready for pick up.”

Cool, so now I just have to get it home…and then, you know, drive it across the country.

At 75mph.

Over mountains.

In the dark.

Without having a heartache, squashing a cyclist, hitting a pedestrian, crashing into another car, building, mailbox, structure, get a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, or have it stolen.

Totally doable…Maybe.

-Michele Stine