A Long Time Ago, (Like, Seven Years Ago) in a Galaxy (Not So) Far, Far Away…
Stardate: Present Day; Location: Victoria, B.C… I’m excited to say that for the past few years we’ve been exploring new worlds and navigating the local solar system in our very own “Death Star”, and just in case you didn’t realize it, that means that in this little universe I’m pretty much Darth Vadar… It’s true! And on any given day you can find me and my trusty my co-pilot buzzing around our local galaxy, encountering strange life forms etc. all from the cushy cockpit of our the Death Star’s motorized weapons platform; you know, the one that aligns us up with enemy targets with the push of a single button? Yeah, that one. Our Death Star promises possibilities of endless travel for my family, protects us from them many dangers lurking outside, and (best part of all) uses hyperdrive to fling us to whatever corner of the galaxy or solar system we need to get to… and seriously, how frickin’ cool is that? Yahoo!
It would all be cool, except one thing; none of it is true… sort of; you see, we DO have a Death Star, but it isn’t at all huge and grey and shiny and ominous looking like the real one; our Death Star is a big, white, clunky Chevy Astro van complete with paint chips, dents, a beat up exterior and a thousand foot high roof for extra cargo space. Instead of blinking lights and a sleek bridge to perform snazzy manoeuvres from, our “cockpit” is old and dusty, with worn, tattered upholstery seats thats largely held together by duct tape. And that fully functional “Motorized Weapons Platform” I mentioned? It’s actually an electric rear-drop wheelchair lift used for transporting one particular alien life form to and from school, doctor’s appointments, friend’s houses, etc. and whatever other such missions need to be accomplished. It is operated by a single button, but that’s the only kernel of truth to my yarn. Worst of all is that our defence system isn’t made up of lasers or tractor beams, but is an 80’s cassette tape player, containing a copy of Michael Bolton’s Greatest hits – because nothing says “Wipe out that Jedi Scum” like M.B. belting out “I Said I loved you, but I lied…” So, now you know the truth… can you blame me for making up my alternate version?!
Why “The Death Star”?
The fact is that “The Death Star” is the name given to the van we bought and converted into a wheelchair accessible vehicle 8 years ago, right after we realized our Toyota Rav 4 wasn’t up to the task of hauling around 500 lbs of kid, metal, rubber and batteries around – not safely at least. We knew Tristan (and his wheelchair) would need to get to and from doctors appointments, school, etc. and therefore had to make a vehicle change, and sadly the BMW 320 I I’d picked out as my “mid-life crisis” car was put “on hold” (and all the coolness that would accompany it) and so we bought the van, then sent it off to get converted to suit our – and more importantly Tristan’s – needs.
6 months and $25,000 later, out rolled the updated Chevy Astro, and man, was it ever impressive! Long gone was the stock factory version, replaced with a superhuman one complete with all the bells and whistles! (except a C.D. player – we were still stuck with that friction’ cassette deck! Damn!) It had brand new tie downs and hooks in the back to secure the wheelchair (and Tristan) during travel; there was a thick rubber floor mat, and a automatic mechanized lift that folded up and hid neatly behind folding rear doors, and a swishy futuristic “wave” roof that added what seemed to be 10 stories to the van and made it very aerodynamic in the process – it looked like a White Empire State Building on wheels! And it was due to the sheer size of this beast that it was instantly christened “The Death Star” right there on the spot, and the name stuck. We knew that from that day forth, we could take our son needed to go in this magnificent transport, the thought of which was awesome to us. What I didn’t expect however, were some of the the reactions or comments our ride would illicit from other people. I guess in an attempt to be funny, some people would randomly blurt out things like:
• “What, do you have a delivery service on the side?”
• “That thing is huge! Why on earth would you ever drive something like that?”
• “What’s the DEAL with that thing?!”
And hey, I get it; it’s the sort of vehicle you’d expect to see being driven by a contractor or a family going camping, not by a sales rep; I GET IT! But regardless of whatever I was doing, I was often stunned by the sheer rudeness of some people’s reaction to this van that does so much for my family. At first I’d get angry, defensive and really pissed off, especially since these jerks didn’t understand that my circumstances nor bothered to find out; I’d tell them (in a firm tone that said “Look here, asshole!”) about my son’s illness, and that the van wasn’t my choice, etc. and generally try to justify why I drove it, feeling pangs of shame and embarrassment with each explanation I gave. I hated it, and I hated these people for being such assholes! I even realized eventually that I named it “The Death Star” as a way to deal with the fact I was driving around in van that’s big as a house and as friction’ hideous as the first prize winner at an ugly contest. I wondered silently if I’d ever get past this dark chapter in my motoring history?
But then, over the years something happened to my perspective of the van, and what it really meant to us; and that’s a massive sense of freedom for my disabled son. And with this liberating viewpoint, I then learned to deal with the rude questions and statements with kinder, gentler explanations of (a) my ride, and (b) how it changed our lives for the better and allowed us to get around. And the more I explained it and people got to know our story, the more they appreciated what the van did for us; I’d show them the lift and tell them how the van allows my family to have great adventures like weekends in Whistler or trips to the park, etc. noting none of these things would be possible if I drove my dream BMW. This explanation usually opens their eyes, changes their perceptive, and replaces comments like “Why do you drive an apartment complex around?” with “Hey, how’s T? Is he with you? Can I say “Hi” to him?” So all in all, it seemed that once I learned to be patient and accepting of my situation, so did others; but it was up to me to take the first step in explaining it (rather than getting pissed off) before I could make this change happen… Lesson learned.
The Truth? I Love Our Van
The truth is that these days I have come to LOVE our van, because of what it does for our family, and how it gives Tristan an independence to live a far more normal life than he would without it. I’m grateful how it provides us so much possibility to go places and see things that without it, we’d never have the opportunity to do so; and I must add that I was especially grateful for all that extra cargo space during our home renovations! Try hauling a bathtub to the dump in a 2 seat roadster and you’ll see what I mean!
So in the end, I’m grateful for our weird and clunky van; it’s taught me to be more patient and understanding of people’s ignorance of our situation, and showed me how to explain things to them rather than just stewing over something I can’t change. And these days, if someone makes a flippant rude comment I now know that by responding kindly with an explanation makes me a better person than if I was rude back.
In addition I’ve learned to be very aware of Tristan’s (and all disabled people) safety whenever he enters and exits the Death Star – plus in parking lots, on busy streets or crossing the road at crosswalks, since motorists rarely slow down let alone stop to help these folks feel safe. Being so mobile with T has brought all of these issues to light, so all in all I’m grateful for the hideous, gargantuan clunky spaceship that’s made me more aware of how to be a more patient, and better person. But I still have to wonder… DID IT HAVE TO BE SO FRICKIN’ UGLY?!
See you around the solar system!
Have you ever found yourself forced into a situation that, like my van is, turned out to be a blessing in disguise? How did you first feel, and how do you feel now about your own situation? Please let us know in the comments below.