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GAIL WHITE 'Party van' has become a member of the family



Published: Fri, May 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



We bought a pop-up camper two years ago.

It was a used, 1980s version. "The biggest pop-up ever made!" the man said.

With four boys to house, the "biggest ever made" sounded good to us. Unfortunately, it was also the heaviest pop-up ever made.

It took only one hill with our Dodge Caravan pulling that tank behind for us to realize our little van was no match.

So, we camped out in the back yard the first year.

When spring rolled around the next year, we set out to find a vehicle to pull "the tank." We reasoned since we already had a perfectly fine family van, we just needed something, anything, with enough power to pull the camper.

In other words, we were looking for "cheap."

Jackpot: After driving dozens of old vans and beat-up trucks, we finally found a Chevrolet conversion van.

The van was puke green in color, except for the rust-colored roof. More importantly, it was $900.

Sold.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the puke green van matched the puke green stripes on our camper. On more than one occasion, we have heard comments like "Great combo!" and "Nice set!" If they only knew.

The plan was to drive this van only when pulling the camper.

But we started to like the beast.

The Venetian blinds and curtains are perfect for blocking the hot summer sun.

It has a host of interior lights: mood lights, indirect lights, courtesy lights. There is even a button for "airplane lights."

It also has a table in front of the back seat, great for holding drinks and playing cards. Better yet, the back seat slides down into a bed.

Creature comforts: When you pop the "airplane lights" button, mess with the blind, plop a drink in the table holder and look out the window at cars that pass well below your vantage point, it has an "airplane" feel but with a lot more leg room.

We decided to drive the van throughout the summer.

At drive-in movies, we pulled in backward and opened the back doors. All the children would lay on the bed while my husband and I swiveled the coachmen seats around and propped our feet up on the end. It was more comfortable than any movie theater.

We found it especially fun to sit in the back while going over railroad tracks. "Better than the bus," my children have told me.

Their friends have exclaimed that the mood lights, lining the roof like a Christmas tree, are "Totally cool!"

After baseball games, the whole team piles into the "party van."

Pat and I enjoy the quiet solitude up front while the kids sit way -- I mean way -- in the back.

So, we decided to drive the party van all winter.

"It's not good for an old vehicle like this to sit all winter," Pat reasoned. Meanwhile, the family Caravan sat in the driveway.

Battling the cold: On cold winter mornings, puffy white smoke from the exhaust filled the air when the party van was started. There were times, as I sat gently feathering the gas pedal to keep the beast running, I completely lost sight of the neighbor's house and the road. I would blame the smoke on my mechanic, but he hasn't seen the vehicle except to change the oil and put on a few new tires.

In October, the clasp on the front triangle-shaped wing window fell off. Cold air whipped around my head as I drove. I asked my husband to fix it.

He did -- in February -- with duct tape.

Puke green and rust accented in gray. What was once ugly was now not even respectable.

Recently, I drove the party van for a ladies' night out. One of the ladies tried to open the side window. It wouldn't budge.

My husband had "fixed" it as well.

"Why don't you get rid of this thing?" she asked as she heaved open the heavy sliding door.

"We can't," I responded. "It matches the camper."

gwhite@vindy.com




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