13 years ago, we lost a family member. A true friend who had been there in our best and worst times. Children stopped laughing and birds stopped singing on the day the Carny Van died.
In a recent interview, I was asked to share my favorite car story. My mind flashed back to hundreds of images of the Carny Van, a 90’s Plymouth Voyager that may have been part Panzer. I thought of images like the time we took a turn too quickly and the sliding door literally fell off, or when an after-drumline parking lot race left us half an inch from t-boning a kid’s Pontiac Firebird that he had secretly borrowed from his dad. Or maybe the time we blasted the side with paintballs for a movie, foolishly not expecting each one to leave a dent. Or even the time I tried to throw a Big Gulp soda out the window at my friend, only to completely miss and hit the INSIDE of our own windshield in a baffling display of non-athleticism. My brother was so mad at me that he dumped his can of Coke™ (HailCorporate) directly on my head, right there in the car.
I realized that none of my Carny Van stories would be appropriate answers, and quickly changed the subject.
Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about the Carny Van, and thought it was finally time that I wrote about at least 4 of the weirdest stories in which it was involved.
The Car That Starts Without a Key
One day, my brother was driving to a place that doesn’t matter in relation to this story, and he accidentally bumped the key, which promptly fell to the floor. After a brief moment of shock and confusion, he realized that the van was still running at it’s typical 0-60 in 60 seconds self. Once he parked and turned the car off, he attempted to start it back up again with the key still on the floor. The van had an ignition that looked like this, so there was an area to grab and turn:
It started right up.
He did what any high school guy would do, and showed all his friends. At this point I should inform you that the Carny Van’s doors did not lock, a fact that was also very well known among our group. Naturally his friends did what any good friends would do. They would steel the van. ALL. THE. TIME.
I have a distinct memory of sitting in math class, seeing my brother in the hall, and looking out the window to see the van driving away. We’d commonly walk to the parking lot only to find that it was gone, or parked entirely on the sidewalk, or parallel parked in the soccer goal. One day there were a bunch of screws drilled into the back bench, with no explanation. Our friends were jerks. But don’t worry, we got them back:
The Fake Car Crash
With a van that could hold 7 legally and [REDACTED] with the seats out, we drove people around a lot. So we couldn’t help but to play a few pranks every now and then, especially when the prank was tricking people into thinking they were about to be in a crash.
Living out in the country, there were many different back-roads that we could take to get home. If we went a certain way, we could have a bit of fun at the expense of our passengers.
There was a place where the road curved to the right to complete an S curve. It was a completely natural turn and expected after the curve to the left right before it. However, there was a small side road that kept going straight ahead. There were no lines on this road or markings of any kind, making it impossible to see at night. I found it on Google maps, but it doesn’t show that if the sun was down and you didn’t already know it was there, there’s no way you would see it. There also used to be a little more of a hill in the road, which has been removed.
Before I would drive this section, I would make sure I was leading the conversation, so all eyes were up front. Right before we got to the curve, I would start to fiddle with the radio, and look down at it while pressing a few buttons. There would then be a brief, glorious moment where everyone in the van would realize that I was about to blow past the curve and into a field or the infinite doom the lay waiting in the darkness. At that exact moment, I would flip OFF the van’s lights and start screaming, and gun it as we soared onto the straight side rode.
Put yourself into the passengers position here. The driver, clearly not paying attention, just went flying off the road, and now it’s pitch black and everyone is screaming. Are you dead? Is this how it all ends?
As the car erupted in horror, I’d flip the lights back on and laugh like a maniac as my friends were simultaneously glad to be alive and pissed that their lives flashed before their eyes and it only included scenes from high school.
Oh and by the way, my friends were never in real danger here, as I would have been able to see headlights from any other cars, which never existed because it was the middle of nowhere. Safety first.
The Time We Killed a Guy in Chicago
I’ll make this one quick. On the way to a concert, we were driving in Chicago on a 4 lane one way street right after a huge rainstorm. We were going about 25 mph in heavy traffic when we came across the biggest puddle I have ever seen. Being in the right lane and blocked by traffic, we had nowhere to go but straight through it. At that moment, I looked over and saw a man with a briefcase walking on the sidewalk next to the puddle. My brother was driving and saw it too, but it was too late.
This is the type of thing you dream of seeing when you’re a kid. We hid the puddle dead on, and a tidal wave of water went cascading towards the heavens. I saw the man look up in terror, and then he was gone. Probably dead*.
*this is a joke, he was likely just wet and mad.
A Funeral For A Legend
I’ve left out plenty of stories, like the time we got chased by a sink, or time I was trapped between a bass drum and the roof of the van, and much more. But the point is that the Carny Van became a bit of a legend, to the point that when it finally died (or, was going to cost more to fix than the value of the van), we had a candlelight funeral for it.
We dressed as emo as possible, took sad pictures, shared our favorite memories, and then each took a piece of the van to remember it by. To this day, my dad still has the Voyager badge on display in his office.
After the funeral, we took it to the “push it in, pull it in, drag it in” sale. In one final act that sounds too fitting to be true, it threw a rod as it pulled into the lot before coasting into its final resting place.
That van was a giant garbage pile. But it was our garbage pile, and it plays a role in some of my fondest memories.
It also proves that no matter what you drive, you can still have fun.