Squid History

What do you do after a circumnavigation? Go around again?

Our 1990 Ford van, the Squid Wagon, half-circumnavigated the USA — from Florida to Newfoundland (via Columbus, Ohio) and across to Seattle in one trip. At the time, we were traveling with our cat, who was the reason we bought a big ol’ van instead of camping with a tent and small car.

The cat passed away in 2005, and Squidley died in 2006. The cat was given a decent burial under a lovely tree. The van sat in front of our apartment for about a year, and our next-door neighbor complained every time he saw us. “I can’t see to back out of my driveway,” he whined.

Finally, I had the van towed to a garage, and they told me it was B.E.R.: Beyond Economic Repair. When I argued with them, they stopped returning my calls and dumped the three and a half ton, non-functional vehicle back on my doorstep with a bill for $250. Grrrrrr.

And then Barry stuck his head under the hood and tinkered. A miracle occurred. The van was resurrected with a loud, distinctive roar.

I was certain it would die again any moment. Not Barry. He was so confident, he began packing for the next trip. So we loaded up with with tools and books and art supplies and sailing gear and headed south through California. When we reached San Diego, we turned east, to North Carolina, where our new sailboat awaited us.

On that trip, we had a strange box-like item tied to the top of the van. At rest areas and gas stations, men chewing on toothpicks would come over and peer up at it. “What’s that?” they’d ask Barry. “It’s a boat,” he’d say. They’d look at him skeptically. “My wife built it.” He said it earnestly and seriously, but every time, it was like the punchline to a joke. “Your wife? Ha ha ha ha ha!”

Now the Squid Wagon — and we — were veterans of a circumnavigation, and we could all relax. But we didn’t.

That summer, we decided to drive to Black Rock City, Nevada. This load was more interesting than usual — outrageous costumes, inflatable space aliens, a deconstructed port-a-pottie, and one of the sails from the boat to provide much-needed shade. Burning Man was calling us; we had to participate in the amazing week-long festival in the desert a second time.

The trip out (via Columbus, Ohio) was fun, but the trip back was challenging. Squidley had “issues,” and we limped back, making repairs in Oregon, Wyoming, and Kentucky. There was another miracle, when we broke down on a backroad in Iowa — on a Sunday afternoon — and were rescued by a passing diesel mechanic named Tim. It made for good stories, but a lot of stress.

After that, I was ready to put the Squid Wagon out to pasture, since we won’t need a car once we launch our sailboat. But Barry still has confidence in our 20-year-old van, and he convinced me to drive it back to Seattle and Burning Man (via Columbus, Ohio, of course).

Like the elderly person he is, Squidley has some issues catching his breath. He runs rough at times, and his digestive system is very sensitive to bad gas. Going over the Appalachians, he coughed and wheezed. “Breathe, Squidley, breathe!” I sang out. He made it, over the hills to Columbus, Ohio.

We’re in Nebraska now, almost to the Wyoming border, and he’s chugging along well. There’s a new air filter ready to install, and a new fuel filter, and Barry changed the oil filter and oil … you guessed it, in Columbus, Ohio.

This afternoon, we’re taking Squidley to Carhenge, which is one of those mystical places that all American cars should visit in their lives. It’s a full-scale model of Stonehenge, made out of American cars welded together. We’d stopped there in 2003, on the final voyage of the Peepcar, and now we find ourselves inexorably drawn back.

Beyond Economic Repair, indeed. The Squid Wagon can’t wait to see Carhenge.