An essay of mine..

got me cash money. So here it is.

Incidents in the Life of a Jalopy

In “Arcadia”, by Tom Stoppard, the table is seen throughout every scene. Over time objects accumulate on the table with no bounds of time to hold them back. On this table, books on gardening, grouse, and geometrics from the early 19th century sit by the computer of the 20th. Few objects are ever removed from this table. Instead objects are constantly added, but they seamlessly fit into the separate centuries. The table stands as a metaphor that information and objects can only be acquired, yet never destroyed. This table is the perfect vehicle for this idea, but it is not the only way we can see the amalgamation of objects in time. 

I was 16 when I got my license and with my license I also received what every sixteen year old dreams of… a creepy white van. With the white paint chipped off, the sides rusted, and the back windows well-tinted, this car was, and still is, the epitome of a hand-me-down. My grandpop bought the Plymouth Voyager in 1994, back when the minivan was in its heyday and could be found in every generic parking lot across the U.S. My grandpop died in 2000, so my dad inherited the Voyager still in peak condition. By the time my brother got his act together enough to get his license he was in his third year of college, and the Voyager wasn’t getting much use at home, so he brought it with him to UMass Amherst. Two years later, northern Massachusetts had lost some of its sparkle and my brother was off to New York City, leaving the car to me.

By the time I received the Plymouth Voyager it had gone through three owners. Just like the table in Arcadia, my van became the means for looking into the past. The van could compile objects that represented each driver while remaining unnoticed, unseen. 

When grandpop died, everything inside stayed exactly the same. My dad loved his father-in-law and wanted to keep the memory of him alive, so the Plymouth Voyager remained unchanged with only minor additions. My memories of my grandpop remind me of the things he kept in his van. His love of the beach, but despise of the sand is embodied by the koala bear in the Hawaiian T-shirt that still clings to the sun visor. His enthusiasm for his Polish heritage stands on the dashboard, with the wide-winged Polish falcon. His belief in small time bribery are seen sunbathing in the back window, declaring themselves in the form of stickers from police organizations he donated to throughout the 90s.

My dad added a minimal amount of things to the collecting car. His Bob Dylan cassettes found a home next to my grandfathers polka music. My dad is an extremely planned and rational man who finds excess disturbing. All of my dad’s additions were for a reason. He added an extra key to hide under the van, just in case he got locked out. He put in a new set of jumper cables and a flashlight in a backseat compartment. All of these items appear to be less frivolous, and more essential. These objects describe my father as a man who does not believe in possessions, but instead in preparedness. 

My brother was the next to own the van, and although he owned it the least amount of time, he added the most to the “table”. He, unlike my dad, is a collector, constantly gathering old, unwanted trinkets during his travels. His changes to the van tell us mountains about his personality. He removed the two back seats to avoid giving people rides. The empty void in the back was filled, with stray items found on the side of the road. Old, vintage Kennedy and Nixon buttons he found at a thrift store were added to the sun visor. Action figures were glued to the dashboard. I cleaned out the van when I first got it and filled a paper bag with all the miscellaneous items. Everyday I meant to take the paper bag into the house, but it slipped to the back of my mind.  Over the weeks the paper bag moved further to the back of the van, starting out in the passengers seat, drifting to the back seats, and then residing in its final resting place, the small crawl space of a trunk. The van acts like a black hole. Anything can enter, but nothing can ever leave. 

Although I knew the van was mine it took time for me to feel the confidence to make any real changes in the multi-generational vehicle. After a week I realized that trash has an ability to aggregate, making my first addition to the van an old K-mart bag that’s handles slung between the two armrests. I decided then that this van was not just a table for others memories, but also a table for my own. Previously, I had forced myself to sit in silent solitude while I drove through my daily errands. The van’s antenna couldn’t pick up anything but crackles of distant voices and the tape player ate everything it came in contact with. Although I became accustomed to the spitting sounds of the exhaust and whining of wheels, I knew that something had to change. I took out the old soundless stereo system and replaced it with some stereo at Best Buy. This change gave me new life; this van was finally mine. I could finally blast the songs I wanted, even though the polka cassettes sat idly underneath the passenger seat. The van is mine now, but it still remains my grandpop’s, and my dad’s, and my brother’s. It is our van.

This Plymouth Voyager has been my family’s “table”. We have placed objects in the van that resemble ourselves and our lives. Every generation in this vans history tells us about the people who have driven it. As Septimus said, “We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms.” But instead of carrying everything in our arms, we have chosen to carry our objects in our 7-seater van.


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