On minivans and mid-life crises

I've been obsessing for weeks about buying a new car

It started with the minivans.

Not sports cars, not a Porsche, not even a Tesla.

Minivans. Well, plug-in hybrid minivans.

Wait — before you start Googling “plug-in hybrid minivans” because you can’t possibly imagine such a thing, I can tell you now there is actually only one such vehicle available in the U.S.: the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

No, we’re not having a baby. No more kids are forthcoming, and in fact, one is close to leaving the roost. I don’t drive groups of teenagers to soccer games, and I’m not particularly into carpooling.

And yet: that damn Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

I’ve read every review, from every model year going back five years, and even some before. I’ve watched hours of YouTube reviews and drive tests. For a few days last month, I knew every used Pacifica for sale within a 100-mile radius, how much they were, and what the trim level was.

So, where did this car-shopping obsession coming from?

It’s not about the car

As my partner has repeatedly pointed out, all the while indulging my endless YouTube drive test watching and Carfax browsing: we don’t need a new car. We really don’t.

I just really want a new car.

The car isn’t about the things I need to do with the car, though there are things. Let’s call them justifications. I want to haul lumber. Do road trips. Camp at climbing crags. Drive through the New Hampshire winters. I want to do things that involve going places.

I want to travel more, but also put down roots. I want to grow a business and not worry about money, but also work less, enjoy life more. I want to meet new people, learn new things, become a carpenter, become a mountain guide, dance endless nights away in far-off Latin cities, write extraordinary stories, be like Hemingway — everything except the early death.

I want to do all the road trips, and also buy a new renovation property, and be here for my kids, and drive them to school, and also be a wandering vagabond, and also a climbing bum, and a kitesurfing hound, following the endless summer around the globe like the surfers of yore.

In short: I have veered into mid-life crisis territory, and this article is my confession.

I mean: I am at kind of a mid-life point. 39 years old. Creeping up on 40.

This is why I suspect this car search thing might be a symptom of something bigger.

Beyond minivans

You see, my search for a car didn’t stop at minivans.

A plug-in hybrid minivan is nothing if not practical, but the more I pondered my search, the more I realized this has little to do with practicality.

First, I branched into SUVs: the plug-in Mitsubishi Outlander, the new Toyota RAV4 Prime. Fuck space to haul or a third-row seat — what I really wanted (I decided) was all-wheel drive and the electric motor.

I was on SUVs for about a week before going back to the vans, only this time I started looking at work vans that could also haul people: the Nissan NV200, the Ford Transit Connect, and the Dodge Ram ProMaster. Maybe I’d even convert one into a camper after all the kids left.

But the work vans also had compromises. No matter what I looked at, I sacrificed something: the gas mileage, the space, the AWD.

And then, finally, I gave up on practicality altogether.

Why middle-aged men buy sports cars

There’s a lot to make fun of when it comes to middle-aged men and their sports cars. But honestly, at 39 I think I finally get it.

Middle-aged men buy sports cars because of lives not lived. They want to contemplate the choices they could have made, which could have led to a different path. A different woman, a different career, a different house, a different life. The sports car, the affair, the skydiving lessons, the sail around the world, all the mid-life crises — these are about coming to grips with the realization that we cannot have it all.

If you can’t empathize, at least a little, may I suggest that you are not yet old enough to fully grasp the tragedy at work here. Time marches onward, and thus there are opportunity costs to your choices.

Yes, I know: at any given moment you still have choices. I still have millions of them spread before me, today, tomorrow, next week, next year. But that doesn’t negate the fact that every moment which passes closes something off, not so much because we get old and our knees get bad, but simply because that’s how time works.

I want it all, I really do. Yet I also grasp, with the rational part of my brain, that I can’t, because, again, time. So when I say I want a new car that I don’t need, and damn the practicality, what I’m saying is that I have reached the point in my life where I stop giving a damn. I’ve made enough choices, watched enough lives not lived fade into the past, and it’s tragic and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want what I want, and I don’t want to be practical about it.

Which brings me to pickup trucks.

On pickup trucks

Pickup trucks are kind of stupid. They get shit gas mileage, and you can’t store anything in the back you don’t want stolen or rained on. Most of the beds are too short to haul anything of substance, and most of the cabs don’t fit more than two people. Take a fuel-efficient hatchback, then take everything that’s practical about it, take it away, and you have a pickup.

And yet.

I remember a few weeks one summer in Santa Fe when I did nothing but ride around in an old Toyota Tacoma. I was about 18, and my dad had hooked me up with a landscaping guy who basically drove around town fixing things and needed a helper. I noticed the first day that his left arm was dark brown tan from resting out the window while driving around all day. At the end of the few weeks riding shotgun, my right arm was dark brown tan.

Pickup trucks are damn fun. You ride high, throw stuff in the back, you offroad, you pull stuff, you get muddy (Pickups are meant to be muddy. It’s their natural state. If your pickup doesn’t have mud splattered all over, you’re not owning it correctly.) Last year my buddy got his tractor stuck on the side of a muddy hill. How’d he get it out? His neighbor with the pickup hauled it. Because that’s what you do with pickups.

You can put your family in them, if needed. You can throw a bunch of lumber in those short beds, if needed. You can buy the ones with the 4 cylinder engines, so the gas mileage isn’t that shit. If needed. And anyway, I don’t have to justify this purchase decision to you or anyone else.

I’m 39 and I can buy whatever car I damn well choose. Time marches on, and I’m getting less and less patient, less and less willing to compromise for the sake of being practical.

So. Don’t be surprised if you see me driving around town in a pickup some time soon.