I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what it means to want a thing. Probably because for the past few weeks I’ve been exploring the options that might successfully move me and my household goods across the nation.
Sadly, like everything these days, any transportation-related service isn’t cheap. A U-Haul truck that cost me $3000 when I moved to Spokane in 2020 is currently priced at nearly $8000. I’d rather sell the entirety of my belongings than “rent” a truck that costs more than anything I own is worth.
And really, there’s no reasonable option. Rental trucks, Pods, and moving companies are all in the same overpriced bucket. This gauging is only made worse when coupled with the pervasive negative reviews that accompany them. The Better Business Bureau offers enough nightmare stories to make anyone want to throw their hands in the air and just stay put. Shoot, I considered it. Especially after learning that moving companies have the legal right to overcharge customer estimates by 110%. They bait folks with an attractive low price, then sucker punch them at the end. Worse still, they’re allowed to do this.
None of the traditional options were going to work for me, so I decided I’d instead purchase some sort of moving van here in Washington, then sell it upon my arrival in North Carolina. I’d make the move pay for itself (minus gas). All I needed was for it to transport me and my meager apartment’s worth of stuff 2500 miles across America. Easy peasy.
I began my Craigslist search for a practical option. I had a modest budget. Didn’t need anything fancy, but I did need it to be reliable. I reached out to sellers of wobbly box trucks and hooptie cargo vans. Some responded, some didn’t. It felt like Tinder. The photos and description looked pretty good, but the messaging got sketchy real quick.
Between my seemingly endless scrolling for no-frills, practical vans, I inevitably found myself salivating over an occasional vintage VW in the mix. This would propel me onto eBay where, for hours, I’d geek out on hundreds of restored buses. Transport vans, split windows, pop-tops. I’d dream about how cool it would be to have one of these collectible vehicles and found myself upping my budget 10x my original limit.
I’ve always wanted one of these old, nostalgic vans, and shopping for a stupid moving truck brought me this close to justifying using one for a cross country move. How cool would I look in the driver’s seat with my hands draped on that giant steering wheel! How awesome would it be to flash peace signs to all the gawking drivers of their boring, soulless vehicles! And of course a ’69 hippie van could pull a loaded trailer over the Rockies, couldn’t it?
Damn. I needed an intervention.
During my shopping ordeal, here’s what I noticed—wanting one simple thing had snowballed into wanting more. Way more. And this deep degree of wanting ultimately compromised any and all of my good sense.
I stepped away from the van stuff and took a trip to Arizona to hike the Grand Canyon. Afterwards, my friend sent me some curious statistics about the national park. Turns out that the average length of stay for the Grand Canyon’s 6,000,000 annual visitors is 5-7 hours. And the average time spent actually looking at the canyon itself is a mere 17 minutes. Seventeen minutes! People basically roll in on a bus or rental car, peer over the rail for that perfect Instagram shot, then walk away and eat overpriced meals and browse souvenir shops for the rest of their time.
Worse still, only 1% of the Grand Canyon’s annual visitors participate in adventures during their stay. Hiking, rafting, exploring, whatever. Only one out of every hundred people treats it as something other than check mark on their bucket list.
But frankly, I am pretty sure this is precisely how my family and I first experienced it back in 1981 when we road-tripped from New York to California (in, coincidentally, our VW van). Everyone piled out, ate a few snacks, snapped a few photos, grabbed a couple postcards to send to Grandma, then we got back on the road for a while before the next attraction (which was the Meteor Crater, if I remember correctly).
This sort of rapid consumption strikes me as typically American. We intake mass quantities as fast as possible then call it an experience. Think of all the all you can eat buffets! Same thing! The saddest part is that thus 17 minutes of admiring the Grand Canyon may even become a landmark of our life. Seventeen minutes we’ll talk about until we die.
Here’s another example from my adult life—I distinctly remember sitting on the lawn at Irvine Meadows Ampitheater in 1998 waiting for Metallica to hit the stage. I’d previously passed up countless opportunities to see them live though the course of my fanhood, and I was thrilled to finally see my (then) favorite band of all time. I hoped their setlist would be all their earlier stuff. “Creeping Death,” “Battery,” “Harvester of Sorrow” and the like. None of the garbage that had just come out on their newest album, Load. The preceding work (the infamous “black” album) was bad enough. James Hatfield is a screamer, not a singer. And Load definitively proved the boys weren’t aging well. Not at all.
Pretty sure, however, I was more excited to have the show behind me than to actually experience a proper night of head-banging. More than anything, consuming it added a perceived (and illusory) value to my being. Gave me something to brag about.
I wanted what I believed these things told others about me. The concert, the cherried-out magic bus, the snapshots of me thoughtfully gazing into the chasm of the Grand Canyon—all this assuaged my ego’s fear of being seen as average. Or worse, forgettable.
As much as I’d like to think I’ve evolved, I’m still a sucker for wanting things for all the wrong reasons. The shy and needy child who’ll forever live inside me still craves attention. Probably always will. But there’s growth in knowing he exists. I see you, little fella.
OK, so back to the van.
I ended up with a big ass Dodge Ram Van. Extended cargo. A no frills 2003 with 130k miles. Drives well, good body, clean engine, new tires (and a set of new winter studs for ice, to boot). I paid Kelley Blue Book’s average price for it. A smart and practical purchase that hogs my apartment’s assigned parking spot.
If choose to sell it back, odds are I will likely get what I paid for it and my move will amount to the cost of gas alone. Which is still a small fortune.
But I can’t lie, the prospect of outfitting it afterwards for some kind of nomadic vanlife is promising. Or maybe that’s just my ego looking to turn heads?