My Big Fat Orange Van and Car Karma

Dear fellow travelers through the insanity we call life. Before I start this story, I want to preface it with one of my quirks. I love cars and hate shopping. Very ungirl-like I know, but there it is.


My friend and lunacy crony, David and I were having Mexican food one day when, for some reason, I remembered my orange van. I remember it fondly for the humor it provides for me now.

Throughout much of my life I have had car karma. I didn’t have a new car of my own, bought with my own money, until I was in my 40s. Before that, I owned was a string of cars with, well, character. The first car I had of my own was in the early 1970s, a used Ford Fairlane of the early 1960s ilk. It was white, had tires of different sizes and treads, made funny noises, and sported Florida plates. I bought it from a newspaper classified ad for $100. I never registered it because…. Yes, I will get to the orange van in a minute…. I worked for General Telephone in Santa Monica and employees of the lower ranks, i.e. galley slaves, didn’t get parking spots. I sometimes had to park several blocks away from work. Okay, New Yorkers, laugh at that.

Well, no self-respecting Southern California girl in those days walked more than a block.  I started parking in places the law said I shouldn’t. Naturally, the parking tickets started piling up. I never paid them. I was young and had no conscience. I’m sure whoever the car was registered to was inundated with parking tickets. But, I had, as I said, no conscience.

After that, I went through a circus of odd cars here and there, including a 1964 Dodge something or other that my brother customized. Every time I turned left, the horn honked. Then there was the 1956 Cadillac with a quirky personality. The windshield wipers only worked when I was accelerating. In order to see in the rain, I had to drive faster and faster.

One of my favorites was the 1973 Mercury Marquis Brougham. A huge boat of a car, built for luxury. If I ever have to live in a car, that’s the one I’d choose. I understand that those are classic collector’s cars now. Oh bother.

My love of this mighty beast was ruined when I spilled a gallon of raw milk onto the when returning from my trip to the dairy farm (again, another story). After that day, no matter what I did, it always smelled like sour milk.

I did have a couple of really “cool” cars. I still think of my 1966 Mustang and sigh. I loved her. She had pony interior, a floor shift, and air conditioning—very rare in those days.  I bought the car from my best friend, Kathe after it died of a fatal transmission disease. Fortunately, I was married to a mechanic,  John, who restored the pretty Mustang to pristine beauty.

That car was a part of some of the best times of my life. Way before I married John and the Mustang got a second lease on life, my bestie, Kathe (also single) and I prowl Santa Monica in this sexy little thing. It was shiny, clean, and had Alabama plates. We cruised and flirted with the guys who would honk and yell, “Welcome to California, Y’all.” And, before Kathe and I both married and became respectable, that little car got me safely home after many a wild, all night party.

The other car I loved to pieces was a 1971 Datsun 240Z. I fell in lust with the Z when I was dating a barber who had one. This was 1972 and the Z car was the hottest thing around. Richard, the barber, and I saw each other only on the weekends. One Monday, he said, “Why don’t you take the car for the week?” I almost had an orgasm right there. Then, he asked, “Do you know how to drive a stick shift?” I didn’t but wasn’t about to let that get in my way. “Sure,” I said, “I learned on a stick.”

It wasn’t a total lie, when I was 17, my boyfriend, future hubby #1, Rick, tried to teach me how to drive his 1956 turquoise and white Pontiac. This was his baby—floor shift, Tijuana tuck-and-roll, diamond upholstery to match the car paint, special tires, and of course, loud radio speakers in the front grill. His claim to fame in our peer group was that he could out-run cop cars. Mostly, we would cruise the local Van Nuys, CA burger drive in, Oscars. All the teens would cruise around and around, trying to look oh so James Dean cool, before parking and ordering a Burger, Coke, and Fries. Anything else tagged you as an outsider and very uncool. I remember the carhops on roller skates always flirting with Rick’s car. Come to think of it they flirted with Rick too. He looked like the actor, Patrick Swayze, only not as smart.

Rick tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift. I didn’t know it then, but I had a bad case of spacial dyslexia. I ran into more chain link fences and trash cans than I can remember. I knocked over a stop sign once. That’s when he decided that I was a lost cause. Probably a good thing.

So, back to the Z car. Here was the barber, Richard, offering me the Academy Award of cars. How could I say no? A measly gear shift wasn’t going to keep me from the Z! He drove up to his house, handed me the keys and said, “See you on Friday night.”

“You bet,” I said back, kissed him and climbed into the driver’s seat. Suhweet! He waved and went into the house. I wasn’t a dummy, I had watched him drive it and I was remembering my “lessons” in the Pontiac. Slowly, I depressed the clutch, put the car in 1st gear, then gently accelerated while letting off the clutch. Yes! It worked! Second gear was a little trickier, but I caught on really fast. I wanted that car!

After we broke up, I missed the Z car. When I married John, he bought me one. It was school bus orange so I had it painted chocolate brown with a gold undercoat—gorgeous.

Those where the only really great cars I owned until many, many years later when I bought my brand new Chevy S-10 truck. Alas, long gone now but it was a prize.

So back to the Orange Van. Before the Chevy S-10, bought with my newly divorced independence (from hubby #4), I lived in Houston, Texas with my dearly dysfunctional husband, Lee. My little red something or other had died a horrible, coughing, hacking death. So, Lee said I should drive the orange van until we could get another car. Not my first choice, but I needed transportation. The trouble was that the van was also our gardening, duck feed, fertilizer, and lumber transportation vehicle. He drove a Corvette but I was not allowed to touch it. Hint at why I finally left him.

The van was old, rusty, huge, noisy, and bright orange. The air conditioning only worked while accelerating, so I would put it in neutral whenever I could and rev the engine to get a blast of cool air. This ugly duckling was also magic. When a problem developed with the starter, we took it to a mechanic. He told us that there was no way this van should be running at all. The starter was never wired to the thingy-ma-bob that allowed it to start. (thingy-ma-bob is my technical term for whatever the hell he said).

I would park the beast as far away from where I was going as possible so no one would see me driving it. I hated that van. I hated it so much that one day I drove up to the underground parking at the Houston Library (this was before the Internet). I totally scoffed at the sign that said what the height clearance was. Remember, I had spacial dyslexia. I couldn’t tell 4 feet from 7 feet. So I drove on and soon discovered, by the horrific grinding noise on my roof, what 7 feet was. It was lower than my van. Actually the ceiling was tall enough, but the pipes hanging down from the ceiling was another story.

Still, I kept going, I figured the pipes were smashing in the roof of the van enough so that I could get out, and as long as I was still moving, life was good. I parked, went into the library, returned, and drove out, scraping and crunching all along the way. I wonder if anyone ever looked up at the pipes and was puzzled by the swaths of orange paint covering them.

The van was tall so I could only assess the damage by walking to the top of my sloped driveway and jumping up to see the roof. It was crinkled, rippled, and without paint in many places, but it seemed to be intact. Well, as I found out a few months later, that was not true.

It rains a lot in Houston, Texas. It’s a subtropical climate, so rain is as common as sunshine in Southern California. One of the things we used this van for was to transport feed for our many Mallard ducks. I love ducks, but that’s another story. One day, I opened the back of the van and discovered corn plants two feet high growing in the carpet! That was the last straw. I demanded a new car or else.

Now every time I see an orange Chevy van, I am transported back to the rippled roof and the corn field in the back. Funny now, not so much then.

I still drive an old car, but it is one I love. I bought it because I loved it at first sight. It is a 1996 baby blue Toyota 4-Runner. She is my soul mate.

I’d love to hear your car stories. Comment below.

Live, Love, Laugh

Anita Burns





About anitaburns

Confetti Head: My life of change, and color, weirdness, and fun. From the colorful days of Hippie, to all night rocker parties, to married life, contemplation, meditation, and more. My life has been blessedly full and rich. Anita's Real Food: I have loved cooking since my first Easy Bake Oven when I was four. I bake, cook, invent, share, and eat. Enjoy my Real Food Blog. Astrology Learning and Secrets: LIttle-known facets or a deeper dive into the wonderful world of Astrology
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One Response to My Big Fat Orange Van and Car Karma

  1. Michael McLane says:

    Comment, you bet.

    I was late with my introduction to car ownership. I used to ride my, not so common, Olmo, which was an Italian road racing bicycle. I even rode from Pasadena to Bakersfield and back because I was so entranced with a young lady’s – – – -ah, well her stuff.

    I went with another insane friend on July 7th, which was the day after my birthday. It was after completing my first year of college. Oh, this is getting into a story.

    OK, my first car was given to me by my uncle after I got out of the Army. It was a 195???? Opal. I soon found out that Chevy bought the company the year it was built. It’s fame was that it was made of parts from the US and ???. Guys would know what fun it is to work on cars that are made of both metric and US nuts and bolts. That was fun. Also, my uncle was a tinkerer. He made one of the first propane conversions with the help from an article he found in Popular Mechanics. More stories here to bypass. Before her gave me the Opal, he converted it back to insanity for me.

    The Opal’s paint was light flat blue and later spotted white. The spotted white came from parking it in the last spot available to me, at our family home. That was under a sycamore tree which was a favorite spot for the neighborhood birds to gather, hence the white spots and it’s name, which was “Toilet.” The rear view mirror was mounted on the top of the dash and from that mirror hung and old tie. The tie also supported a kind of a mock critter that was about the size of a tennis ball, covered with fur, wiith feet of some sort.

    God, this is taking a long time.

    The only problem with Toilet is that it would not start unless my girl friend, Kathy, would grab the tie and jerked it up and down. This also slapped the critter up and down, with eyes that were little balls inside of clear plastic. The rotation of those pupils was kind of scary and gave me hints about my girlfriend that I was too naive to recognize.

    She would scream cummon Toilet, cummon, cummon Toilet. That screeching scared the shit out of Toilet and it would start. When I broke up with screeching Kathy, toilet would not start so I gave it to a friend who, most likely bribed Kathy to start it, then took it to the beach and blew it up which was a sad ending.


    PS, I really liked your article and it brought up gobs of fun memories. I guess that I really have had a lot of fun. No wonder we get along so well.


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