Finding enlightenment on the way to Fresno, in the van |

Finding enlightenment on the way to Fresno, in the van

Barry Smith
Vail CO, Colorado

I was a bit hesitant to hop back in the van for a thousand mile drive.

This is the same van I drove across Canada last summer ” 10,000 miles, four months, eight breakdowns, five mechanics, three rides on a tow truck and repair costs that I’d rather not have to actually type out right now.

It’s a 15-year-old Dodge Van ” that’s 35 in Toyota years ” and things are starting to fall off, but I’ve spent way too much money on repairs to sell it at this point. AND I plan on driving it across Canada again this summer, because learning is not really my strong point.

But I’m hoping that I’ve fixed enough things that I can now drive for a while without incident. You know, get in, turn the key, push down on the gas and … drive. Like normal people in normal cars. Drive without sputtering, without stalling in the fast lane of a busy freeway, without wondering if the end of the day will find me hearing the life story of yet another tow truck driver.

That’s not too much to ask, right? I don’t need fancy wheels, a good stereo, heated seats or even hybrid-like gas mileage. I just want a car that runs.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

The van sat still all winter, so I was happy that it started right up. The plan is to drive to Fresno to perform my “American Squatter” show at something called the Rogue Festival. It’ll be fun.

Things were going well until I pulled over in Utah to get gas and saw the steam coming from the hood. I don’t really know anything about cars, or car repair, or repair of anything, but I know that steam coming from the hood of the car means that you are obliged to open the hood and peer into it with your brow furrowed. I’m awesome at this.

Diagnosis: I’m hosed. Or unhosed, I guess. There seems to be a leak, way in the back of the engine, way back where duct tape won’t reach. I smell burning coolant. It’s 7 p.m. and I’m at a small town Utah gas station. Hosed.

There’s a garage attached to this gas station. I figure I’ll sleep in the van overnight, then accost the mechanic first thing in the morning, give him my sob story, explain how the people in Fresno are counting on me. Fresno needs me! Then, when the van’s fixed, I’ll have to drive non-stop, pulling into Fresno just in time to put the van in park and run in and do a show. Not ideal, but it’ll still work out.

I go into the little mini-mart to ask what time the mechanic arrives. Nine o’clock. That seems kinda late, but OK, sure. As I turn to walk out, the girl behind the counter says, “But I can call him in if you want.”

What happened next is still a bit of a blur. She makes a call, a few minutes later a guy roars up on a Harley, peers under the hood with a furrowed brow, determines the parts he needs, drives across town to get them from the auto parts store, comes back, fixes my van, charges me very little money, and by 9 p.m. I’m back on the road!

What the hell?

This is not normal, is it? I don’t think I lead too sheltered a life, though I have lived in a ski resort for the past dozen years, but does this just … happen? You go to a garage ” a closed garage ” and you call up the mechanic, he drops what he’s doing and comes in to fix your car for you? There’s something magical about this notion to me, something restorative and culturally invigorating. And had the van not broken down (again) I never would have had this experience.

This has left me convinced that my van is now some sort of magical talisman, opening doors to insight with each new mechanical setback. And I’m suddenly excited by the realizations and epiphanies that an entire summer’s worth of busted hoses and broken fuel pumps will surely bring.

Enlightenment ” and Fresno ” here I come!

Read more about Barry Smith’s adventures at

Support Local Journalism