A Family Road Trip in Chrysler’s New Pacifica Minivan; or, Schlepping, With Baggage
Family conveyances may change, but family is immutable.
Three hundred miles is a long way to travel in a car with your siblings. I know this from first-hand experience, as that was the precise distance we used to travel each year during my childhood from our home in Detroit to my grandparents’ apartment in Chicago. Every moment feels longer when you’re a child, not only because of your limited understanding of time and distance but because the younger you are, an hour is a much larger chunk of time relative to how long you've been on earth. (It's why summer vacations felt so long: two months is equivalent to about two percent of an eight-year-old's entire life up until that point. ) But road trips felt especially long in the Seventies, because everything is worse when you’re one of four kids, all under the age of six, stuffed into sleeping bags in the hatch of a Chevy Vega.
For entertainment we had AM radio blaring Yacht Rock, sempahoric efforts to cajole tractor-trailer drivers into honking their horns, games of license plate bingo (at which our eldest brother always cheated), and a rank potpourri of petty conflict. When any of this got out of hand our mother would attempt to terrorize us with threats, and if those weren’t effective she’d retrieve the mixing spoon she kept in the driver’s door pocket, reach around with a stripper’s elasticity, and smack those of us she could reach. Cowering atop the left wheel well was the best hiding spot.
Coincidentally, three hundred miles is also the precise distance of the round-trip from Miami to Key West, the distance I cover every spring after flying south for my family’s one annual requisite get-together, the Passover by the Pool misheggas: a week long celebration of sublimated tension and the intestinal discomfort associated with consuming unleavened bread. In order to jump-start the filial strife, I, along with my boyfriend, my older brother, my younger brother, my two sisters-in-law, and my two year-old niece made the southbound drive in an all-new Chrysler Pacifica Minivan. I packed a mixing spoon in case of emergency, and am disappointed to report that there was no need to use it.
As American consumers stupidly continue to abandon every extant vehicle type in favor of bloated, high-riding, inefficient crossovers, Minivans have undergone a sad glissade. Sixteen years ago the US market peaked with sales of nearly 1.4 million emasculating schleppers; last year, barely 500,000 rolled off dealers’ lots, a year-over-year decrease of nearly 8 percent. But the news isn’t all bad. With only a handful of brands still in the category, competition seems healthy and right-sized. According to numerous sources, transaction prices are up, residual sales prices on used vans are appreciating, and minivan customers retain high loyalty with many compulsively purchasing one after another.
Though my regular beat leans more toward vehicles with a few more zeroes in their price tags, I have a strange soft spot for minivans. They’re the most efficient means to move around a group of people plus all of their baggage, and I appreciate the sincerity of the category as a whole. That said, this top-of-the-line Pacifica Limited wasn’t exactly a penalty box. Slotting in at nearly $50,000, it was laden with every conceivable option, including panoramic cameras, parking and emergency braking assist, wind-cheating active grille shutters, eight USB ports and two twelve-volt outlets, power operated windows, doors, tailgate, and panoramic moon-roof, and three rows of seats that do some combination of heating, cooling, adjusting, shedding their headrests, flipping, folding, disappearing, and reappearing at the touch of a button (or a few buttons).
My younger brother is fanatical about old Saabs and the co-owner of my handsome Porsche 928 and Fiat Spider, but he and his wife’s daily baby-driver is a 2006 VW Passat Wagon. “We’re not used to this level of luxury,” he said from his stretched-out perch alongside my niece’s kiddie seat in the van’s distant third row. I only wish he’d found occasion to test out the grandeur of the integrated 50-watt vacuum back there. All those organic, unsweetened, non-GMO snack clumps sure produce a shit-storm of crumbs.
My older brother doesn’t even own a car, but like most older brothers, he knows everything, so he was readily able to burrow into the myriad submenus in Chrysler’s Uconnect Theater Package Touchable Interface™ and perform tasks like adjust the sound distribution and turn on the parental controls on his wife’s seatback tablet so she could no longer play adorable kitty-cat solitaire. (The tablet also contained a virtual version of license plate bingo at which my brother, remarkably, didn’t cheat.) My sister-in-law was also able to use the onboard internet connection to accomplish some of the alleged “work” she always brings along to these family get-togethers. The build sheet claimed that the car contained a 115-volt outlet capable of performing the alchemical conversion from “car electricity” to “normal electricity,” but my S-I-L couldn’t locate it to plug in her laptop. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
By the time we took a family road trip to Florida in 1978, the Berks had upgraded from the shitty silver Vega to a slightly-less-shitty, buckskin-colored Chevy Malibu Classic Wagon. (Its greatest asset was a backwards facing third row that mom couldn’t reach with the spoon.) On that trip, each of us was required to save up our chore-based allowances for a full year in order to pay for a family meal. My brother, as eldest, had to buy us dinner, I, as the second, had to purchase lunch, and my sister had to cough up for breakfast. My little brother was excused, because he was only three, though if any given day happened to feature a fourth meal I suspect my mother would have found a way to stick him with the check. The Pacifica’s fuel efficiency and gas tank size were such that we didn’t need to pit in and fill up, but when we stopped for lunch at The Moorings in Islamorada, my younger brother slipped off to take a walk when the check arrived.
Family conveyances may change according to trends and budget, but family is immutable. My older brother and I split the bill.