Why I'm Dropping Everything to Travel America in a JDM 1995 Toyota Hiace
The horizon beckons and I can no longer resist.
When people ask me where I live, I don't know how to answer anymore. Can "A '95 Toyota Hiace" be used as a mailing address? My belongings reside in an attic downtown, sure. My cat lives out by Johnson Space Center in a cute little suburb, taken care of by a close friend. The person I loved for most of my adult life is off to a new life a thousand miles away. But where am I? What am I doing? Bold of me to assume I even know, but allow me to explain as best as I can.
[Editor's note: Writer Victoria Scott is taking off to travel the country this summer and explore car culture in a JDM 1995 Toyota Hiace, and we'll be chronicling her adventures through a series on The Drive called The Vanscontinental Express. It's natural to yearn for the open road at a moment when it feels like the world is waking up from a yearlong daze. But as a trans woman looking for her place in the world, Victoria's journey is anything but your average road trip. We are honored to publish her story. This is part one.]
I remember the first time it hit. The wanderlust. I was 17 years old and I had just gotten out of the hospital, homebound after nearly being bedridden for weeks with crippling Crohn’s symptoms the doctors were trying in vain to treat. To pass the time and deal with the anxiety, I played video games and picked up my first Zelda one—Skyward Sword, admittedly not the strongest choice—and I remember sitting in a folding chair in my driveway after getting frustrated with a boss fight. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon and I lacked the energy to even so much as go for a walk. I thought of the game, which followed a familiar Zelda formula: the protagonaist Link is thrown into the world to save it. He’s a sleepy teen beforehand in most games, but after cataclysmic events unfold in front of his eyes, he's pushed into the uncharted wilderness to confront the terrifying and meet new friends.
I spent a long time exploring as much as the game would let me. Finding every hidden quest or secret room didn’t motivate me, it’s just the watercolor palette of the floating world was beautiful and I wanted to see it. I sat in the chair and I looked down the street and I wanted to get up and walk into the woods just to see if I could find something beautiful there; I wanted to see the unknown just so it could become known. Playing a game that didn’t compel me to race my way to completion, that simply made me feel satisfied with milling my way through the world, was unfamiliar to me. Get to the finish line! Defeat your opponent! It seemed natural to grasp at those goals. I had been speedrunning life, knocking out objectives left and right. Still am.
I never walked into the woods from that folding chair in my driveway. I couldn’t. I wasn’t physically able to or ready. And soon I wouldn’t have time again. I had started high school a year early, interviewing for private schools at the ripe old age of 12. When my dad later lost his job, we used state incentives to get me into college starting at 15. I was on track to graduate high school early, but I was absolutely leveled by the resurgence of my Crohn’s, which ended up wiping out nearly a year of my life.
This pause was unfamiliar. I remember having feelings of dissatisfaction before this. I was not a happy teen, but because I kept going, I never stopped and let myself feel it. I needed the next milestone—finish this grade, finish high school, buy my first car, get my degree, move out of my parents' house. Sitting in that chair should have been my first hint I wasn't on the right track.
When the Right Direction Is Wrong
Alas, I recovered slowly and painfully and got my life together enough to get to college on time, graduating with honors a year early, and had my first career job before I could legally drink. I moved out of my parents’ house as fast as I could; I needed distance. I immediately began to explore myself after I did. What was the missing piece? I sampled relationships with men and women and wrenched on my new dream car—a 1988 Toyota Supra—I had bought shortly before graduating and went to meet a faraway friend, one I had to hide from my parents because of who she was. We hit it off. I fell in love with her.
I still wasn’t happy yet, because I ached for her. I had never been in love and for a long time, and I never thought I would find it. To this day, I am unable to commit halfheartedly to anything I have done. It is either full commitment or no commitment. My relationship with her was undertaken the same way I'd undertaken everything, foot to the mat, full commitment. We had a rough time at first. I had never lived with anyone but family, and I was not good to deal with, I admit this. Work was stressful for me. I was stressful for her. We had no space in her tiny apartment. We persevered, finally renting a house together, and slowly the stresses eased up bit by bit.
I got my dream job working at NASA shortly thereafter and finally, there were no more rungs to climb. I had love, I had the job I wanted, we had an amazing garage, I had my car running most of the time. She was satisfied with her career and her cars and our partnership. I could finally relax. I didn’t relax, obviously. Do I sound like I even know what that is? I have never stopped. I have been running as fast as I can since I was twelve years old, ripping through accomplishments at as fast of a pace as I could, terrified to stop because I know that the pain creeps in when I do.
I had one more goal left. I had figured out I needed to live as a woman, and I was scared to do it. I was right to be scared. It’s scary as hell. That was a goal—a life milestone—that I kicked endlessly down the road because I did not want to pass it. I filled my time with whatever else I could do that felt like a goal, but I still felt empty.
Then the dream job turned sour. The government cranked up its pace of LGBT discrimination under Trump, and I feared to come out in the office. The work got more boring and more hectic somehow all at once, and it became more and more unfulfilling. The wanderlust was creeping back in as there were no more goals to conquer. Tentatively, my partner and I planned to travel; maybe that would have helped things.
Then, of course, March 2020 happened. My mental condition spiraled as I was consumed with anxiety, then paranoia, as the world absolutely melted away in the throes of a pandemic and police violence. My partner helped me get a grip on what mattered and I realized I needed to pass the last goal while I could.
The Final Hurdle
So I did, and I transitioned, and I’ve talked about it before. It was good, it has stayed good, and it was worth it. But what was strange was that after I finally achieved that and got some anxiety help, I felt myself being happier and actually caring about my health. I have tried more consciously to preserve my body a bit more so that I can have a longer life. I quit the NASA job because it made me miserable and it seemed like a waste to spend so much of my life being miserable. My partner was there to support me and she believed in me, and finally, I was starting to believe in me, too. I decided to become a writer because I love to write.
In this process, something has been illuminated: I still have the wanderlust. When I finally had the clarity to look at the world and realize what I missed most, stuck indoors for over a year, I realized I need to get out there and I need to meet people and I want to learn and see and experience. It’s open-ended now. There’s no goal; I am trying to live for happiness rather than utility. I am still 17 years old sitting in that god damn chair after Ghirahim wiped the floor with me on my Nintendo, but now I know there isn’t anything I need to go find. I just need to go.
My partner is very much my opposite. She realized this sooner than I did, but she needs stability, and routine, predictability, and quiet. I have worked hard to fix my faults but if anything, as I worked on those, it became more obvious that I could not provide her with any of her needs at this stage of my life. I am excitable and desire adventure and I will drop everything to go chase a trip or a dream just so I can have a story to tell from embarking on it. And that’s a fundamental difference in worldview.
So she told me she needs to move on. I fault her absolutely none, but I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready as I write this. I finally started writing this only when I could stop crying while staring at the blank page. I’m only writing it to remind myself what I’m doing next, and why I’m doing it.
Into the Unknown
I’m 25. I have no office. I have no kids. I have, truthfully, very few physical possessions except a lot of Hot Wheels and anime figurines. I have a family I cannot return to because of who I am now. And I am one of the first people like me, to be allowed to be me, in a generation. I have a promise that maybe I can exist, and I am thankful for the sacrifice of the queer folks who came before me that gave blood and sweat and tears to build us this world. I want to build on their accomplishments and leave this world better for those that come after me.
And so, with all moorings removed and the second dose of the vaccine in my arm and something vaguely resembling a purpose, I’m going to fulfill the feeling I had when I was 17 years old. I’m going to get out and see things. I have no goals except to write about it and try to help other people figure out their journeys through my words, whether the trips they need to make are physical or emotional or gender or all of them. I am eyeing a few used Japanese vans and some storage units and a few friends’ spare bedrooms. Why not make it a weird car adventure, right?
I’m finally not in a rush. I am going to physically put my foot on the gas to metaphorically take my foot off the gas. I have no idea what happens from here. I’m getting out of the folding chair because I’m finally ready to walk, and that’s all I know.
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