The Astro Van

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Our Ford Taurus station wagon was history. It had logged a lot of miles and the transmission had seen better days. It was time for a new set of wheels.
With two young kids, we needed another vehicle that could handle family travel while carrying tons of sporting equipment. Nothing against a Honda Civic, but a compact car wasn’t going to cut it.

A 1999 Astro van like this was a much-loved member of the DiSclafani family at one point

We went to Security Dodge in Amityville and came upon a pure white 1999 Ford Astro van. It was a conversion van modified with two sets of cushy captain’s chairs and a bench seat that folded down flat to form a bed. Pulldown blinds, along with rope lights embedded in the wood-grained trim, added a feeling of luxury and homeyness. The space between the chairs allowed for easy access between the front and back.
Best of all, embedded in the raised roof was a small, 8-inch television connected to a VCR.
The van had low mileage and was only two years old but was a little out of our price range. While negotiating with the dealer, James and Kevin were unable to contain their delight and were chanting my name. Needless to say, we took it.

After a few months of ownership, we took a family trip to Florida in 2002. Leading up to the trip, I began taping the kid’s favorite TV shows from Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, including commercials. I recorded six VCR tapes in all, almost 40 hours of programming, labeling the cassettes, “Dad TV.” When you popped one in, you never knew what you would get.
As part of our family for almost a decade, we never went anywhere without it. Although East Lake Grammar School is less than half a mile from our house, every morning, I would pick up a few of Kevin’s friends so they could watch five minutes of cartoons on the way to school. Vacations, ballgames, short trips, long trips, even sitting in the driveway watching a movie, just because we could, the Astro van was always there.

The Astro van wore its wounds proudly. My wife scraped the top when going over a speed bump in a parking garage once. I added a beautiful red scrape on the driver side bumper while negotiating too close to the pickup window at Checkers. Someone banged the rear bumper while I was traveling to Stony Brook Hospital, causing it to dip slightly to the left.
Like the blubbering fool that I am, I wept when it was time to retire the Astro van as if I was bringing a beloved pet to the veterinarian for the last time. After more than a year of “nickel and diming” us to death, the final blow came when my mechanic assured me the latest cost to repair the engine might be more than the van was worth. Although you can’t put a price on beautiful memories, your mechanic can assuredly put a price on a new engine. Game over.

I spent time clearing all the memories from the nooks and crannies before handing the keys over to a local van dealership in exchange for a $1,000 check. In the cubby next to the TV, I found a couple of “Dad TV” tapes. They were as much a part of that van as the steering wheel.
A few months later, I saw a similar-looking van while stopped at a red light on Sunrise Highway. It had the trademark small red scrape on the driver side and the rear bumper was slightly ajar, just like our van. Somehow, our family Astro van lived on.

I spied some kids in the back, watching the little TV. Smiling as I drove off, I wondered if it was the vintage “Dad TV” VCR tape I had purposely left in the van as a souvenir before I said my final goodbye.

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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