In college, my brother and I shared a gas-guzzling, red Ford Aerostar minivan. We called it “The Roaster.”
The primary purpose of The Roaster was to get us home to Michigan during the holidays. And so it did – even through legendary snow storms that resulted in the year-round use of snow tires on The Roaster for the trips from our college in upstate New York, through Canada, and west to our parents’ home in Michigan.
The Roaster got terrible gas mileage, at best reaching a dismal 12 miles from each gallon used on the highway. To pay for the massive quantities of gas we needed to make the trip home from Cornell, we loaded The Roaster with our fellow Michigander students, charging them $50 for the ride home. Charging passengers barely allowed us to break even in the face of The Roaster’s fuel feasting.
Because my brother and I barely made enough money in our part-time college jobs to pay for our rent, food and books, we did a lot of squeaking by on gas fumes. Each of us would put only a measly half a gallon or so into The Roaster’s gas tank at a time, leaving just a few drops of gas remaining for the next driver. Unnecessary use of the vehicle was greatly minimized.
Except for one very important exception – spontaneous, late night, big group roadtrips with our friends. Particularly roadtrips to the legendary Rochester establishment “Nick Tahoe’s Hots”, where we would dine on hideously greasy entrees called “Garbage Plates.” The Roaster’s rear was filled with woofers and sub-woofers and other woofing sound equipment as wired by my audiophile brother. Naturally, the loud music and the possibility to pack in large numbers of people overcame The Roaster’s terrible fuel consumption on any late-night quest to consume nauseating quantities of deep-fried meats.
One of my closest friends from college just had her first baby, and in bundling up gifts for her, I realized that I needed to include a Roaster-related necessity – shoelaces.
This friend and I learned the multi-purpose wonder of the shoelace during a particularly memorable fall break trip in The Roaster. We had decided to drive to her parents’ home in Philadelphia for the extended weekend. Not long into our road trip, we heard a terrible scraping noise and roar of the exhaust system. It turned out the muffler had mostly fallen off from the minivan, but we could not completely detach it. Lacking any wire or other materials, we decided that we could tie the muffler back up to the underbody using the shoelace out of one of my Nike running shoes. We figured the shoelace might burn through or give out after a little while, but we had several pairs of shoes in the car and reasoned we could just keep using more shoelaces until we got there.
Not only did the shoelace keep that muffler attached all the way to Philadelphia, when The Roaster was suddenly making a terrible clatter a few days later, I discovered that The Roaster was now dragging behind the entire exhaust system on the ground, still connected by the strength of that mighty shoelace.
I actually laced that shoelace back into my running shoe after we untied the expelled exhaust system. Marvelous.
I suppose that’s a life lesson from The Roaster: you can be pretty darn happy in anything that you pack with friends, laughter, music, and the occasional multi-purpose shoelace.