Had Benjamin Franklin stuck around another two centuries, he would have added “Holidays Promise Travel Hell” headlines to his list of life’s certainties, though the Hellfire Club’s most famous member would no doubt take umbrage at the implication.
The featured players in America’s security theater, as well as its taxpayer-bailed-out airlines, rival only deadbeat dads in their inability to prepare for annual celebrations. There’s a reason transportation secretary and closet-2024 presidential contender Pete Buttigieg flies private these days, even as he reassures frustrated flyers about the abundant supply of useless meal vouchers and travel credits on offer from America’s most incompetent industry.
The only inconvenience I face during the holiday travel crush is the extra trip I must make to the confessional to atone for my Schadenfreude whenever some teary-eyed OnlyFans influencer recounts on TikTok how the TSA and United Airlines conspired to ruin her holiday-themed photoshoot in Bali (brought to you by Balenciaga and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos). I do my penance, but my contrition is imperfect.
The “travel hell” headlines are invitations for sympathy to the air traveler or the power-mad stewardesses and TSA agents overwhelmed at the gate, but I cannot think of any class of people less deserving of pity. Our frequent flyers, as Louis C.K. once pointed out, are apt to speak of their travails as if they had boarded “a cattle car in Germany in the 40s.” The holidays invite complaints about canceled or delayed flights or lethargic security; flyers spend the other 350-plus non-holidays kvetching about the presence of children on their flights. These people may justify their selfish lives by blaming climate change, but the mask comes off quickly the second they walk into the airport.
We haven’t flown as a family since number three aged-out of lap infant, which is why the McMorrises are forever in the debt of Lee Iacocca. The consummate car man is celebrated for inventing the Ford Mustang, his faith in Carrol Shelby, showing up those Ferrari snobs at Le Mans in ’66, and the original Chrysler rescue, but his greatest achievement is the invention of the minivan. He bullied Congress to carve out exemptions from environmental regulations so automakers could build a successor to the station wagon.
What emerged was an affront to both automotive and aesthetic sensibilities. The original minivan lacked the the functionality of the pick-up truck, the charm of a school bus, the wood siding of the station wagon and the psychotropic drugs of the VW hippie wagon. It was the ultimate embodiment of utilitarianism, if not downright Soviet in appearance and quality — but then again, so was every other car produced in the immediate wake of Ralph Nader. At least the minivan offered seats, which became necessary after all the busybodies lobbied for seatbelt laws.
The minivan of the popular imagination is still stuck in the 1980s and early 1990s. My church parking lot is littered with vehicles that sport “I Used to Be Cool” and “Never Say Never” bumper stickers, the sort of sly marketing efforts aimed at upselling Lululemon wine moms to opt for overpriced Chevy Tahoes that offer about 30 percent less storage capacity than the Honda Odyssey. When child number two arrives she will be convinced that she has outgrown the Tahoe and only a Suburban will suffice.
The pro-oversized SUV marketing effort has succeeded in scaring away the twenty-first-century woman from buying the twenty-first-century minivan. They should know our family cars have come a long way since my mother purchased the brand new 1995 Ford Windstar, which was responsible for countless hours of entertainment for me and my eight siblings.
We all remember Thanksgiving 1999 as the year the plastic shell separated from the hood at 80mph and disappeared into the oblivion of I-95; and who could forget the road trip when our sleep-deprived father expressed his true feelings about an inopportune emergency bathroom break by throwing open the sliding door with such violence that it kept right on going past the track’s stopping point? I was in middle school at the time and the moment rekindled the childhood belief that dad is Superman — or at least Herschel Walker, whose failed Senate bid cannot erase the fact that he once saved an elderly woman from a car wreck by ripping a car door off its hinges with his bare hands.
I am convinced that minivan sales are driven by fathers these days. They are too well-built for any display of Herculean strength — my 2018 Odyssey has automatic doors, natch — nor is it the new sleek designs automakers trot out year after year or even the built-in vacuum cleaners. The best explanation I have heard was offered at a funeral a few years back. Men in black suits let slip their masks of sorrow to rib a friend over his Toyota Sienna only to be rendered silent when he said, “You mean my stealth mobile?”
A few years back, Virginia passed a law that all but guaranteed jail time for DUIs if minors were in the car. Lawmakers insisted it was aimed at teens, but every softball-playing father knew who the real target was. When was the last time you saw a minivan pulled over in the wee hours of the night, the doomed man trying his level best, but failing to stay level? The busybodies of the environmentalist and safety cults helped spur the innovation of the minivan, but their peers over at MADD have guaranteed its existence for years to come.
This holiday season, pour one out for Lee Iacocca, then another for all stranded influencers, then hop into your minivan confident you will make it home without a felony.