The death of cool

As if looking in the mirror isn't evidence enough, here's another sign of encroaching middle age: The pledges made in our youth become as outdated as eight-track tapes.

We make many promises to ourselves when we're young. We'll never settle down. We'll never give up partying, dude. We'll never get fat. We'll never become couch potatoes or undergo plastic surgery or wear our pants pulled up to our armpits.

Aging subverts those promises. The demands of family and money and work, the incontrovertible proof of wrinkles and flab and gray hair, yank the rug out from under our youthful idealism. And we shrug wearily and trudge toward our ultimate reward, foolhardy pledges littering the road behind us.

When my wife and I decided to get married nearly 25 years ago, we agreed to three private vows beyond the usual "I do." These vows were aimed at making a state-sanctioned union more palatable to a couple of young hipsters. Here they are:

1. No children.

2. No mortgage.

3. No station wagon.

It's not that we looked down our noses at people who liked such things (though we secretly did). We were simply too cool to embrace the suburban, white-bread, gray-flannel-suit, Brady-Bunch, La-Z-Boy, generic-beer, early-to-bed values of previous generations.

Well. Our two sons are now in their late teens. We're in our third house and on our fifth mortgage, counting those all-important, lower-interest-rate refinancings. And, a few years ago, I gave up and bought a minivan.

OK, it's not exactly a station wagon. But it's the modern-day equivalent, close enough to draw sneers from passing youngsters who could never picture themselves tooling around in a vehicle with as much sex appeal as a refrigerator.

Minivans are for people who've given up any pretense of coolness in favor of practicality. For people who need legroom more than they need a hip image. For people who haul people.
In short, minivans are designed for parents.

Parents need reliable transportation, not something exotic that'll pass everything on the road except a repair shop. They need room for kids and pets and sports gear and groceries. They need rows of seats so children can be separated when they start poking each other.

Automobile manufacturers have designed minivans with all the bells-and-whistles demanded by harried parents. Cupholders and airbags. Lots of storage. Entertainment systems to distract the little ones in the back seats so they don't distract the driver.

Ours even has a fisheye mirror that gives the driver a view of the whole interior, so I could watch the kids and shout, "I saw that! Stop poking him!" while pretending to watch the road.

I must confess that I like the minivan. It's roomy, it's practical, it's easy to drive. I ride up high so I can see over sleek little sedans in traffic.

Not high enough, though. I can still see the other drivers, the young ones in the sleek little sedans, who snort at the sight of Mr. Soccer Mom in his Airport Shuttle.

I'm thinking about dressing up the van, giving it some little touch that shows I know I'm no longer cool. Something tongue-in-cheek, a wink to those who scorn fridges-on-wheels and the lifestyle they signify.

How about a vanity plate? Here's what it should say: "AMANA."

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