unplain jane studio



And there we were...

… sitting side by side, not speaking, barely breathing. The only sound was the heat crashing against the windows. Every lurch filled me with nausea.

It was our first road trip in Big Bertha, and we had 615 miles to go.

But wait. Maybe you haven’t met Big Bertha, my “vintage” Ford Econoline van. On the day my husband Brian and I began this trip from Texas to Missouri, Bertha was still fairly new to us. We had purchased her three months prior from another artist who had driven her to and from local art shows for over 25 years.

When we first saw Bertha, we were told that she was the “perfect art festival van.” Spacious, ugly and reliable. “Spacious” allows for easy unloading and loading of my tent, 8’ display panels, art inventory and all the necessary accouterments. It’s also a euphemism for gas mileage in the single digits. “Ugly” suggests that no matter what’s dropped, spilled or broken inside or against her, it will simply add to her already complex patina. It also means that she is ostensibly invisible to art thieves who typically do judge books by their covers. “Reliable” we would come to question.

Brian was vigilant in preparing Bertha for her first out-of-state road trip. After (miraculously, as it turns out) she passed the state vehicle inspection, Brian rallied mechanic after mechanic around her to ensure her road-worthiness. We – at least, I – fully expected that there would be at least one major repair, and it turned out to be the brakes. To see Bertha up on the lift in the garage was like seeing a hippopotamus standing on a cocktail table. It defied gravity.

This out-of-state road trip we were preparing for was not only Big Bertha’s first but in a way, mine as well. When I decided to take a hard right from communications executive to full-time artist, writer and creative type, the art festival circuit seemed the most logical avenue in which to cut my teeth. At their best, art festivals connect artists with potential collectors and other artists, and relationship-building was exactly how I wanted to kick off my business. I needed to listen, learn and begin to sell. (In my next blog post, I tell you why I chose this particular festival as my first.)

When Brian and I left Texas for Missouri, it promised to be another scorching August day, and we were thrilled to be heading north. As the pre-pre-rush hour traffic through Dallas slowed us – and Bertha – down, and we noticed that her air conditioner slowed to a similar pace.

She’ll be fine once we get her back up to cruising speed, we assured each other.

She wasn’t.

They say that every one year a dog lives is comparable to one human year. I don’t know what that ratio is for a 1991 Ford Econoline van, but my best guess is 2:1. That makes Big Bertha 50 in human years. Apparently fifty-year-old vehicles can have hot flashes too.

I’d like to jump ahead to the part where we didn’t die of dehydration or heat exhaustion. We made it to St. Louis, drove all around the city for five days, sold some art, and returned home, all from inside a giant Easy Bake Oven. On the outside it looks harmless enough, but on the inside, that 60-watt bulb can maliciously bake a cake.

Did I mention that Bertha’s electric windows don’t work? Not that it mattered, because we would occasionally hand crank the triangular side mirrors open, only to choke on the freshly heated asphalt fumes as they roared in.

Brian and I are good traveling companions, but this little escapade tested our limits. After passing through the five stages of automotive grief – denial, anger, denial, anger, denial – we baked silently side-by-side for the last five straight hours of the trip.

If you’re looking for a moral to the story, there isn’t one. Don’t buy an old van is too obvious. Besides, that’s not what we did. What we did was fix Bertha’s air conditioner as soon as we got home, and two weeks later, headed to my next art festival a little bit wiser and a whole lot cooler.

This story was originally published on June 23, 2016.