unplain jane studio



Credit where credit is due (aka, bye-bye Big Bertha)

This is the final in a series of tales involving our 1991 Ford E-350 Econoline van named Big Bertha and provocations including but not limited to luck, karma, oversights and auto mechanics.

As I watched her departure yesterday, I couldn’t help but think,

“Did I leave my laptop open?”

It wasn’t a particularly sentimental farewell to Big Bertha, my intermittently faithful steed. You know the story: how I started my own business and how Bertha came to be my first company car. Bertha hauled my art, my pop up gallery and me from Dallas to El Paso, St. Louis to Key West and points between, serving up tantalizing lessons in fortitude with every mile.

Still, as she was being lifted onto the tow truck, one memory of our time together did come to mind.

Last spring, Bertha and I hauled ourselves from Texas to Florida for six consecutive weekend art festivals. On Week Two, we were in Miami. Set-up began Saturday at 5:30 a.m. and had to be completed by 9:30 a.m. Say what? Heroically, Brian was able to fly stand-by to Miami and rescue me.

As is typical, this festival organizer provided each artist a narrow window of time to load-in — that is, pull a vehicle close to an assigned location and dump out its contents at top speed — then drive the vehicle far, far away. Bertha ended up about four blocks from my booth, which is unusually handy. Thanks to that bit of luck, Brian made a couple of Bertha Runs on foot in those early morning hours, proactively clearing away storage bins from our 10′ x 10′ space.

The festival opened, the sun smiled, the crowds descended, and before we knew it, the time had come to shut down for the day. Since the festival was located in a shopping district, we decided to walk to a restaurant for dinner after dropping off supplies at the van. As Bertha came into view, I still remember that we were laughing about something as I asked Brian if he had the keys handy (since we both had armfuls) or did we need to pause to retrieve them.

Then everything downshifted to slow motion.

Slowly, slowly, Brian lifted his available left hand to check his left pocket. Silly, you don’t put keys in your left pocket. Then as if under water, Brian reached across his body and patted his right pocket. Pat. Pat. Pat? He tilted up his head and made eventual eye contact, not with me but with Bertha. As if she would know.

Miami took one look and said, "That's a hard pass."

Miami took one look and said, "That's a hard pass."

“There they are.”

There they were. Hanging out of the keyhole in the driver’s side door where they had been for the past 11 hours. Parallel parked on a street in downtown Miami.

When we bought Big Bertha, the guy told us that she was the perfect art van. He said that when you haul around tens of thousands of dollars worth of one-of-a-kind pieces of art, you don’t want anybody to know it.

On that day in Miami, Bertha had my back.

When I started my business, I knew I would make at least one costly mistake. I even budgeted for it. I knew that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In spite of it all — new air conditioner, new brakes, new tires and a rebuilt transmission — Big Bertha was not the mistake. She cost more than she should have, but she got me started on my journey. There’s no mistaking that.

I’ll continue heading in the right direction in my spiffy “new” 2009 Ford E-250 Econoline van, named Lil B in homage. While lacking the patina of Bertha, you can make out the faint outline of a “heating and air conditioning” logo in Lil B’s paint job. Another girl with a past.

Still, when parked in Bertha’s old spot at the house, Lil B vastly improves our curb appeal. My guess is that our neighbors don’t miss that nice, quiet hippie family who used to live in our driveway. But don’t despair, Big Bertha fans! We donated her to our local public radio station, and as the tow truck driver was hauling Bertha away, he was already making plans to bid on her.

The gift that keeps on giving.

Van convention: Lil B with Big Bertha parked next to her. 

Van convention: Lil B with Big Bertha parked next to her. 

Note: We found out later that, in fact, someone did buy Big Bertha at auction for $900. The adventures continue.

This story was originally published on January 14, 2017.