The Little White Van

It’s a gray afternoon and we are traversing Alabama. Today, we make our run across the Yellowhammer state. My wife only ever pulls over to buy gas or let me pee.

This is how we live. In the past years we have traveled all over the U.S. doing my little one-man show, living on gas-station burritos, while our friend stays at our house watching the dogs.

In the backseat is a guitar, along with all our hanging clothes. We travel, eat, work, and sometimes sleep in our little white van, which resembles a plumber’s van. It’s the same kind of van driven by the LabCorp guy who visits your place of employment to collect urine samples.

It’s not a masculine looking vehicle. It’s small, a four cylinder. When the engine revs it sounds like a little cat hacking up a hairball.

In our years traveling we’ve become connoisseurs of gas station restrooms. We can simply look at a filling station and know whether the bathroom is going to be a total horror show.

Like last week, a restroom in South Georgia took the grand prize. The men’s room urinal was detached and lying on the floor. And the commode had been removed so that there was nothing but a giant festering hole in the ground. And that’s not even the worst part. I WAITED IN LINE TO USE THIS BATHROOM. But I couldn’t do it.

My wife and I turned right back around and ran to the van. I told my wife, “Quick, find a cow pasture!”

Believe me, I know I’m giving you too much information, but I’m only telling you that we have spent a lot of quality time in cow pastures together over the years.

But anyway, when you travel you have to make do. Especially when it comes to creature comforts. That’s why we love our van. It’s sort of like our mini home. I’ve seen my wife take a bath in the backseat using nothing but a wet-wipe and a shot glass. I’ve changed my entire wardrobe in the front seat during Atlanta rush hour.

There are paper cups littered on the floorboards, bags of peanuts, empty Chili Cheese Fritos bags. We even brew our own coffee in this car. We do it with an electric coffee maker plugged into a cigarette lighter.

Also, we always carry an electric cooler—which is basically a little refrigerator containing all the essentials anyone needs to survive after a full day of travel. Namely, beer. Also pimento cheese.

You probably think I’m kidding about this. I rarely kid about beer.

Sometimes we drive all night and when we sleep we steer with our feet. Often, we pull over in empty alfalfa fields, abandoned shopping complexes, or vacant filling station parking lots to make a sandwich. You never know what weird things you’re going to find on the side of the road.

Once, we stopped at a vacant filling station outside Tuscaloosa to make sandwiches. I was getting stuff out of the cooler when I noticed something on the ground beneath me. A purple piece of clothing.

I thought to myself, “Huh, this must be an article of my wife’s clothing that fell out of our car.”

So I reached down to pick it up.

As soon as I touched it, my hand mushed into something warm. I knew I’d made a mistake. It was a pair of purple Dora the Explorer underpants that were filled with a substance plentiful in most barnyards and diaper bins. And because this is a family column, I will refrain from saying anything more about these Purple Underpants from Hell.

I’ll simply tell you that I flung the garment into the air and screamed like a man who’d just grabbed a handful of apple butter.

My wife leapt out of the driver’s seat and said, “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“AAAGGGHHH!” was my response.

I was running in circles, holding my violated right hand in the air. I do not have a strong stomach and I have an extremely sensitive gag reflex. How sensitive is this reflex? Dentists fear me.

But being on the road isn’t all that bad. We don’t live a glamorous life—we drive a LabCorp van for God’s sake. But my wife and I have been lucky enough to live a pauper’s dream.

We’ve seen the sun come up over the Arizona desert. We’ve watched the wind turbines in Texas. We’ve been soaked by rain in Seattle. We’ve done Appalachia in autumn. Kansas in the Summer. The Carolinas in the snow. We’ve eaten pierogis in Buffalo.

I’ve pulled the old traveling man’s trick of ironing my clothes by placing them beneath my motel mattress. I’ve eaten enough gas station food to endanger my lower-intestinal health. We never unpack our suitcases. We simply live out of them, even when we’re at home.

No wife wants to live this way, I know that. No little girl grows up dreaming of marrying a fool who drives a utility van all over creation. She has given up her comforts to spend life on a highway with her mildly eccentric husband. I think about this a lot.

Chances are she will read this tomorrow morning. When she does I want her to know that being stuck in this little white van together, visiting open pastures, and living in hotels has been the second greatest adventure of my life. The first great adventure was loving her.

The third greatest adventure was definitely the purple underpants thing.

25 comments

  1. Brenda - February 9, 2020 6:55 am

    Jamie is so sweet and absolutely beautiful. If I could have picked a partner for you, it would have been Jamie. You should feel blessed.

    Reply
  2. Leigh Amiot - February 9, 2020 8:28 am

    Don’t know why people leave this kind of waste in parking lots, but I see it from time to time. I haven’t had the misfortune of picking it up, though!

    Have you two considered a small RV? There’s a lot to learn about campers, but gobs of resources online. Camper living could create an entire blog of its own! 😂

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - February 9, 2020 11:15 am

    Sean, she’s a good woman. She’s in it for you. ❤️

    Reply
  4. AL SMOLKO - February 9, 2020 12:32 pm

    Thank GOD for little white vans. Those who have never owned one have no idea what is missing in their lives. No glorious extravagance but what a character builder. I have had two in my lifetime and they were better than a college education that cost much more and provided me with questionable skills about dealing with life’s unexpected emergencies.

    Reply
  5. Connie Havard Ryland - February 9, 2020 1:46 pm

    Actually I’m a bit of a gypsy at heart so it sounds like fun to me. Y’all are seeing the country, up close and personal and together. Enjoy the ride.

    Reply
  6. Amy - February 9, 2020 2:08 pm

    A sweet and funny story! Traveling the U.S. sounds like lots of fun!

    Reply
  7. Lita - February 9, 2020 2:27 pm

    I laughed and cried. Love to you both xx

    Reply
  8. Esteban - February 9, 2020 2:34 pm

    Your column today is provides further evidence that the reason gas stations have locks and keys on their restroom doors is to prevent someone from sneaking in and cleaning them up.

    Reply
  9. Melanie - February 9, 2020 2:37 pm

    OMG I can never look at purple underwear again 🙈🤢😱 but I’m happy that the doggies have a babysitter 🥰 . I had so wanted to see you in Dothan this week but afraid will not make it. 3,000 miles is far to go and then there’s that drive from the Atlanta airport and my job and my wallet. Decades ago I used to do it about twice a year to see my mom. I would make the trip in one day from zero dark thirty drive to Oakland airport to Atlanta for rental car to about 10PM arrival at moms (after the mandatory fast food stop to refuel on a triple size everything combo Ha). Safe travels Sean and please give my Sweet Home Dothan Alabama a hug for me.

    Reply
  10. Shelton A. - February 9, 2020 2:51 pm

    I join you, “Augghhh!”.

    Reply
  11. George - February 9, 2020 3:47 pm

    I sorta wish you’d clean up the inside of the van, and also your truck which you have also described as full of trash. Just sayin….

    Reply
  12. sandraharperfairhoperealtor - February 9, 2020 3:51 pm

    That is such a funny story. You should try being a stand up comedian on the side.

    Reply
  13. Sally T. - February 9, 2020 4:19 pm

    Those purple Dora underpants!

    Reply
  14. Steve Winfield - February 9, 2020 5:03 pm

    I feel your pain. Years ago working as a service tech I drove all over north-central Alabama in an Astro Van with 300k miles. At a qwik mart one day I ran into an old coworker doing the same thing in a brand new Blazer. Just so happened his company needed help. I changed jobs to get a new Blazer.
    Now my “area” is the Arkansas / Oklahoma border to Raleigh Durham to Panama City, and every possible stop in between. Best Westerns & Cracker Barrel. 4 nights a week, zoom zoom zoom.
    One Monday morning headed out I’d just crossed the Georgia line. Going up hill behind a slowing semi & decided to pass. As soon as I hit the left lane at 70 a car was completely stopped on the interstate & BAM! Both cars ended up a few hundred feet down the road. Fortunately neither of us got hurt.
    I called the office in B’ham & said, “I totaled my Blazer. And by the way, I quit”.
    A few years of that will take travel urge right out of you.

    Reply
  15. Linda Moon - February 9, 2020 5:49 pm

    I’m glad to hear you were travelling nearby. If I’d seen you, I would’ve waved to you. Our not-so-little white van was often loaded up with family, friends, cats, dogs, and antiques we picked up along the way on road trips. We often headed West to the Arizona desert or the Rocky Mountains. A plaque I picked up along the way reads, “The difference in an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude.” I love your 1st and 2nd adventures. But not so much the 3rd one, because now I’ll never think of my homemade Apple Butter from Appalachia the same way again! Keep adventuring, My Friend!!

    Reply
  16. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 9, 2020 7:11 pm

    You have an amazing wife. God knows what He’s doing when he finds us the ONE, doesn’t He? So when is your little white van going to bring y’all to Oklahoma???

    Reply
  17. KAT - February 9, 2020 8:31 pm

    ❤️Another descriptive adventure, Sean! Remember these 3 things : #1 buy a small camper commode with blue gel to keep in your van, #2 Downy wrinkle release spray, and #3 do NOT touch any article of clothing that isn’t yours! Keep ’em coming! 🥰

    Reply
  18. Robert Chiles - February 9, 2020 9:23 pm

    It’s all in picking the right one.

    Reply
  19. Donna M. Gulliver - February 9, 2020 9:33 pm

    I second the idea of a small travel camper with a bed, fridge and stove. My husband and I have traveled to every state, except Alaska. together and if we were younger we would definitely go for a small travel camper. His sister and brother in law traveled and lived in one for 7 years and had a blast and met lots of people “with stories.” Keep those stories coming….enjoy every one of them!

    Reply
  20. Suzanne - February 9, 2020 10:40 pm

    You would really appreciate the restrooms at Bucees…not to mention the brisket and cheap (?) gas. Check it out next time you’re on I-10 in Baldwin county. They have beer too!

    Reply
  21. GaryD - February 10, 2020 1:29 pm

    Yuckie about the Dora the Explorer underpants but so doggone funny😂

    Reply
  22. Jess - February 10, 2020 4:45 pm

    Amen to that, Brenda.

    Reply
  23. Natalie - February 10, 2020 8:05 pm

    A little travel secret we’ve learned, Publix has the best restrooms and great snacks! They’re often pretty close to the interstate… I’m sure there are others but between Alabama, the Carolinas (our most traveled route) are several! Love your blog!

    Reply
  24. Debbie Moser - February 10, 2020 9:24 pm

    Funny stuff…you find out how much you love someone riding in a van/RV for long periods of time🤗. Love your love for Jamie❤️

    Reply
  25. Barbara - March 17, 2020 1:38 am

    Laughed out loud😀

    Reply

Leave a Comment