All Aboard the Sea Bus
“We’re van people now,” I said to Elayna, my soon-to-be wife, as we sat in the parking lot of South Lake Tahoe’s only BevMo. She absentmindedly stroked Brooklyn, our lab-cattle dog mix, on the head, smiled, and nodded. “Only if it’s the Sea Bus,” she said, referring to what our friends had just christened our 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 Passenger Van. “Well, of course.”
A breeze off Lake Tahoe cooled us from the Saturday afternoon sun. Brooklyn was lying happily on the Sprinter’s floor near the open sliding door. Rex, our beagle-dachshund mix, sunned himself on the van’s metal electric sliding step. After almost eight years of dating, our wedding was a week away. Could life get any better?
Clanging bottles and two loudmouth New Yorkers interrupted the peace. “Dude! I just dropped 250 bucks on wine!” Mike, lead loudmouth and one of my groomsmen, laughed as he carried out a full case. “This should last us till at least Tuesday,” added Andrew, other groomsman, who added a case of beer and a couple bottles of liquor to the mix. More noise. Luke and Justina poured out of BevMo with more beer in hand. “This ought to get us started,” Luke said as he loaded his beer in the last available floor space of the Sprinter’s massive cargo area. Just until Tuesday? We had 19 people coming to stay with us in our rented house the week leading up to the weddingâsurely this much alcohol would last longer than three days. “All aboard the Sea Bus!” Justina yelled, snapping me out of my train of thought. I slammed the Sprinter’s barn doors shut and climbed behind the wheel to take us back to the house.
It had been a long day. Elayna had packed alone the night before—I’d carelessly sliced a finger open, earning myself seven stitches and a night off—and we hit the road to Tahoe early. We fired up the Sprinter’s 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V-6, its chrome tri-star grille ornament pointing northeast toward the rising sun, for the first time at 5 a.m.
The Sprinter 4×4 happily ate up mile after mile at its governed top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h). Its suspension easily absorbed the freeway’s expansion joints as Elayna, Rex in her arms in the passenger seat, slept soundly most of the trip. Brooklyn, like me, had her head on a swivel, taking in the scenery as we drove by. She was eager for the rare fuel break so she could stretch her legs. With us averaging 19 mpg (12.4 L/100km), though, that meant diesel stops would be few and far between.
A few hours north of our first stop in Lone Pine, California, I first realized the effect that the Sprinter can have on people. Elayna and I pulled into a heavily wooded rest stop, parked, and hopped out with the dogs for a walk through the trees. A man poked his head out from the back of his Sprinter-based Airstream camper and hollered: “Hey! Love your van!” Hmm. Comfortable, efficient, and head-turning? Is there anything the Sprinter isn’t good at?
Later that night, I find out the answer to that question. Mike, Andrew, and I are back in the Sea Bus for a quick trip to Reno, Nevada. One of our best friends, Leland, was set to land in a couple hours. After having used my iPhone and Google Maps to navigate to Tahoe, I opted to give the Sprinter’s Becker-sourced navigation system a shot at getting us to the airport. Bad move on my part. What should’ve been a short trip took us an hour and a half, a good half hour longer than it should have. At least I got to have a surprising amount of fun chucking the big van into mountain corners along the way.
Sunday was another busy day. Mike and I made a run to Carson City, Nevada, to pick up supplies. Wallet $500 USD lighter and the cargo area hardly filled, we headed back up over the mountain. That night, Elayna, Justina, and I made another run to Reno, this time to pick up Elayna’s bridesmaid Marissa. The three girls let me play chauffeur, the three of them sitting in the second row while I drove. As their conversation got racier (as it usually does), I was told, “Don’t listen!” “Sure,” I said. “I can’t hear you guys anyway.” That wasn’t strictly trueâturns out the Sprinter is pretty quiet for a big van. Sorry, ladies.
With Sunday playing errand boy and with a busy Monday in store, Elayna and I had to get up early to get a chance at relaxing. We rolled out of bed at dawn, got the dogs together, and hopped in the van. Brooklyn’s very first car ride was in MT’s old long-term Sprinter, but she was still reluctant to get in that morning. She couldn’t quite figure out how to make the 3-foot leap from terra firma to the second-row bench. Finally, saying “beach” had her clumsily leaping into the van.
We arrived at the lake a few minutes later, and Brooklyn and Rex piled out of the Sprinter and went running toward Lake Tahoe’s shallow waters. After a good Frisbee session, we headed back to the van to get ready for our families’ arrival. Rex immediately made the leap into the passenger seats and burrowed under a towel to warm up and dry off. Brooklyn, exhausted, decided she’d camp out in the shade of the electric step. It wasn’t the retractable awning of a camper, but it’d do.
Bright and early Thursday morning a few days later, Elayna, my mom, and I loaded up and pointed the Sprinter at Sparks, Nevada, where we were to pick up flowers for our wedding. Truth be told, I was not looking forward to the three-hour round trip. I was still recuperating from my bachelor party the day beforeâwe lost track of time on the lake while the sun was up and lost money in the casinos that nightâso you might be able to imagine why.
The drive to Sparks was tiresome, but pulling into the flower warehouse perked me up right quick. I was informed along the way that we needed to be a licensed business to purchase flowers from this place. Although my mom technically has her business license, it’s for interior design, not a flower shop. I was advised that I ought to keep my mouth shut.
If anyone questioned me, I’d be Manny from “Fawlty Towers”: “I know nothing!” I was simply the man hired to haul flowers for these two women. I have a knack for talking myself into trouble—something compounded when I’m, uh, ill, so I let Elayna and my mom do the talking. The very nice receptionist, sensing that I was the help, pointed behind her to the big warehouse and told me to get my van and park it around back. I can do that. As I drove the Sprinter 4×4 around the warehouse, I saw a mix of Ford Transits and old Econoline cargo vans with flower company logos. I figured I’d park there and head on in for the flowers.
As I hopped out, an older woman with Coke-bottle glasses and long hair waved frantically at me. Confused, I stared for what was probably an entirely inappropriate amount of time. “Pull it in here!” she yelled as she pointed at an empty space in the warehouse right in front of her. I fired the diesel back up and pulled the van in. Before I even had a chance to shut the Mercedes off, my door was open and the woman was talking to me. “I love your van!” she said, emphasizing the “love.” “How many people does it sit? Do you take it on lots of adventures? What kind of mileage does it get? Why is it so tall? Is this your company van?” So we’re playing 21 Questions, I guess. Normally, when people ask me about the car I’m driving, I’m pretty quick to explain my situation and volunteer that the vehicle is not actually mine. However, in my stateâhungoverâand with the absolute terror of ruining my own wedding on my mind, I did something I’m awful at. I lied. “Yep, it’s my company van,” I said. “Oh, what company do you work for?” Crap. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Uh, well actually, it’s my own company.” “Well, what’s it called?” “It doesn’t have a name.” “It doesn’t have a name?” she questioned suspiciously. “Uh, no. I contract out myself, and the van out to companies to haul stuff. Like Uber, but vans.”
In attempt to hide from the detective’s questioning, I opened the cargo doors in the hopes she’d forget I existed. Even betterâshe noticed the “4×4” badge on back and got distracted. “Does this really have four-wheel drive?” A break. “Yes! With a two-speed transfer case, so it has a low range. I took it off-road once up in British Columbia, Canada, and it was awesome.” “Oh my gosh, I’m from B.C.!” I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I loaded up, listening to her stories about her childhood in British Columbia. My mom and Elayna then appeared, and I hopped in the Sprinter and got out of Dodge before I was asked any more questions.
My last memory as a single man will forever by tied to this Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4. After spending all Friday morning running last-minute errands and setting up our reception, my groomsmen and I were dressed and ready to go. All seven of us hopped into the van to drive the five minutes to the church. The magnitude of what I was about to do hit me. Wow. I was actually getting married. All of a sudden the opening notes to “Have a Drink on Me” by AC/DC rang out over the stereo. Next thing I know the windows are down, the stereo’s cranked to the max, and we’re all singing along as loud as we can to Brian Johnson. And then I felt fine. We pulled into the church lot, AC/DC still blaring. An hour later and after eight years of waiting, Elayna was my wife. As we hopped back into our beloved Sea Bus to head to the reception, I thought to myself, “Now life couldn’t get any better.”