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Jewish World Review July 15, 2003 / 15 Tamuz, 5763

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

In love with a minivan | So my life comes down to this: a trunk that opens via remote.

There was a time when I would have chosen a slow, painful and premature death over so much as test-driving a - gasp - minivan.

As in, the zenith of dullness. The height of boring. The car that says: "I could have had a life but I don't."

Fast forward to four kids, the suburbs, the acceptance of not having a life, and I am counting the days - literally counting the days - until my new Toyota Sienna minivan arrives next Tuesday. Multiple cup holders, storage bins, boring and all.

I actually found myself at a Toyota dealership just this morning sitting inside the same model I'm going to be getting in a few days. Just sitting, running my hands gently but gleefully over the "faux wood grain" trim, and marveling at how wonderful it all was. I was giddy.

Finally, the salesman came out to inform me that the van I was drooling over was already sold.

I didn't dare tell him that I wasn't "looking" myself since I had one on order due to arrive at a competitor's showroom in, oh, about 120 hours and 37 minutes. I thought if he knew that he would have thought the inordinate time I spent in his car was, well, a little bit odd.

OK, it was odd.

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But I love minivans. All the space, those remote-operated sliding doors, the "captain's chairs" that keep fighting children out of each other's reach, and, yes, the 10,000 cup holders.

Somehow those things have become a lot more important to me than "cool."

Though, I guess I was looking for some level of thrill in my choice, which is why I told the salesman, "If there's a bell or a whistle you can stick on the car, do it." So, my children may be eating macaroni and cheese bought in bulk for the next three years, but they'll have something my siblings and I only fantasized about as kids: a TV in the car. (Poor things. They think I'm such a "cool" mom. They don't understand that the real benefit in that is for their dad and me.)

One of my brothers lives with his wife and two young daughters in Chicago proper. For my niece Abigail's birthday last year, he rented a minivan to take her and her friends up to the Milwaukee Zoo.

But as my brother reported, these 9-year-old girls were so amazed and thrilled at the experience of just being in an "enormous" minivan, vs. the very cool but typically small cars their own parents drove, that the van itself could have been the party.

What a gift of innocence that these children have not been preconditioned against the minivan.

If only the rest of America were so tolerant.

For me, it all started about four years ago. I had been looking for a new car, a "cool" sport utility vehicle, conveniently forgetting the fact that I was hoping to have a fourth child. But I was somehow dragged into a minivan for a test-drive, probably so I could attest firsthand to how awful they were.

That was it. I was hooked.

It was like those stories you hear of women going on a date with a guy they're sure they won't be able to stand - only, they marry him instead. (For the record, that is NOT what happened to me.) Anyway, the Honda Odyssey was my first minivan love. It was its brand-new model year. When baby No. 4 came along, I knew I'd made the right decision.

But now I'm moving on. The Odyssey just can't meet my needs anymore. (Besides, the lease is up.) It was a tough call between a new Odyssey and the new, revamped Sienna.

Here's why it came down to the trunk which opens by remote, and I mean all the way, on hydraulics: The Sienna has it, the Odyssey doesn't.

And the one complaint I had against my first minivan love is that when I would waddle out to the car loaded down with groceries, or Christmas presents, or bags of mulch, I'd have to balance various things on my knees or on my children until I could manually open the hatch.

Not a pretty sight.

This time, I want a car that will welcome me with open arms, so to speak. So, I'm off to my new love. And that's why my life has, essentially, come down to a car trunk.

I have no regrets.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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