Photo by Connor Gaudet
I drive a van for a restaurant. Actually it’s several restaurants but they are owned by the same people. They have three restaurant locations and two cafes, but only one location has a full kitchen and bakery. All the food is prepared at this main location and then sent to the other various restaurant and café locations around the city.
I arrive at the main restaurant at 4 AM to pick up the baked goods and pastries, which I have never tasted but hear are delicious, and bring them to the several other locations around Brooklyn and Manhattan, where hungry and hurried commuters will buy them on their way to jobs they can’t quite explain why they’re in such a rush to get to.
I return home from the pre-Rush Hour deliveries at about 5:45 AM, where I sleep until about 7:15 AM, when I awake, shower, and go back to the main location to pick up and deliver the prepped food to one of the satellite locations.
The company owns two vans. One is a fancy new freightliner; shiny grey paint, tall proud windshield, and side-view mirrors that are not cracked, chipped, or missing. The other van is an old, dying, beat up, graffitied Ford, which cost $300 and is lovingly referred to as “The Crack Van.” When I describe this vehicle as “beat-up,” you must understand, I am actually being quite charitable.
It was called Crack Van before I came to be working for the restaurant, leaving me to speculate on the origins of the name. There are several that I have hypothesized, and I imagine that one, if not all of them are probably correct.
One reason the Crack Van is so named, might be that it looks like a van in which a crackhead might live or at least sleep or urinate. It looks quite abandoned any time it is parked. And when it is in use on the roads, it just looks like someone is driving an abandoned van. Another reason, could be that it looks like a suitable if not designated location for a woman (or man for that matter) to perform sexual acts on a person or themselves in exchange for crack. The final possible reason is that if vans were drugs, this van would most certainly be crack.
It was once white, but not since long before I came into contact with it. Years of outer borough grime and graffiti, winters of over-salted roads, and streaks of other cars paint has left her freckled and muddled into a dull and ugly gray.
Outsiders who don’t know or care for the vehicle as I have come to, sometimes mistake it for something else and refer to it as a “Rape Van.” In fact, more than once, I have arrived at a catering job and been told by an aghast British doorman that he would, “sooner expect to be abducted in such a vehicle than be delivered lunch by it.” Well, theirs are clearly plebian eyes, for anyone who truly knows the Crack Van knows that it is unmistakably and uniquely a Crack Van.
The sliding side door only opens from the inside, and even then only half way and with great difficulty, thus eliminating any need to ever lock it. The back doors can only be unlocked from the inside, but only opened from the outside (and even then it’s tricky). In order to load the van with pastries (or conduct any kind of kidnapping) one must climb back over the unattached mini-van bench seat, which I will momentarily explain, unlock the back door, force open and exit through the sliding side door, walk around to the back door and push it in while pulling the handle on its axis in order to gain entry- thus eliminating any element of surprise you would need to carry out your kidnapping, rape, or delivery of baked goods.
For the peculiarity of the mini-van seat to be fully understood, you must first understand that this is not a mini-van. This is a commercial delivery van in every sense of the word. However, this commercial delivery van does not have commercial license plates. It has regular passenger plates. The reason for this is for the company to avoid higher insurance rates on the van and to allow us the use of restricted roadways such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the FDR, which prohibits all commercial traffic. Though the seat is not secured by anything more than milk crates wedged up behind it causing it humorously tip over backwards anytime I accelerate, by its very presence the Crack Van is technically a passenger vehicle, and makes this irregularity of licensing completely legal.
It should also be noted that the passenger license plates are from Michigan, despite the van’s obvious New York origins (You can tell by its accent). Anyone who has seen the Crack Van or been within a two block radius of it while its engine is running will know that it would never pass a state inspection or emissions test in any state that requires one. As Michigan is one of the few states that do not require a vehicle to be in compliance with Federal Emissions standards, we are free to continue choking the air with exhaust and CFCs completely unchecked, all while following the letter of the law.
The needle that indicates what gear you’re in usually points to “Park,” even when zipping along the highway at 40 miles per hour. When I actually do want to put it into park, it generally goes into reverse, the shifter perhaps prevented from falling into place by that stuck indicator needle. I initially tried to overcome the problem by setting the emergency brake when I parked, but found the emergency brake pedal to be only that- just a springy pedal with no actual connection to the brake itself. So now, the lever must be forced with all one’s might, in order to actually park it.
There is no clock. Just a radio/tape-deck. I did not realize they made car radio/tape decks without clocks since the advent of the digital LCD faceplate.
In order to use the Hazard Lights, the key must be in the ignition with the battery engaged. This is frequently necessary for double parking during delivery and often drains the battery, necessitating a jumpstart.
If I attempt to start the engine with the brake depressed, something in the battery shorts and I have to pop the hood and physically jiggle the battery connector cable until I see it emitting sparks. This disconnection in turn causes the non-clock radio/tape deck to reset itself to 530 AM (the station, not the time obviously) and erases all my present stations, so I have to find WNYC and WQXR and reprogram them frequently.
I enjoy listening to classical music while I drive the Crack Van because I enjoy classical music. It relaxes me. I also enjoy the comical disparity of classical music being played in such a vehicle and hope I give a laugh to any observant person who might notice it. This would not be unlikely, as I have to turn it up very loudly whenever I drive on the BQE or over a bridge because it sounds like a lawn mower traversing a gravel driveway when I accelerate past 35 miles per hour.
There were once features like heat and Air Conditioning and a Defroster, but these were gone long before I sat behind the wheel. In winter months, I would see my breath in a fog before me all day, forming a condensation on the windshield and then freezing into a layer of frost- necessitating an ice-scraper on the inside of the windows as well as the out.
The right side-view mirror, like a battered medieval jouster of yore, is cracked in many places, from countless encounters with other side-view mirrors. The left side-view mirror used to be taped into the plastic mount until February of this year, when someone scraped most of the tape away along with the ice and it flew off one morning, presumably to shatter into hundreds of tiny shards as I drove South on the FDR.
The Crack Van lists violently to the right, especially when braking. This caused me to destroy the side-view mirrors of at least three vehicles during my first week. As a result I’m not allowed to drive the fancy new Freightliner. The other driver- hired just last week- isn’t allowed to drive the Crack Van as he is unaccustomed to its many unique quirks, and would doubtless be killed on his first time out.
The irony of this is not lost on me, even if it is lost on my employers. The Crack Van has been deemed too dangerous to be driven by anyone but me and I have been deemed too dangerous to drive anything but the Crack Van.
Like some kind of antithesis of The Lone Ranger and Silver or Batman and his Mobile, we rove the streets of New York, bringing pastries to the masses and making these dangerous streets just a little less safe for everyone.
On April 10, 2010 the crack van expired. The engine revved, a piston shot clean through the bottom of the chassis and into the pavement, and oil bled into the street. By the time the tow-truck got there, it was too late. The crack van was just too old and had lost too much oil. Its time had come. It will be missed.
Connor Gaudet is an unemployed, 27-year-old writer/musician, living in Brooklyn and surviving on government assistance. He keeps track of his triumphs and humiliations at thedailyhell. He also runs the Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood reading series.