Wonder Wheels. Hello, Beautiful.

Wonder wheels mean accessible transportation to Mikelle.  One becomes attached to an aging minivan for the vehicle equates to freedom. For the last seven years,  “Silver Bullet” represented independence .

We adopted the name because Mikelle loves darting all over town. Many drives drives ended in a afternoon trip to Washington Park to watch the ducks and geese float on calm lake waters. Sunday afternoons destinations include her  brother, Kasey’s house for a Bronco game. Asphalt streets paved the way to purse shopping or a stop at one of the many Starbucks dotting the Front Range. Weekend outings found us drifting westward to the mountains for scenic drives through golden leaves of aspen and tall lodgepole pines. Hence, the high mileage on a well-used vehicle.

Mikelle and I knew this day would come, we talked about it nearly every week. The digital odometer on her 2003 Dodge Caravan silently turned over to 218,568 miles. Every week felt like borrowed time. Still, I believed we could get another 30,000 out of the old “Silver Bullet” minivan.   

This particular van was purchased after the blue Ford Aerostar was totaled in an accident. Finding replacement vehicles is challenging even with good insurance, but finding a wheelchair accessible van is particularly difficult if you don’t want to be in debt for the next twelve years.

After conducting a national search and begging the insurance company for more money, we found the Silver Bullet in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She wasn’t new and already had 113,000 miles on her but she was in good shape. In fact, she looked brand new. As I drove her home that summer through the rolling hills of Iowa and the cornfields of Nebraska, I knew Mikelle would love this van.

Rust doesn’t affect Colorado cars, but apparently, it eats away the metal frames of mid-western automobiles. The telltale signs of erosion bubble and burst through the metal frame both sides of the van, leaving her scarred and falling off in small pieces. It wasn’t long before the cheap plastic panels used to cover the lowered frame of wheelchair accessible van were long gone, scraped off by cement curb after cement curb. Why they don’t make these covers out of a more sturdy material is questionable.

Over time, and many a spilled Frappuccino, Mikelle’s van began to smell just like a Starbucks. This last year, getting into the van was like stepping inside the fragrant coffee shop. Every month the odometer clicked closer to 200,000.  

Finally on a hot July day, we packed our picnic basket and Mikelle, Taylor and I headed up Highway 285 on our way to Pine Junction. Our destination was a shaded mountain park next to the north fork of the South Platte River. We weren’t going far, just about forty-five minutes from home to our destination. About five minutes out of town just as the foothills began their upward slope`, I noticed the transmission failed to shift. Cautiously and slowly, we limped home in “safe mode.”

That afternoon, we hobbled into the Ochoa Transmission Specialist, a shop recommended by our mechanic. The place was overrun by older cars, trucks and now a van. The air was punctuated by the smell of grease and transmission oil. A young woman greeted me, grabbed her small computer and plugging it into the van’s electronic brain. “Let’s see what your van has to tell me. Yep, it’s in safe mode. Just to make sure let me check the fluid. She pulled a dipstick out. A drip of brown fluid clung to the tip. She bent down to smell it. “Just as I thought. It’s burnt. You need a rebuild.”

“How long does that take?”

“A week.”

“How much?”

“Rebuilds run about fifteen hundred dollars.”

Great.

Two weeks later, the alternator went out. Repairs cost an additional $300.00.

I looked at Mikelle as we sat in the parking lot of the repair shop and said, “That’s it.” I put my hand on her arm leaned in and said, “It’s time to get a new van, my dear.”

Right there in the parking lot under the shade of a maple tree, I pulled out my phone, typed in “Craigslist Denver,” clicking on the cars and trucks link where I fearfully looked for an affordable wheelchair accessible van. Past searches had been futile.  

Today, I hoped for a miracle, an accessible vehicle under $30,000–way under. Two vans popped up on my search that Saturday afternoon; a five-year-old minivan listed just under $40,000. The second one was just a year newer than the one we had now. However, the asking price was just  under $15,000 and it had only 75,000 miles. From the pictures, this van had never even seen a Frappuccino. It was spotless.

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Immediately, I sent an email to the owner asking if the evergreen Dodge Town and Country minivan was still available. The next day, I made an appointment to meet the owner at a parking lot just off of I-470. As a spoke to this gentleman, I learned he had purchased the van for his ailing wife in order for them to go to baseball Spring Training in Arizona one last time. Sadly, she had passed away just a few weeks prior.  

Before purchasing, Mikelle did her inspection, our mechanic checked it out, and Kasey, Mikelle’s brother, gave it a thumbs up. By the end of the week, the van was hers.

And now we have a new rule, “ No coffee allowed!”  

Check out Mikelle’s iMovie as she shows off the new van!

About Katherine Carol

Special needs & community expert, speaker, co-author of The Tango of Publishing and Shining Beautiful, with Mikelle Learned, book coach, mom, and community builder.

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