Before I even had a complete short story collection, when Escape from Beckyville was still in the embryonic stages, I got the idea to promote the project with a video trailer. Then, when I was still working on the manuscript, researching printers, hiring a graphic artist for the book cover and a copy editor, another big idea came to me. I would buy a van, trick it out in the colors of the book and drive from Los Angeles to Atlanta to get the word out about my project. I planned on taking my mother with me on the road. Although I hadn’t asked her if she wanted to embark on the 6,000-plus mile trek, it never occurred to me that she would say no to such an outlandish proposal.
Yesterday, exactly a week after I quit my job at a top-rated talk show to pursue this dream of mine, I drove off the lot of a car dealership in my Beckyville Bookmobile.
Logic has never been my strong suit.
When I left my job to write full time, I wondered if my words would sustain me. I knew it was extremely risky to take on the mantle of self-published author with no other means of financial support. I wrestled with this decision weeks before I stepped off the studio lot for the last time, wondering, as others have, what I would “do” for money. But I live in L.A., and anything can happen in the land of smog and starlets. I knew I had to take a chance.
Initially, when I mentioned the bookmobile to a friend, she suggested that I buy an ice cream truck. I briefly toyed with the idea. It might be hot to cruise around town in my bohemian Mister Softee ride, hawking books out the serving hatch, but I didn’t know how the ice cream truck would fare long distance. I had to go another route. A few days ago, I enlisted my homies, Courtney and Derrick, to help me find the perfect Beckyville Bookmobile. They didn’t try to talk me out of such an expensive purchase or wonder how feasible a book tour would be. Derrick, a former car salesman, knew I would be paying for the van out of my dwindling savings, and he went to work researching the best deals for me. Courtney came along to provide moral support. With such a team, it wouldn’t be long before I found the perfect vehicle.
The first day we went van shopping yielded no results. We drove to several dealerships, trying not to make eye contact with salesmen as we perused the offerings in the used car section. Since I live in La La Land and have always had a big imagination, I thought I would know the Beckyville Bookmobile on sight, that the van would shimmer like a talisman amidst the dusty clunkers and cast-off cars. But no such charm of steel and chrome called to me. At one lot, Derrick tried to talk me into buying a gold-ish van that was in my price range. As he pointed out several exterior features and the reliability of the brand, a 20-something salesman approached, shoes crunching gravel, to give us a glimpse of the interior. I gave the van the once-over. It had too much of a soccer mom sensibility, not the soul sista ride of my dreams. I told my friends that I was ready to move on. After four hours of sweating in the infamous Valley heat, we finally headed home.
The next day, my friends agreed to once again take time out of their schedules to accompany me on my quest for the Beckyville Bookmobile. During the night, I’d had time to mull over this major decision. Maybe it wasn’t wise to add yet another bill to my list of monthly expenses. What if I couldn’t make the payments? How embarrassing would it be to see the repo man hauling away a van broadcasting my book and website? I pushed those thoughts of dread out of my mind as we circled the first car lot. Then the second. Then the third. I could tell my friends were growing weary. It was sticky hot, and it wouldn’t be long before rush hour traffic clogged the streets. Derrick tried to appeal to my logic, which was in short supply. He wanted me to understand that the gold van from the previous day was the most economical. I wanted to go to another dealership. We compromised. I would test drive the van, and if it wasn’t to my liking, he would take me to another car lot.
The van was still parked at the end of a row near a fence, as if a giant child had abandoned it in pursuit of more interesting toys. It was kind of cute and big enough to suit my purpose, but my doubts still lingered. Before I had a chance to fully process them, the manager from the previous day jogged over and asked if he could help.
“She wants to test drive this van,” Derrick said before I could reply.
I pouted as we followed the manager to the front office. I knew the van was in good shape and a good price, but mentally, I dragged my feet. If I bought it, I was committing not just to years of car payments, but to a journey, one I began to fear would not be a success. I thought people would laugh at me, a “mature woman” cruising from state to state peddling not just her books but her dreams. Just a week prior, I had traded in a good paying job and stability and was now standing in a used car lot. Before I could stall further, the manager returned with the keys and the young salesman from the day before. The kid was wrinkled, but he opened the door for me with a grin. Reluctantly, I hopped in the front seat and we headed down the road.
The salesman, a 23-year-old from Egypt who had only begun his job three days prior, tried to put me at ease. He turned on the A/C and the stereo, boasting about the smoothness of the ride. I cranked up the radio. Although Courtney commented on the roominess of the vehicle and pointed out that it would be ample space to hold boxes of my books, Derrick sensed my disenchantment.
“Drive up the street to the Ford dealership,” he said.
That was the lot I wanted to check out earlier, but I definitely didn’t want to do so while driving a car from another dealership with a salesman in tow.
“I can’t do that,” I said, glancing at the salesman from the corner of my eye.
“Why not?” Courtney chimed in. “Just go take a look and make sure you’re getting the van you want.”
The blue-and-white emblem of the Ford dealership came into view. With a sigh, I turned down the block and parked a few feet from the entrance of the lot. The young car salesman was a good sport, and he hopped down from the van to accompany us as we perused the fleet of his competitor. A balding gentleman with glasses came over as we walked from vehicle to vehicle, checking out features and sticker prices. He shook hands with our car salesman, as if they were buddies from way back and not business rivals. Noticing that I was checking out a white van similar to those used for airport shuttles, he ignored his youthful competitor and said, “Can’t beat that price. You want to take it for a ride?”
The experience was starting to feel a bit too surreal. We had essentially kidnapped a salesman who was merely doing his job. What was I going to do? Leave him and his company’s vehicle behind as Courtney, Derrick and I took the van of his rival for a spin?
“I think I’m good,” I said and walked back to the gold van. After everyone strapped themselves in, I tried to start the car, but a mechanical stuttering sound met my ears. The engine wouldn’t turn over.
“That’s not a good sign,” Courtney said from the back seat. “Sounds like the battery’s dead.”
The young salesman gave an apologetic smile. “Someone must have left the lights on overnight,” he said.
Another sign that I was making a bad decision? I stepped out of the van and walked over to the new car lot, leaving Derrick and the salesman to deal with the situation. I still had time to back out of the deal, to gather what little sense I had and go home. Noticing our plight, the balding salesman drove over to give us a jump. He whistled as he lifted the hood and attached the cables to the battery. The engine of the working car hummed, and the men stood around chatting as if this were an everyday occurrence. Their casual laughter calmed me, reminded me that I would get through this. I could deal with a dead battery, but I never wanted to confront the possibility of dead dreams. Simply opening my life up to the unexpected meant dealing with challenges. I could face anything as long as I had the ability to find humor in the situation. After all, I had flirted with the idea of making a 6,000 mile round trip in an ice cream truck.
By the time the engine of the gold van roared to life and the bespectacled salesman packed up his cables and saluted us as he drove away, I had made up my mind. I would buy the soccer mom van and drive it across country. I might be laughed at and ridiculed, but I would have fun doing it. I had the blessing of my mother and the few friends I revealed my plans to, and that’s all I needed. I was ready to get on the road.
Back at the lot, Courtney and Derrick waited patiently as I went to the finance department to finalize the sale. The manager had thrown in a new battery, and I was confident that I would be safe in my travels. Once the paperwork was complete, the young salesman took me out to the showroom and rang a bell, symbolizing my status a new owner.
“You’re a good person. God has many blessings in store,” he said, handing me the keys.
Maybe that was just some spiritual spiel he felt compelled to utter since he had made a sale and was so new on the job, and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe there was some larger purpose to traveling from city to city, down unfamiliar streets and highways, as I chased my dreams. But I’m determined to race after my dreams, come what may, and the Beckyville Bookmobile is just the conveyance I need. It may not be the soul sista ice cream truck I’d been hoping for, but it has just enough flavor for me.