This van was once a symbol of happiness and prosperity. Now this van is a symbol of hopelessness and despair. This van is now a symbol of poverty and hardship.

I remember back when Artie Grindle would jump on the roof of one of these Tropic Traveler vans and shout “I want to sell you a van!” pointing his finger straight into the camera filming the commercial. The famous Central Florida dealer sold tens of thousands of these vans which were the early versions of the modern suv’s. These vans contained tv sets, vcr’s am/fm cassette players as well as a well appointed luxurious interiors.

The vans were custom made exlusively for the dealership by a fabricator out of Ocala, Florida. As time passed, the suv craze began with more economical vehicles that were factory made and equipped and then offered at a more affordable price than could be offered by the fabricator or the dealer. As the vans were traded in on newer vehicles and aged, the interiors were eventually stripped of their now obsolete electronics and interiors and converted into work vans used by tradesmen such as painters and carpet installers.

A few, such as this one remained intact, used as a second vehicle or a weekend getaway family vehicle. There is another purpose these vans served as did this one. In my business travels throughout the country when I stayed at different motels, I began to notice vans such as this one parked in a space. Some were covered in dust and dirt and others had one or more flat tires. It was obvious the vans had not been driven for quite some time.

Something else was also quite apparent. The vans were full, not with the tools and supplies of tradesmen but with the personal belongings of families. Some even had belongings tied onto the roofs of them. A few others were pulling utility trailers also stuffed with personal belongings. Over the past couple of years the numbers of these vans and the frequency I would see them increased.

I began to see them all over. I also saw pick up trucks also filled with personal belongings as well as an increasing number of cars both large and small.

As I paused to look at this van, the owner walked up to me and told me his story. It was the same story as mine. He had lost his house. The contents of the van were all he had left. After several decades at a high paying job, he found himself jobless. He had struggled for almost a year using up all of his savings, cashing in his retirement plan and going deep into debt.

He and his family were stuck at the motel. They had no funds to drive the van and had run out of money to stay at the motel. He had been staying in the woods near the motel with his family, trying to find work as a day laborer.

He had just been told by the manager of the motel he had until the end of this day to move it or they were going to have it towed.

When I checked out of the motel the next day, the van was gone.

Stay Tuned


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