Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dear Christine...

Dear Christine L. Alaniz,

I must admit, I was surprised to find that you were the Chief Engineer for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. I was certain that I would find the face of some male on your web site. I’m glad to see a female presence there at your engineering offices. For one, it sends a great message to the girls of today, that an engineering degree is within their reach. That, and seems to me that most minivans are driven by mothers. Sure dads may pitch in now and again while on a long road trip, but they aren’t typically driving to their lunch meetings, golf games and hostile corporate take-overs in the family ride. So they shouldn't be the main designers.

I’m not sure how long you’ve been at Dodge, but I have no doubt that your womanly vision is to be credited with a few of the new features of the 2008 Caravan. Those Stow-n-Go seats are perfect for fitting the new swing set in the back (those big wooden ones I can’t afford) or hiding my latest score at Marshalls extra 50% off sale. The Swivel-and-Go seats also look like great van bling, and no doubt will make it easier to buckle in squirmy little children everywhere, seeing as how the big side door openings just don’t give you enough room. I can’t say I’m sold on the removable plastic table, as if encouraging my children to eat food in the van with a bucket of friends is a good idea. It is also way too reminiscent of an RV trip, and may make the kids think that everywhere we go is going to be a jolly-good-time. Sometimes the trip to the bank and grocery store need to be boring, just to remind kids how good they really have it and that yes, errands suck.

I’m a proud owner of a 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan and while I know that my van is the Jurassic equivalent of the Atari game system, it is currently paid off. I say currently because there is a remote possibility that we may need to borrow against its $300 value in order to pay for the gasoline needed to drive to work to earn the salary that buys the gas. Until that moment though, we hold the title, which means we will be driving the sucker into the ground, until it foams at the hood, until we find it floating belly up in our driveway.

Which leads me to why I’m writing you in the first place. Since my van is such a relic, it obviously didn’t come with those fancy shmancy tilt-a-whirl seats. It did however come with two built in 5-point harness child seats. I must say that I have loved these a great deal. It has made traveling with children a tad easier, in that I don’t have to lug around an additional 40 pound car seat in order to keep my children safe. It is also a nice option in case I need to transport another child whose parent insists they be in a legal 5-point harness. I’m happy to shoulder belt my own kids in the very back and hope like heck we don’t get rear-ended. But I need to let you know of a serious design flaw, one that I have yet to see remedied in your new models.

While driving to baseball practice the other evening, in a rush and harried as usual, my 9 year-old son is mimicking my 1 year-old daughter (as brothers are wont to do), until he realizes that the gagging sounds he thinks are hysterical, are in fact the precursory vomit noises. I glance in my rearview mirror in time to find my daughter hurling the contents of (what must be) at least a weeks worth of food in water-hose fashion. Swinging the car over to the shoulder of a very narrow street (your 2002 also has very good brakes BTW), I throw open the drivers side back door (those double open van sides really are the best thing since Nutella) to make sure my daughter is okay.

At this point I’m in a bit of a quandary. Not expecting to be gone long (the ball field is 2 minutes from the house) I don’t have the diaper bag. Also, not expecting to be dealing in bodily fluids, I left my latex-free gloves in the garage. My poor daughter is saucer-eyed and freaked out and now covered in orange chunky remains from neck to knee. What’s a mom to do? I double-hand scooped out the chunks onto the street, grabbed the dirty-van drying towel, stripped her down to the diaper, moved her over to the other built-in 5-point harness seat, and continued to drop my son off at baseball practice. Thankfully, I did have one container of wet wipes, which I used to excavate her from the 5-point harness.

For brevity, I’ll skip the part where I had to leave my son unattended at the ball park while I drove my WT diaper-vomit daughter home 15 minutes before my book club was due to arrive at my house for a fun filled evening of literary chatter, or how since I was so pressed for time I left the van in the garage with the vomit, the dirty towel, the messy clothes, and all the puky wet wipes overnight.

The next morning (after a very successful book club I might add) I faced the music and headed to the van armed with a bucket, rags, cleaners, air fresheners, and the vacuum. Up until this point, like I have mentioned, I really have been a fan of those 5-point harness seats. But I apparently I didn’t get issued the tools necessary to effectively clean those seats when I purchased my vehicle. Maybe it was an oversight on the dealerships part, way back in 2002, but it took 4 hours, a screwdriver and a fair amount of swearing to get that seat apart. I would have been happy to just wipe it real good like, but vomit by nature is runny and it crept its way down the seat belt hole. Yes, down past the removable washer part, past the easy-to-wipe pleather part, way down into that deep black abyss at the bottom of the buckle. That place where the extra change lives, and the hair barrettes, Polly Pocket shoes and crumbs of a thousands colors. As I removed each layer of that seat I discovered a new layer of puke. It even had breeched the seat foam. I did the best I could with the part of the seat I could remove. Yes, I had to tear the upholstery slightly. Yes, you can see a bit of the foam. But what about the rest of the van seat? The part that isn’t removable? I did the best I could with the wipe-and-dab method, and while I may have gotten the chunks, the vomit juice is still alive and well down there.

Even after the thorough detailing, the van still smells like acrid orange juice. There are so many dryer sheets stashed and hanging in my van we could ward off lightning. I now own stock in Febreeze. My son has stopped having nightmares about the orange lava bubbling up from his sister’s stomach, but the van still smells like puke.

Which brings me to the crux of my letter: Why hasn’t someone at the top of that design ladder installed removable seat covers yet? Seats where you can zip off the covers, throw them in the wash and reinstall? If it’s a matter of finding a really long zipper, I’m sure any tent manufacturer would lend you one for a prototype. What’s a couple zippers cost anyway? I’m happy to pay an extra 20 bucks or so, if it means that I can un-zip my seats and wash them. If you think it might be too expensive to manufacture seats like that, maybe you could save money in the plastic form department, and quit making those molded loose change dispensers in my front panel. They are a pain in the ass anyway, and everyone knows no one ever uses them. If you have time to sort and shove your change into the plastic “change holder” you must not have kids, because my change is used up in bubble gum machines, drive-throughs and in the recesses of the backseats that I can’t get to, and my time is spent cleaning up puke. Just make that plastic area plain and square, easy to wipe out and unbreakable. Marketing zipper seats won't be a problem either. I can even think of a great name for your new seats….be ready for it… “Zip-and-Go.” Creative isn’t it? I also think that name will work nicely with the other seat features of the 2008.

Well, Ms. Alaniz, I’ll wrap this letter up. If you ever need any more ideas on how to make Dodge’s minivans more kid-friendly, feel free to contact me. I have some thoughts about seat dividers (that pull down from the ceiling so kids can’t see or touch each other), and a sound-proof cage for the driver that you may be interested in.

Rachel Vidoni
Self-Appointed Honorary 5-Point Harness Cleaning and Installation Manager

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can almost smell it from here! "Zip-and-go" , I like it!


P.S. I think I'll drive the next time we go out!