Tag Archives: The-Van-Story

Things We Did When We Should Have Known Better, But Apparently Didn’t

If you have coffee, brew it. Better yet, wait until after Noon, and pour a strong drink. I have a feeling that although Chad was busting a nut with laughter upon the original telling of this story – it may not be as entertaining as it once was.

Also, I’ve decided to use Chad’s recommended title for this post, even though it’s not entirely accurate. You see, I really did know better…

This is a true story. The events took place in Thousand Oaks, CA in the summer of 1992. Some of the names have been changed to protect the identities of the involved parties – except for my own. I don’t give a shit.

Pete and Andy were just as bored as I was. One could lie down in the middle of any Thousand Oaks street after 10PM on a weekend without getting hit by traffic. Sleepy. Mostly Caucasian. Totally friggin’ boring. A typical Friday night spent with Pete or Andy meant driving around (Andy had a car) aimlessly within the 12-mile radius of Thousand Oaks, looking for something to steal, blow up, vandalize, or puke on. On extra special evenings, we may have attempted all four activities. Girls weren’t quite in the picture regularly. One look at us would have explained why. Ferocious acne, shitty haircuts, and a total lack of funds had a certain repellant effect on the fairer sex.

With no money, no girls, and nothing better to do, Andy, Pete, and I flocked together for the better part of the summer of 1992.

One night, I get a call from Pete. “Not much happening. Why don’t you come over to my house anyway.” I walk over to Pete’s house around 9PM on a Friday night. We sat around for a while, not doing much of anything. Andy showed up an hour later, after leaving work. He was the only one who had a job. He delivered pizza’s in his little grey hatchback. Instead of piling in Andy’s car and driving around, we decided to walk around Pete’s neighborhood.

There we were, the three of us. Bumming smokes off one another, and gabbing about useless garbage. Then, Pete says

“I stole a Van. You guys wanna drive it around?”

The way he said it made me feel like he’d been holding it in all night, just waiting for the exact moment to spring it on us – knowing he’d be the rock star of the moment when he did. He was instantly the coolest dude ever.

“Dude! Where is it?”

“It’s in the church parking lot around the corner. I ‘found’ it with the keys in the ignition, and I drove it to this parking lot and dropped it there. I don’t even know if it’s still there.”

We bolted a few blocks to the parking lot, and there it was – a 1992 GMC Safari Van. You know, the one that’s got the fully pimped-out interior, and running boards, and all that.

“Ohmygod. Rad.”

“Let’s fuck it up.”

“Totally…”

For the next hour and half, the three of us took turns driving the van around the neighborhood. Nothing to gnarly, really. We took a few turns a little too fast, and ran up a few curbs. The car weighed nearly 3 tons, so it wasn’t quite a sports car. We had a few laughs, and after a little while, we got bored.

“Let’s take it up to Sunset Hills” said Andy.

Sunset Hills is a nice little community on the Northern border of Thousand Oaks. Big houses, big paychecks, and bigger hills. We all had one street in mind – a street that was straight as an arrow, and came down the hill at about a 30-degree angle. Near the bottom, it intersected another street. At this intersection were deep dips, cut into the road to allow water to drain across it properly. We all know what these dips look like.

Knowing full well that this van would not survive the abuse we were about to impart upon it, I followed them to the hill in Andy’s car. We would need a car to get home in.

We got to the hill around midnight. Dozens of cars lined the street, as this is a typical suburban community. Sleepy, but populated for sure. I parked Andy’s car at the intersection, and gave some advice to Andy, the van’s newest (and presumably, last) stunt driver;
“Don’t gas it too hard. You’ve got more than enough room to just idle it down to the dips and see what happens. I’d rather take it easy the first time.” I said.

“Totally. I’ll just take it easy.” Andy replied.

Riding shotgun, Pete buckled his seatbelt. Andy followed suit, and turned the van around and headed up the hill. I sat on the hood of Andy’s hatchback at the intersection, and lit a cigarette. I remember wishing I had a camera.

Once at the top of the hill, Andy started to rev the engine. Those GMC vans had some big V8 engines in them, good for a few hundred horsepower. It sounded good. I laughed, knowing that it was just a joke – there was no way he was going to gun it down the hill. Just then, he revved the motor to about 6500 rpm’s, and dropped the mother-effin’ hammer. He threw that bitch in drive with enough force to drop the transmission to the pavement, and he was off like a bullet.

Three tons. Two hundred and fifty horsepower. 30 degrees of incline.

“Oh. My. God.” I said out loud.

He soared down the street, engine screaming. This was the only jump we’d perform. There would be nothing left. I thought my friends would be dead inside of 10 seconds.

He must have hit the first dip at nearly 60 miles per hour. The force of the vehicle, coupled with the steep angle of attack, forced the front end of the van deep into the first dip. Deep enough to blow out the suspension and both front tires, and shatter the headlights and front grill of the van. Immediately, the suspension recoiled, and shot the front end up in the air. The rear quickly followed.

The van completely cleared the second dip, soaring over it with at least 20 feet to spare. It was almost poetic. Here’s a vehicle that’s shaped like a brick house, shooting through the suburban sky.

Amid a shower of sparks and coolant, the van landed hard. The rear tires held up, but the fronts were destroyed. In mid air, Andy forced the steering wheel all the way to the right. When the van hit the ground it veered violently in that direction. He over-corrected, and forced the wheel to the left, which immediately forced the van onto two wheels, heading for a row of parked cars on the opposite side of the street. He smacked a car, and it sent the van (still on two wheels, mind you) back towards the cars on the right side of the street. It slowed, and came to rest on a Volkswagen Cabriolet. (Which at the time, we called, “Pussy Baskets”. OK, I still call them by that name.)

Picture this: Oil, gasoline, coolant, and the front end of a ’92 GMC Safari Van cover the intersection of a sleepy little suburban neighborhood. The van, or what’s left of it, sits on two wheels, most of its weight on top of a convertible Volkswagen. The sound of the impact set off car alarms for a mile in every direction.

I ran to the van, still perched on its side. I expected to find my friends dead, or seriously injured at the least. I ran around the front of the vehicle to look through the windshield, since I couldn’t stand tall enough to see through the driver’s window.

And there’s Andy and Pete. Laughing hysterically. For a brief moment, I thought about yelling at them. “What the hell were you thinking” and all that. But what the hell? Behind the wheel, I would have done the same exact thing.

Instead, I yelled for them to shut the hell up, and get the hell out – we needed to get out of there.

They both climbed out of the van through the driver’s door, which was about 6 feet off the ground. I remember thinking the little Volkswagen would collapse at any minute. The three of us pushed the van back on to its wheels. Andy decided he would drive it out of there. We had a spot in mind just around the corner to dump it.

Pete and I bolted to the car, and I drove. As we tore out of the neighborhood, a few people were coming out of their houses. We didn’t look any of them in the eye. I just drove. Fast. Pete was close behind; a shower of sparks from the tire-less front wheels was our Grand Finale.

We dumped the car in a field around the corner. And made it back to Pete’s house, and hid Andy’s car in the garage.

That, my friends, is The Van Story. I’m pretty sure Chad and I are friends because of that little tale. As for Pete, Andy, and I – we stole a few more cars that summer. I wanted to because I loved cars. I had neither license, nor means in which to buy my own car. I just wanted to drive. Pete and Andy just wanted to wreck stuff. Eventually, we got caught…

It was a Nissan 300ZX that did us in. What an amazing car: 300 horsepower, twin-turbos, grip like a wrestler. I taught myself to drift in that machine, in the period of 48 hours. Anyway…

Andy bragged to everyone at school about the 300ZX. One of the kids he bragged to had a father who was a detective – who specialized in Vehicle Theft. In less than two weeks, we were all in jail. Pete and I were charged as juveniles, and got off with a week in the big house and a few years of probation and community service. Andy wasn’t so lucky. Since he was 18, they threw the book at him. He tried to rat out Pete and I – “It was all their idea”, and all that business. The judge made an example out of him.

Last I heard, he had moved around the penal system for a few years, getting busted for petty theft and whatnot. Moved to Central California. Got pinched for robbery, and is serving a 15-year sentence in Chino.

I was ordered to stay away from Pete, and I did. I didn’t see him until 10 years later in Santa Monica. It was really strange. We didn’t know what to say to each other. I was so nervous; I introduced my then-girlfriend Allison, as “Shannon”. She could tell I was nervous, and she didn’t correct me until later.

In conclusion, I’m pretty sure that my vehicular events of the summer of 1992 shaped a lifelong love of all things motorsports-related. To this day, I live a very car and motorcycle-centric life. I spend 40 hours a week working for a company that specializes in vehicle stunt coordination for the film industry. The owner of the company is one of Hollywood’s foremost stunt drivers. When he asked me how I got into cars, I actually told him this story. He laughed. Then, he told me how he got into cars:

He led the Long Beach police department on a 3-hour chase in a tricked out Camaro.