Dan the Tan Van

Richmond, Virginia

I guess it’s fitting that Dan the Tan Van is retiring too, given that my own career is being suspended soon. You might think that my own plans to move to Australia would be more glamorous than Dan’s retirement plans, but you’d be wrong.

I drove Dan, an Astro Van, off the Black Mountain Chevrolet lot in 1998 with 47 miles on the odometer, brand new. When I sold him last week he was sporting 301,400+. Certainly not a bad investment for me. Hopefully not for the new owner either.

I put almost every one of those miles on there myself. Dan carried me from Vancouver to Florida and from San Diego to Boston. We survived blizzards in the Rockies and floods in Texas— a Texas tornado one time, too. A flat tire on a bridge in Colorado in a late night storm, and another one squeezed onto the narrow shoulder of I-5 in Seattle rush hour.

I slept in the back at the Kerrville Folk Festival and climbed on the roof to take photos of buffalo in Montana, drove down the beach in St. Augustine and through the White Sands of New Mexico. We even made a music video together one time.


Before I brought Dan home I had been driving an Eagle Summit, which was a decent car, but had a fondness for new transmissions that eventually divided us. There was a road game I used to play to pass time on the highway, designing the cabinetry for a van, should I get one someday.

So when I finally did, I came right home and built it. I took out all the seats except the front two, turned the passenger seat backwards and built lots of spaces that were measured precisely to accommodate the guitars, sound gear and boxes of CDs and such. I didn’t build the space and then figure out how to put the stuff in there, I measured all the stuff and built the space specifically to the gear. If you ever helped me pack after a show, you know exactly how precisely it fit: it was basically a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, Tetris with stuff.

I carpeted the whole thing and left a seven-foot platform for sleeping across the top, on which I used to nap at rest areas on long days of driving, and even to sleep at night on rare occasions. I met a man in Arkansas once who had a business (Stoneproof) making sleeping mats and he gave me one that fit precisely and made it a remarkably comfortable bed.

We had a good run, Dan and I. But all good things come to an end. 301,000 is a whole lot of miles. I know, since I accumulated them too.

So I painted up his windows with shoe-polish and parked him on the corner a couple of weeks ago. I got a lot of phone calls, but the guy who ended up buying him is going to give him quite the retirement. Jack’s extended family owns a private island off the coast of Maine. It’s two miles wide and seven miles long, and there’s no ferry, since it’s privately owned. That means that to take a vehicle out there you have to hire a barge, and that’s expensive.

They decided they would all chip in and buy a used vehicle to get people up and down the island and just leave it out there for everyone in the family to use. So they’re taking Dan up to Maine so that he can retire on his own private island. He’ll get 250 miles a year, if that, and get to watch the ocean and think back over the road adventures of his youth.

Maine is one of the last three states where I’ve yet to perform and I’m still hoping to knock them out this year, so maybe I’ll get to visit (in the custody agreement I specified that I would have visitation rights, of course).

To keep me on the road for these last few months, I’ve picked up a Honda Element. I’ve taken to referring to it as the Caddy, short for Cadmium (which is, y’know… an element). It gets better mileage than Dan and packs easily and has some good advantages.

Truthfully, though, it’s not the same.

Apparently, Neil Young wrote the song “Long May You Run” for an old car he was fond of (a hearse, actually), so I guess it would be redundant to write Dan a song. I’ll just toast him as he heads north…

Here’s to you, Dan. For an inanimate object, you’ve been a great friend. 


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6 Comments on “Dan the Tan Van”

  1. Jill Says:

    Love the post, and love the music video! May Dan revel in his retirement and his homegoing!

  2. Kim Says:

    Hey David! Kim here, from Colorado! Hey, I thought you had bought a Cooper the last time we spoke! Anyways, glad to hear Dan will have a great spot for his retirement! I have a friend whose family has a summer house on an island off Maine. Wonder if it’s the same island.
    Wow! So you’re going to live down under?! Hope to get down there some day. I have a friend who lives in Tasmania ~ a healer by the name Judith Carpenter.
    Anyways, getting ready to move to New York City in May, so lots of changes on my end as well! My long distance relationship with my lady has been long enough!
    Be well, my friend! Thanks for the music!
    Peace and every good wish for a fulfilling life down under!

  3. Hawker Says:

    Ah yes. Sounds like my old white E-150 extension van Vanna-White. I lived in it for a few years. Been to every state in the continental US in it. Custom interior by me to travel and live in. Retired with 364,000 miles on it.

    My current one, interestingly enough, also came from Black Mountain Chevy. A 1999 Tan Astro Van LE AWD. Got it in 2002 with only 16,000 miles on it. It’s pushing 120k now.

    Take care. We will miss you here in Ashevegas.


  4. lowerdryad Says:

    Jill – thanks for the good wishes, for me and for Dan!

    Kim – good to hear from you – have a great time in NYC. That will be quite a shift for you, huh? I celebrate your closing the distance. I have to say I’m looking forward to not having a long-distance relationship with Deanna, one of the many blessings of this opportunity.

    Hawker – Yeah, I imagine you can relate to my relationship with Dan more than the vast majority of people. Your Astro is a year younger than Dan, but exactly the same in every other way. Thanks for missing me. I’m definitely going to miss home, too. You’ve hung with me for a lot of years, buddy. The first run of my first recording was 400 copies of Barefoot on cassette, and if I remember right you got one of those 400.

  5. Sandra K Says:

    Sounds like my first car, Sanbo and 89 Taurus station wagon. Dont know how many miles it had on it, as I was 9ish when we got it In 90 or ’91. It started out as the family car, then mom got a a van in ’98 in which it became Dads car. It was passed to me when I went to college. I liked that car. I liked station wagons because I could fir my stuff, other peoples stuff, and more other people than every one else (that sounded funny). Sadly, in 2001 the heat was dead and the defroster was on its way out if it wasnt already. I wasnt permitted to take a vehicle back up to the mountains in winter with no heat (I had a jacket 😦 )

    One question though. How does Danielle feel about all this? 😛

  6. Hi David,

    I really hear you on this one. Here is what I wrote about BH:


    I guess I’ll see you next month.

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