They are named Phantom Flasher, Lazarus, The Red Onion, Chiquita Vanana, Vandal and such. They ride high and graceless, as always, but now their boxy bodies cry out for attention with garish designs and obstreperous pap art: frontier scenes, Hawaii schlock, seascapes, erotic mush. Even one — the specimen, say, that flashes nude girls in and out of view with op-artful magic — can pop the eyeballs.
When large numbers heave into sight, zooming along the road in a spaced-out phantasmagoria of a caravan, they can set the innocent motorist to gaping and muttering, “What is going on here?”
The short answer is that vanning has become an American craze.
Vanning? To van once meant to ship freight in a certain way. Today it also means to personalize a common van and build a lifestyle around it. Throngs of Americans are doing it. Some 2 million vans are in use today, and the auto industry is cheerily convinced that it will sell another 570,000 this year.
More striking than the number of vans is what the vanners do to them. The workhorse vehicle formerly coveted mainly by plumbers and other craftsmen winds up as a convertible den-bedroom-kitchen within and a showcase of accessories on the outside.
Furnishings are usually elaborate, often splendid. Probably nine out of ten custom vans carry eight-track stereo, and crushed-velvet upholstery is not all that unusual. Neither are stained glass windows, wine racks, built-in television, fake fireplaces.
Mirrors are very popular — on walls and ceilings. A few vans even boast chandeliers. Some rigs cost $20,000 or $30,000.
Vanners: Cult or fellowship?
Vanners themselves, or at least the zealots, seem as much a cult as a fellowship. They have formed hundreds of societies. Many drive hundreds or even thousands of miles to converge with other vanners at picnicky socials that are held all over the country. Such a bash is known as a “truck-in” or a “burn-out” or a “push” or — ah! — a “van-go.”
Invariably, a key feature of the outing is the mutual admiration of vans and the adorning artwork. Some paint jobs cost $3,000. News of ever-fresh extravagances circulates in 25 or so magazines devoted to vanning.
Plainly, the nation is witnessing a new form of nomadness, already epidemic and spreading fast.