Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 3

I’ve always tried to imagine what it would be like to spend all day at an amusement park and not have to wait in line. Not because I got to pass everyone to the front, but because there were no other people there other than the people I came with.

And with all the annoying traffic I have to deal with everyday as I drive through Nashville, I’ve thought about what it would be like to be the only one on the road.

And when I go to Starbucks to read everyday on my lunch break to read, would I be able to truly escape if there were not the roaring mumbles of everyone else there?

Our lives are filled with people who mean a whole lot to us; those are the ones that make up the main cast of characters.

But there are also the extras, the people with no names or stories. Just the muddled cardboard images of characters that serve as background noise and decoration. They keep our lives from being a ghost town.

Of course it works both ways: I’m just another wallflower to them as well. I serve no obvious importance or benefit. But if they are People Watchers like I am, maybe as they wait in line near me to get coffee they try to figure out my story.

What could these strangers tell about me as they take a look at my 10 year-old battered Birkenstocks? When they hear me order my coffee, does my voice match me the way they had envisioned it? Do they think I’m weird for ordering a solo shot of espresso over ice instead of a blissful $4 milkshake of a coffee?

But a few minutes later, we’re no longer standing in line together. They leave and drive away. Most likely, I won’t cross their mind again. I simply gave them something to subconsciously think about as they waited in line. They were entertained by me without me ever even looking them in the eyes or speaking a word to them. I am an extra, just as they were to me.

Even the extras add to the meaning of life.

crowd