Whatever happened to vans? Vans used to be awesome. Think of the hippies, cruising around the 1960s in their psychedelically painted vans, just weaving flowers through their hair and having the summer of love while listening to some of the greatest music ever made.

Or the ‘70s, when vans continued to be the domain of the cool kids – in fact, if you drove a van in the 1970s more than likely you were doing a little more than just driving in your Shaggin’ Wagon. In fact, your van probably made up a huge portion of your identity as they were fully customized, painted and named to reflect whatever value system you subscribed to (for van enthusiasts in the ‘70s, chances are good that you valued sex, drugs and rock & roll – all the good stuff).

Things got sort of lame in the 1980s when those cool hippies and swingers decided to settle down and become parents. The awesome Shaggin’ Wagons became the ultimate family ride – in fact, if you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, you probably remember road trips in your family’s conversion van, playing card games like UNO at the built-in table. If you were really lucky, your van even had a TV in it – with a VCR. Life was good if you were a kid in the 80s or 90s and your family was a “van-family.”

And then SUVs took over in the mid-90s and vans slowly started to vanish. But no one noticed because everyone was having such a great time just living in the 1990s. In fact, some have claimed that the 1990s were the best decade in recent American history. The economy was out of control, growing an average of 4% per year between 1992-1999 and adding an average 1.7 million jobs a year. The stock market was booming, and it was still possible to buy a beautiful home for a reasonable price in most of the country.  J.K. Rowling released the first of the Harry Potter series, Friends and the Sopranos both were on the air and of course the internet was rapidly becoming mainstream, along with cellphones and digital media players.

And most perhaps most importantly: the ‘90s gave us Matt Foley.

That’s right. Chris Farley was still alive and, through Saturday Night Live, gave us the gift of Matt Foley, who opens the sketch by running and screaming at Christina Applegate and David Spade (90s legends in their own right):

“My name is Matt Foley, and I am a Motivational Speaker! Now, let’s get started by me giving you a little bit of a scenario of what my life is all about! First off, I am 35 years old I am divorced. and I live in a van down by the river! Now, you kids are probably saying to yourself, ‘Now, I’m gonna go out, and I’m gonna get the world by the tail, and wrap it around and put it in my pocket!!’ Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re probably gonna find out, as you go out there, that you’re not gonna amount to jack squat!! You’re gonna end up eating a steady diet of government cheese, and living in a van down by the river! Now, young man, what do you want to do with your life?”

From this point forward, Matt Foley proceeds to terrorize his “motivatees” with threats that not only are they going to wind up living in van down by the river, but that since he’s “sick and tired of living in a van down by the river!” he’s coming to live with them. One of the all-time funniest SNL sketches of the’90s and possibly of all time, this may have also been the last time vans were in the collective American conscious.

And upon further consideration – I think Matt Foley was onto something.

Sure, no one wanted to live in a van in the 1990s – things were awesome! The economy was kick ass and people weren’t desperate to escape the technology that is now so pervasive in our lives. In 1993, the idea of living in a van down by the river was laughable because why would you want to do that when life in your house was so good?! Now, almost 25 years later, with the economy rebounding sluggishly from the financial collapse of 2008, homes selling at astronomical levels, technology invading every aspect of our day to day living, and just a general feeling of clutter and malaise, the idea of simplifying, living minimally and getting back to nature is compelling many people to seek a simpler life (if you don’t believe me, turn on HGTV right now… I guarantee there is a show on featuring people looking to downsize, move to the country or live in a tiny house).

So, let’s do it! Let’s make like Matt Foley and move to a van down by the river! The first step, acquiring the van, shouldn’t be too difficult since used-car lots and online sellers are littered with the remnants of the 90s. Sure, our vintage van might need a little work but considering you can pick one up for under $10,000, a little elbow grease shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Or, if you’re really committed and super fancy, get yourself a nice little Chevy commercial van – you know, the ubiquitous white vans that you see everywhere. They can easily be converted into living space and those things are insanely robust.

Next, we need to do a little research on how to actually fashion our van for living purposes – for this, we turn to The Vanual, an online resource that tells us everything we need to know about living in a van (because apparently, we aren’t the only ones who think this is an awesome idea). Or you can check out Cheap RV Living – another helpful resource from someone else who actually lives out of their van.

And then we have to find our river. But really, anywhere can and will do, because if you live in your van, you’re free to go anywhere you choose (more or less). Campgrounds, parking lots, the roads less taken – you can live anywhere you want when you live in your van.

Of course, upon further reflection, as wonderful as it would be to live the free-roaming life and travel the U.S. in our van, the idea of having to always use a public bathroom or urinate in a water bottle (1994 showed us how well that worked out in a Shaggin’ Wagon) has us reconsidering this entire idea. Sure, our houses might be full of junk and we’ve become even further removed from the free-loving hippies of days gone by, but at least we won’t be living off a steady diet of government cheese and doing a lot of “doobie rolling” in our van down by the river (unless you’re into that sort of thing).


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