The middle school carpool had been going along just fine all year. We had four kids and me, the driver, and we could all legally fit into and buckle up in almost any car, crew-cab truck or SUV that had only two rows of seats. Sure, one kid had to ride in the middle of the back seat but hey, life’s tough kids. In my day we had to wrestle alligators in the snow while arrows were fired at us and poisonous snakes gnawed on our feet.
Even though I was driving two other families’ kids around in addition to my own, I appreciated the efficiency of it all. Porsche Macan? No problem. Camry, Tundra TRD Pro, Jaguar F-Pace, VW Passat? Likewise. Everybody fit. Everybody was happy.
Then, like an angel dropped from heaven to test our faith, we started seeing Gabriel. Yes, that is his real name, just like the archangel. In the New Testament, Gabriel appears on Earth to tell people good news. It is Gabriel who tells Mary that she is going to give birth to Jesus, which maybe makes this a Christmas story:
“And the angel said unto her, ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”
Our Gabriel speaks in less Biblical English and is never preceded by trumpets, but is no less angelic. Gabriel is an infinitely polite kid from the nicest family in our little slice of suburban heaven. We’ve known him his entire life and then this school year, there he was every day, in a period of civilization where all kids are driven everywhere, walking to school, right on our route, a modern recasting of the parable of The Good Samaritan. What could we do? Ignore him and let him get lost, kidnapped or flattened by some some truck-driving Maccabee?
So, like an idiot who couldn’t calculate seat count, I invited him to join us.
This was good in the sense that it addressed my Catholic guilt, but made no sense when it came to fitting five kids legally into any two-row passenger vehicle. So for a while I hauled my Volkswagen Eurovan out of its hiding place at the top of the driveway and started using that. It could easily seat seven, had a flip-up table for doing homework, and could function as a camper should we ever get stuck during a Biblical deluge or plague of locusts.
But the Eurovan was squeaky. Mine is a 2003, the last year they brought them in to the U.S., and its structural design dates to the late ’80s, at least, the time before carmakers had really figured out torsional rigidity or how best to exploit computer-aided anything. On top of that, literally, Westfalia chopped out the middle of the roof and added a fiberglass cap that pops up to allow two to sleep upstairs when camping. This is fine when the rig’s parked overnight, but the rest of the time the missing superstructure means the big steel box is even less tightly screwed together than usual.
So just as I’m starting to lose my faith in…what the hell do I actually believe in, anyway, two-row seating?…who should finally return my email but the guy who handles the press fleet for Chrysler. His name is — I am not making this up — Michael, another archangel, the only other angel named in the Bible besides that guy in Revelations. Michael is the slayer of dragons, the warrior, the guy you want on your side when the Philistines come looking for trouble. Apparently, in his spare time he handles the Chrysler press fleet. About a year earlier I had requested, on a long list of other cars, a Dodge Journey. Yes, the fact that this vehicle is still for sale unchanged since its 2009 introduction is, indeed, another miracle. But Dodge manages to sell over 100,000 of these things a year (106,759 of them last year to be exact). And why not? Pricing starts at $21,195 for a three-row people-mover. Where else are you going to get three rows for under 22 grand? Nowhere, that’s where.
My Journey was not the base model with the four-cylinder engine but the mighty Journey Crossroad Plus AWD. While Journeys of a thousand miles start with but a single step, this one starts at $21,195; but for that you make do with the 173-hp 2.4-liter four driving the front wheels through a four-speed(!) automatic. But you still get three rows of seats – you get three rows in all Journeys.
My Journey got the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with 283 hp and an Old Testament 260-lb-ft of torque. Of course, you pay for that – mine stickered at $37,894 but included Uconnect Voice Command Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, navigation, rear seat video, three-zone a/c, and that all-wheel drive. It’s a perfectly splendid way to tour suburbia, or Ephraim. I also drove it 400 miles to Visalia and back and used all 260 lb-ft of torque many times to pass on Hwy. 99. It’s even quick off the line, though I didn’t time it. I got just about on the EPA estimate of 16 mpg city, though I could have gotten better mileage if I didn’t drive like a maniac.
And then there’s Gabriel, who sits beatifically in the middle row, as if posing for his own stained glass window in our local mission church. After a week of carpool bliss, my loan of the Journey ended today. The archangel Michael wanted it back and I thought it better not to mess with an archangel. But Michael delivered unto me a Chrysler Pacifica which, if truth be told, is an even more luxurious, modern take on family transportation, “…re-engineered from the ground up on an all-new platform,” Chrysler says. Will it, too, prove a miracle at only ten grand more than my top-of-the-line Journey? I will drive it this week and let you know. With Gabriel among us, we shall do no wrong.
In the meantime, peace on Earth, good will toward all and Merry Christmas.