The Story of My Travel Van Getting Set on Fire and Blown Up

Last December, I was walking home, preparing for a flight out of town that day, when I looked over at my van and saw one of the doors slightly ajar. Nothing else looked wrong, until I walked over and discovered that the entire inside of the van had been burned to a crisp. Many of the windows had been blown out. The hood had been forced open by flames.

It’s very strange trying to comprehend the fact that someone has set your vehicle on fire and destroyed it overnight. It took a while to set in. It was a bizarre smell of burnt wires and metal. The vehicle and everything in it was ruined.

This was the view of the front seat.

And just like that, the “Magic Van” that had taken me to all 48 lower states was gone.

Getting over losing my van

Oddly, I wasn’t broken up about losing my travel van. That’s because a few months earlier, it had been stolen, and even though it was recovered a day later, it was never the same. I know my vehicles like a mother knows her child, and I could tell something just didn’t feel right. Something in the engine was off. It felt like it was going to stall every time I stopped at a red light.

Because of that, I no longer trusted this vehicle to take me anywhere beyond the city limits, so I had already resigned myself to getting rid of it. The fire just sped up the process – and saved me lots of money in car insurance, to be honest.

I didn’t lose a whole lot of material things inside the van. The biggest item was a set of old golf clubs, which I miss, but I rarely get to play anyway.

Also, the police did not bother to investigate either the car theft or the fire. The cop said he was marking the fire down as an “accident,” as if the van decided to set itself on fire at 3 in the morning. Had I been more clear-headed, I would have protested. But really, it didn’t matter. As noted earlier, I needed to be rid of the vehicle one way or another, so I let it go.

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The tow truck driver speculated it had been mistaken for a gang vehicle. In any case, if you’re looking to steal or blow up a car, come to Chicago- the police won’t even attempt to apprehend you!

Moving forward without a vehicle

I still have not replaced the vehicle. In Chicago, you can easily get around by foot and by bike. I do want to replace it with another vehicle, perhaps (cringe) an SUV. I know, they guzzle gas, but I need a vehicle I can sleep in.

Actually, my dream would be either a VW van or a super old-school mini Tioga. That will take many more months of plugging away at the freelance writing gig, but it will all be worth it to drive around in one of those!

The One-Year Anniversary of My Travel Van

Note: This is a separate article that has been moved into this one for archival purposes.

It’s been one year since my travel van was set on fire and destroyed. So this is an appropriate time for a photo retrospective, to think back on all the good times we had.

One of my favorite van trips was to the Badlands of South Dakota, where we saw the crazy rock formations and got to see prairie dogs and bighorn sheep up close.

We went to the highest point in the Badlands to check out the scenery.

Then we headed over to Crazy Horse, the giant monument that may never be finished.

van crazy horse

Nearby Custer State Park allowed us to feed the wild burros right through the windows.

An artsy winter shot of me behind the big old wheel.

The van settled in nicely in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans.

The first stop on my ’09 summer road trip – Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, where I saw Cheat Summit Fort, a former Civil War grave site.

My first (failed) attempt at a cool standing-on-the-roof celebration pic. Somewhere in New Mexico.

My successful attempt a couple weeks later in Arizona. Much cooler!

Another rocky Arizona shot. The van enjoyed mountainous scenery.

The view from the inside. Taken in a quiet Michigan campground, October 2009.

Outside Carlsbad Caverns.

My awesome friend Robin joined me at a campground in Northern Massachusetts.

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I love cemeteries and so did the van. We were fascinated by this small cemetery in the western Texas desert.

Drivers in Los Angeles park really close.

van park

Looking back at the Pacific Ocean on Highway 1 on the California coast.

The van didn’t have a CD player, but it did have a good old fashioned cassette deck, which I put to great use by finding tapes in thrift stores.

tape deck

Bison! Right outside my window in Yellowstone National Park.

yellowstone bison

The amount of insect road kill on the front of the van got pretty crazy at times.

insect roadkill

At 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.

van rocky mountains

The van from above, parked in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

van pilsen

Parked next to the metal picnic table I slept on in Death Valley.

furnace creek death valley

Thanks for all the memories, Magic Van!

20 Comments

  1. wow, that’s really terrible. Don’t you wonder what goes through the minds of people who would do something so horrible to someone else like that. Despicable, IMO. But good for you not getting hung up on it 🙂 Nice site, btw.

  2. that is CRAZY! i mean, they had a lot of car fires during the LA Riots but I can’t believe that the CPD would just let a car fire go like that! 🙁 Farewell, Mystery Machine…i’m sure you had a lot of fantastic memories in that van!

  3. I have never had a car on fire but I did have an old beast of a 1984 Nissan Multi and it was tough parting with her for only 150 bucks – which was probably 50 more than she was worth.

  4. I can’t believe the police wouldn’t even bother to report it as vandalism. I’m glad you weren’t attached to it, but it’s still terrible that someone would do that, especially when it’s sitting right in front of your house.

  5. Sorry about that, Scott….it is ridiculous that the cops didn’t even bother to do anything about it. I guess it’s an indication who’s winning in the battle of good v. evil. I hope that you get your Tioga….you’re right, you need something that you can sleep in which will save you untold cash in not paying for a hotel room.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Ideally I would like one of the super-small ones that is only the same length as a regular truck, but those are harder to find!

  6. That’s a very disappointing response by the CPD! At least you’ve handled it all well and are looking forward to new wheels. I didn’t know that gangs are partial to travel vans. But why else would someone burn a vehicle, I guess.

    1. I was happy I discovered it that morning before my flight. Otherwise, I would’ve been out of town for a week, and the vehicle would have been sitting there and probably gotten towed and I would’ve had to pay those fees. So it could have been worse!

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