The Blue Typhoon

Katie Napiwocki avatar

by Katie Napiwocki |

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Looking ahead for SMA

Here in the Midwest, “going for a drive” is an authentic thing. When the tall grass gleams in the golden hour of a lazy Sunday afternoon, countryside rustic roads beckon people to roll their windows down, ignite the engine, and explore. In our current times, the splendor of this activity has been more pronounced than usual.

I enjoy road trips with my partner, Andy. As shape-shifting features of the natural landscape fly past us, I feel a paradoxical surge of exhilaration and relaxation from the open road. With a modified van, I’m able to wheel into the passenger-side space during our travels. Her name is Pearl Stormborn, and with an exterior color of jazz blue, I’d like to think her devil-may-care spirit embraces adventure as much as I do. 

Pearl isn’t the only blue vehicle I’ve voyaged aboard. My childhood is woven with memories of a herculean beast known best for donning a color so characteristically precise, yet vague. I can only describe it as a dusty hue of the befogged smudge along the horizon — that serendipitous blurred line, where a tranquil sea grasps at the befriending sky in a wisping embrace. 

When I was a kid in the ’90s, my parents recognized the need to attain a vehicle that would be roomy enough to accommodate my wheelchair, medical equipment, and transport our family on excursions. Helpful resources for accessible vehicles were even more scarce than presently. 

Lo and behold, a Catholic convent in our neighboring state of Illinois answered the call with a stellar deal on a full-size 1990 Chevy conversion van. The convent had modestly used the towering tank to transport its nuns on social outings and events over the years (with a notable affinity for America’s favorite pastime). One of the sisters used a wheelchair, and it had served them well but was no longer needed. Upon purchase, the nuns provided my parents with chronological documentation of each oil change or maintenance measure on this pristine giant. 

So there we were, the proud owners of what my sister and I coined “The Blue Typhoon” (Big Blue for short). To a pair of tween-age siblings growing up in a small town, Big Blue was our ’90s equivalent of a beaming leg lamp in a dim window. It turned heads. It was not fly, nor was it all that and a bag of chips. But over the years, Big Blue became something of a legend.

From day one, life with Big Blue was a comical adventure. When the new license plates arrived in the mail, I’ll never forget the sheer terror on my devout Catholic mother’s face as she unveiled them from the envelope: the holy-rolling van’s new identity contained a bold display of “666.” My mom visited the DMV in a frenzy, explaining the divine history of this accessible van and its baseball-loving nuns, and insisted the demonic plates promptly be returned to whichever circle of hell they flew out of (with a smoldering crash-landing into our mailbox). 

Big Blue sent us into hysterics many times over the years. The hydraulic lift was located in the rear of the van. It was operated by simple buttons that generated a loud whirlwind of grinding mechanics as the lift beamed me up to floor level. I would drive forward into the wheelchair-containment area, where I sat sandwiched between a row of seats bumping my kneecaps and a metal lift folded behind me like a shark cage in winter storage. All six passenger seats were upholstered in lovely blue plaid fabric. In front of those seats were more seats (and more blue plaid) for the driver and passenger at the helm of the vessel.

When driving over railroad tracks, loose wiring caused interior lights to flash at an upbeat tempo fit for the funkiest of disco parties. For anyone without a good set of lungs, the use of cell phones proved most helpful in facilitating communication between people in the front and the party in the back. Car washes and heavy rains triggered shifty eyes as water streamed along random areas of the blue fabric interior walls.

During my late teenage years, Big Blue turned out to be an ideal social carriage for transporting many of my friends at once. Blue’s distinctive quirks left an imprint on all of its commuters.

Once I was older and Big Blue was sold, I missed it. Even though we moved on to using a newer, more reliable vehicle, I felt a debt of gratitude toward Blue. I had formed an attachment to the modified van that helped me participate in many of my life events during those formative years. After all, I shared a decade with that steely blue whale of a tale.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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