The Los Angeles Adventure (Part 1)

Santa Monica, CA. You never know where #vansearch will take you.

Santa Monica, CA. You never know where #vansearch will take you.

SF -> LA

It was 11:10PM when I received a call that made my heart leap straight into my throat. Oh crap, I thought, we're not going to make it.

The call caught me on the tailwind of a busy day. Friday, June 23rd was Nick's last day at work after ten years. And while officially I still had a week left, my boss had okay-ed me to pop in and out of the lab the coming week, knowing that I'd be busy with the van hunt.

At lunch that day, I booked the two of us overnight Greyhound tickets to LA. Earlier in the week we had spotted a black passenger Sprinter at a very fair price, so we decided to jump on it. I was pacing around my small room full of nervous energy--it's happening!--waiting to meet Nick at the Greyhound station when the call from Nick came.

What happened after was a whirlwind of stress and exhilaration. Long story short, after flooring it from my apartment to the station (and Nick from the Peninsula), we dashed out the boarding area, only to find that we had missed the bus by a fraction of a minute.

Luckily, Nick still had his trusty RAV4, and we made a split-second decision to chase the bus down to its next stop in Oakland. After 20 minutes of exacerbating traffic on the Bay Bridge, we pulled up to the station, Nick ran in and rushed out with good news: we made it!


LA-> Burbank

2011 Passenger | 225,904 miles | $13,986 | Black

Downtown LA. 6AM. We got off the torturous night ride of sleep deprivation in completely different form: Nick a zombie, I bouncing off the walls, high on adrenaline. After considering our options, we recharged at the Original Pantry at the recommendation of our Uber driver. 

Next was a quick ride to the car rental near LAX. We picked up a red minivan, hopped in and were off to Burbank to see our first Sprinter: a 2011 MB 2500 Passenger with 225,904miles and the extremely attractive price tag of $13,986.

Sure, the van's on the wrong side of total lifespan (generally, 500k miles), but the price would give us far more wiggle room to play around with the conversion.

First impressions? Rackety, abused and sinister. The first parts are probably not surprising: although CarFax said the van spent its lifetime in Hawaii, the van was obviously not well cared for. As for sinister...we wanted something that's stealth enough to camp in the city without garnering attention. Black seemed to fit the bill, but in person it looked too...all business and no fun.

Strike 1.


Burbank -> Venice Beach

2011 Cargo | 79,700 miles | $23,500 | Black

The next day a word...bipolar.

While researching plan B in a cafe after the failed viewing, we ran across a van that we had previously considered. At that time, the seller was not interested in dealing with out-of-state people, and the communication was frustrating, to put it mildly. But since we were in town, we decided to give him another shot.

We got to Venice Beach long before the arranged meeting time of 1PM, and spent most of it frolicking knee-deep in the ocean like kids. Looking out to the rolling waves, shimmering blue water and the famous board walk entertainment area, I had a Instagram-worthy thought: if #vanhunt is already taking us to paradise, what gorgeous places will #vanlife bring us to?  

About an hour later, like a shock of stormy clouds blowing across my brain, that giddiness turned into frustration, and then rage. "Beep, beep, beep beep beeep!!!" Explicatives poured out of my mouth as I tried to wrestle with the anger bubbling inside me. 

It took a giant bowl of fro-yo and chocolate cookies to sooth my increasingly darkening thoughts, and brush it off as another nightmare Craigslist story for the future. It took us a few hours of recharging at a cafe to get plan C into action: drive to Orange County while it's still light, and check out two other vans--a converted, white 2008 cargo with over 200k miles and two side windows, and "grandpa", a 2012 blue Passenger with over 330k miles (!!!) at $13,700.

"One has to work out," I thought to myself as we sped down the freeway, perhaps just a bit too optimistic...