The Unimog Guy
Hopefully you already know what a Unimog is, because they’re spectacular. But if you don’t, it’s worth taking a second to go browse Google (or better yet, Youtube) and have your mind blown.
Hell yeah. Now that you’re up to speed: This story was inspired by one of the most well-known randos in my hometown. He drives a Unimog, rides jet skis at sundown, and also has two giant, fluffy wolf-dogs. Hard to miss, in other words.
And thanks to this guy, I too really want a Unimog. But my reasoning is a little more complex than you might think, and to explain that, I’m going to have to go into two things:
- the demise of vanlife.
- my dad, who happens to be the second most well-known person in town after the Unimog Guy
So hang on!
Part one: #vanlife is dead (to me). Which is a bummer, because I was about to buy a van
The basic premise behind vanlife is simple. Used cargo vans are affordable and just big enough to live out of — so with the help of some DIY wizardry, they make for the ultimate go-anywhere, sleep-anywhere proposition. Better yet, no one will ever suspect that the white van parked on their street is your home. As long as you have access to a shower somewhere, it totally goes, albeit at the cost of some creature comforts. I wouldn’t be the first among my friends to do it, either.
Which is why the last time I went to check up on my college loan, I had an epiphany: Why pay for housing when I could just park in the guest lot, shower at the homies’ place, and sneak into dining halls? And then go on cool adventures every weekend? For less money?
Unfortunately, there’s a problem. #vanlife is too popular now to be sneaky in the slightest. And worse still is the emergence of beefy-looking, prebuilt custom Sprinters for $100,000, which, at least at a glance, have totally drowned out the quirky, DIY energy that made the vanlife community so appealing. The new stereotype is rich folk who are too cool for RVs, which is distinctly less cool. And for a while I was worried that this was all in my head, but then I saw a sticker that said “Does this van make my trust fund look big?”
So yeah. Ultimately, it doesn’t change much, but it certainly tempered my enthusiasm.
Fortunately, I didn’t get too discouraged. Instead, I thought of other livable vehicles, subtlety notwithstanding. Maybe a box truck, or a school bus, or, hmmmmm…
Which is when I remembered the local Unimog Guy.
So I got on Bring a Trailer (the car auction website where I spend too much of my free time) and came to the devastating realization that for the price of a used van and the materials for a conversion, you could:
- buy a Unimog
- build a custom tiny house in the bed
- be that person who drives a Unimog
Of course, these things are incredibly slow. Like 55mph in a tailwind at full throttle slow. And although they’re robust by design, that doesn’t mean parts are cheap, or that your local mechanic is going to come within a half mile of it.
I could keep talking about all the reasons it’s a terrible idea. But instead I’ll stick with the classic adage for anything awesome/ impractical: the two good days are the one you bought it and the one you sold it.
I do fear the Unimog would have this problem. But I’m still tempted.
And my reasoning here traces back to my upbringing.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood of a predominantly white town, everyone knew the three brothers with afros and their dad who kinda looks like an NFL linebacker, replete with shoulder length dreads and a red sports car. Side note: I promise I’m not exaggerating. At Seahawks games, they always waved him into the VIP parking when they saw him pull up. He never bothered correcting them.
But anyways, our hypervisibility in the local community was never a problem, because my dad makes friends everywhere he goes.
We have friends in Los Angeles who fed us and let us crash a quinceañera . He met them playing FIFA online.
We have friends in Amsterdam who have offered to host our entire family in their tiny little house should we ever come to visit. He met them at a soccer game while he was on a business trip.
And we have friends in any neighborhood where people hang out on their front porches, because invariably he’ll strike up a conversation and discover all sorts of things in common and twenty minutes later we have to pry him away.
One last example: the time he went to a bar in England and came back with a Saran-wrapped ball of Haggis from the chef, who was apparently an award-winning Scot. I’d wanted to try Haggis for years, and somehow he remembered this at the perfect time. It was really good, for the record. But you get the picture.
Growing up, I was kinda shy, so it seemed super obnoxious.
But in retrospect, the power of serendipitous connection has opened a lot of doors — and generally made the world seem like a much friendlier, more interesting place. Now that COVID has hit, it’s without a doubt one of the things that I miss the most.
So now, take a second to imagine the people you would meet on a Unimog road trip.
From everything I’ve read and heard and seen, a Unimog is quite possibly the coolest vehicle you could possibly own, more so than any Ferrari or Lamborghini or Porsche. Everybody wants to learn more about it, and in doing so more about you. Imagine the connections, the stories, the friendships in random places. The impact you could make on people with your story. The impact other people’s stories could have on you (If my dad’s taught me anything, it’s that people are always cooler than they seem if you know how to start the conversation right).
So yeah. Wildly impractical.
But lying on my deathbed, what are the odds that I regret the inconveniences of my old Unimog? And what are the odds I appreciate the stories it made? If you zoom out far enough, it seems simple.
And one final note: after the deathbed montage, I want a Unimog Hearse to dump me into a volcano. Or even just run over some parked cars on the way out of the mortuary. Something exciting.