Stars of Cruisefest 2022
The "Mystery Machine" is a 1972 Ford Econoline 100 "Shorty" Van. It has a rebuilt 302 engine and C4 automatic transmission. It has a custom interior that has many 70's era touches. It also has a TV/DVD player combo that plays episodes of the Scooby Doo" Cartoons.
The van was originally intended to be a root beer brown "Boogie" van which was part of the 70's Hippie era. My wife and I had a family friend that moved to California from Texas with her sister to teach ballet as well as self-esteem classes to young girls. One of their 15 year old students, Larriah Jackson was a contestant on "The Voice" in 2021. Natalia was the sister that taught ballet. Natalia was a Prima Ballerina and was one of famed choreographer Debbie Allen’s dancers. We met them at a parade in Sacramento approximately 13 years ago. I had a 1972 Ford Mustang convertible at the time and allowed their young girls (approx. 30 of them) to take pictures in and around the car.
I purchased the van from a guy in Berkeley in early 2021. It had been sitting outside for several years. It had a partial engine in it and quarter panel damage as well. During the restoration months, Natalia and her sister would come over for visits. They had no California family so we became their “Cali Parents.” We spent many holidays together over the years. During the restoration of the van, Natalia would always refer to the van as the "Scooby Van.” I asked her why she called it that and her reply was always the same, "Because it reminds me of the cartoon.”
May 1, 2021 was my wife’s and my 24th wedding anniversary. Natalia and her sister, Kandice came over to visit. We took pictures of the van that day. Natalia gave me a "Scooby Doo'' air freshener and a "Van Journal” so that I could document the restoration. Although not yet completed, the engine and other mechanical parts had been installed so the van had been driven from the backyard into our garage.
Natalia and I took what would be our last photos together sitting on the back of the van that day. On May 7th, just 6 days after that photo, Natalia had a seizure and passed away. My wife and I were devastated. My wife flew to Texas with Natalia's sister Kandice to take Natalia's body home. My wife told me that a flag was draped over her casket on the airport tarmac as they were putting her body on it. The pilot paused and rested his hand on the casket before boarding the airplane.
My wife stayed in Texas to help with the funeral arrangements and to attend the services. Choreographer Debbie Allen wrote a very touching tribute to Natalia in her honor.
Upon my wife’s return it was decided to finish the van as a tribute to Natalia's memory. I had a shadowbox made that contains our last photo together, a pair of her dancing shoes, photos of some of her performances, a newspaper article from a Texas newspaper honoring her and The Scooby Doo air freshener that she gave me on the last day.
Natalia made lots of kids and parents smile during her short 37 years with us. I especially remember the Nutcracker Christmas plays that she would put on each year using community children as the main characters. Thus the "Mystery Machine" was born.