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Vengeance Van business offers anxiety outlet on wheels

Vengeance Van all the rage

On a quiet crescent in suburban Ottawa, Grace Roswell is seeing red.

Crowbar in hand, Grace is celebrating her 12th birthday inside the crimson-lined Vengeance Van, a rage room on wheels that shatters neighbourhood calm with explosions of glass and booming bass beats.

“It doesn’t want to break,” Grace says, staring down a porcelain angel that stubbornly refuses to perish.

“You might need a sledgehammer,” offers Bren Walker, Vengeance Van’s owner.

One triumphantswing and the winged seraph falls, decapitated. Grace allows herself a sheepish smile, her home-school stresses already flitting away.

In a year of periodic lockdowns and pent-up frustrations, the Vengeance Van has taken off as a novelty recreation service amid the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a high-energy outlet for letting off a little destructive steam.

Walker, 33, founded the mobile "rage cage" after his seven-year-old business hosting black-lit Nerf battles for kids and corporate teams shut down amid lockdown restrictions and physical distancing requirements. It's closed for the foreseeable future.

“I was about to lose my shirt,” he said.

Walker mowed lawns and built decks while saving toward a 24-foot box truck. He transformed the interior with red particle-board panelling, armed it with "weapons" like golf clubs and lead pipes, then added speakers and protective gear.

Launched last summer, the Vengeance Van appears to be filling a pandemic-shaped void in the rage room market — Walker is fielding 20 to 30 calls a week.

“It’s just been relentless,” he said, noting bookings shot up after Ontario shut down in late November.

"We started off kind of as an experiment, and it just developed and developed ... People are very angry, they’re frustrated."

Some just want a bit of physical fun. Others covet a renewed sense of control — even dominance — amid the feeling of cloistered helplessness imposed by the pandemic.

“We get a lot of requests for construction material. ‘My ex works in construction ... so I want to break drills and drywall,’” Walker said.

Demand is so high that he's planning a sister ship: a mobile archery and axe-throwing truck — "Bow 'n Throw On the Go."

The smashables, plucked from estate sales or suppliers who would otherwise haul the items to the dump, run the gamut from ceramics to tables, televisions and the odd cuckoo clock.

“I liked smashing the mirror, because I liked how it exploded,” says Grace.

“My favourite was the bottle against the wall,” her mom, Danielle, chimes in.

A VCR and padded chair prove the most resilient foes, with Grace and her sister Emma, 13, recoiling slightly as their father, Darren, kneecaps the furniture legs with a hammer.

Ice Cube lyrics issues from the speakers: "You can do it, put your back into it."

For the Roswell family, it was about the release as much as the novelty.

“It’s been a year now and there’s been extra stresses and stuff. So to be able to get out and get some of that stress out and smashing stuff, it was great,” Danielle says.

Spirits seem high and safety precautions protect the sisters as they launch a dinner plate and tea saucer against the pockmarked wall Frisbee-style, their eyes shielded by visored headgear.



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