Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Baby, You Can Drive Your Car

Today on the roads, I passed a car that was the same colour, make, and model as my very first car. It made me think of what that first car meant to me (you know, after I got over the crushing disappointment of finding that it wasn't the Shelby Cobra I'd asked for).

Getting your first car is a major landmark in the road of life, just like starting high school or being kissed for the first time, only without the awkwardness and excessive amounts of saliva. Most people will, in later years, recount fondly the times spent with the rust-heap of spare parts that their parents dared to present as some kind of means of transportation. My own first car ­– a white, slightly rusty Nissan Pintara, which seemed to have trouble with the concept of gears despite being an automatic – was just such a delight.

Once the initial thrill of receiving your first car, the symbol of emancipation, travel and suddenly having a lot less money, has worn off and you can feel the keys of your very own car weighing heavy in your pocket, you, like I, will approach your vehicle, slowly, reverently, and unlock the drivers-side door and get in. After spending a good ten minutes or so sitting there, jiggling the steering wheel backwards and forwards and making ‘vrrrrroooooooommmm!!!’ noises (just me?), you will begin to notice new things, new feelings, and, most terrifyingly of all, new smells. I know I did. I noticed new things, like the weird, yellow, scum that tinted the windows; new feelings, like the ill feeling you get when you find mouldy sandwiches in the pouch behind the driver’s seat; new smells, like the fascinating combination of nicotine, very old bananas and something that was recently excreted by a dog. You might also notice that you have involuntarily adopted a small colony of earwigs in the glove box as well as a nodding-head dog, which the previous owner has helpfully super glued to the dash.

Having taken in your expansive, if slightly mouldy surroundings and regained your senses (which seemed to have completely bailed on you at first encounter with that smell), you will once again become awash with dizzy euphoria as, at your well-intentioned but thoroughly clueless parents insistence, you slide the key into the ignition and turn it – one click, two click, three clicks – and awaken the beast. I say ‘beast’ because that is indeed what it will sound like. Not the kitty-purr of the cars in the ads, not even the warm rumble of your father’s car, but the beastly rattling and chugging of a car that sounds like that thing from Lost rather than anything you’ve ever heard on the street. And that weird metallic ‘ping’ sound? Well, you’ll never forget how Monty Python’s “Machine that goes ‘Ping!’” joke goes again. You’ll look hopefully out the car window to your parents, willing them to tell you that this is all a joke and that your real car is parked around the back and is a lot shinier. They won’t. They will only smile awkwardly and tell you that it’s not designed to be pretty but to get you from ‘A’ to ‘B’, and then they will walk back towards the house before you can voice your doubts about whether it can even do that.

Still, it’s a real car. And it does go, most of the time anyway. And there’s always Frebreeze and Windex to clean it up. And even earwigs of that size can’t hold out against fly spray forever. Plus, your friends are all chipping in to buy you a new stereo system for your birthday, and when you turn up the music loud enough, you can barely hear that ‘ping’-ing. So what if it can’t go uphill when the radio’s turned on, has trouble changing gear even though it’s supposedly an automatic, and seems to rebel against driving in a straight line. At least it’s a car. Better than that, it’s your car and it can take you anywhere. As long as you can afford the petrol. 

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