It ended with bang, a whimper and then a whole lot of smoke. Upon reflection, the warning signs were too obvious to ignore. Nevertheless, with steely-eyed determination I succeeded in doing precisely that. Like the last of those willing to testify to a flat earth, I steadfastly refused to concede that the sound emanating from beneath my bonnet might indicate an impending mechanical failure.
It ended with bang, a whimper and then a whole lot of smoke. Upon reflection, the warning signs were too obvious to ignore. Nevertheless, with steely-eyed determination I succeeded in doing precisely that. Like the last of those willing to testify to a flat earth, I steadfastly refused to concede that the sound emanating from beneath my bonnet might indicate an impending mechanical failure. Lou Reed’s double album ‘Metal Machine Music’ comprises of just over an hour’s worth of unlistenable noise. As I drove my car through the streets of Healesville, the engine of my car seemed to be playing track one from side three of Lou’s record.
There’s a fine line between maintaining a positive outlook on things and a complete, rigid denial of reality. In truth, it’s a line over which I routinely go back and forth as though playinghopscotch. In spite of the fact that I was being told that the engine didn’t seem very well and notwithstanding that it did, indeed, sound like a cast iron egg beater devouring a bag of nails, I dismissed these concerns by simply increasing the volume on the stereo. Luckily, I had a copy of Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ to hand that allowed me to assume the noise my engine was making was some kind of solo.
There comes a point, however, when reality is no longer capable of being denied. For me, this occurred when the engine lurched from creating the kind of cacophony that would make Lou Reed green with envy to an eerie silence. Just to emphasize the point, smoke poured out from beneath the bonnet like dry ice at a Hush concert circa 1978. Even I had to admit that there was something of a problem.
The car limped to the side of the road and I turned down the stereo. It had been some years since I’d broken down. The same could be said of the car also. I steeled myself to ring roadside assistance and wondered whether they might remember me. My first ever car had been a Diahatsu Charade which seemed to break down every other fortnight. For a time, I knew the people at roadside assist on a first name basis. Not anymore. I hoped for the best and expected the worst. And when the mechanic finally arrived, I knew I was in trouble when, after looking at the engine, he put pennies on the headlights and gave a eulogy.
Healesville, in some regards, is a good a place as any to break down. Only an hour beforehand, we had been in the middle of nowhere, far from shops, taxicabs and anything resembling an identifiable street sign. Healesville is best described as a crafty kind of town. By that, I don’t mean the people ought not to be trusted, but that handicrafts have the kind of exalted status normally reserved for neurosurgery. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Healesville is the craft capital of the Southern Hemisphere. You can’t turn around without falling over a home made jam jar doily or scone. The mechanic made it known that the woolen beanie he was wearing was one he had knitted himself and that for a modest fee they were available to the general public for purchase. I declined and the mechanic called for a tow truck. When he arrived an hour later, the tow truck driver was also keen to spruik his commitment to handicrafts. As he loaded our wounded car onto the back tray of the truck, the driver proudly informed us that in his spare time he made his own range of fruit preserves and marmalades under the name ‘Tow Jam’.
Two days later we received the news that it would cost more to fix the car than the car was worth. There was little choice – we had to sell it for scrap.
Let me say now what a splendid industry the automotive wrecking trade is. We rang several trying to see whether they wanted the mortal remains of the Astra and how much they were willing to pay. We disclosed everything about the car and reached an agreement to offer up the car in exchange for three magic beans. When the driver arrived to collect the vehicle, it was about three degrees and pouring with rain. He then asked me how much I wanted. I told him how much his boss had already agreed to pay, the news of which caused him to wince with pain, before he offered a sum exactly two hundred dollars less. It was, I suspect, a clumsy attempt to apply some form of pressure. I took the key from his hand and apologized for wasting his time. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, he said that he didn’t want to leave empty handed, before retreating to the cabin of his truck. I stood beside my fallen Astra as the rain pelted down and wished that I had picked up one of the mechanic’s home made beanies. Eventually, the man reappeared and agreed to the original purchase price. There was no explanation. Frankly, it’s as close to organized crime as I ever wish to get.
Cars are inanimate, soulless objects. All the same, I was sad to leave behind my Astra in Healesville. It’s probably a can opener and a piece of exercise equipment by now. I returned to the house and tried to console myself by making a cup of tea and heating up some homemade scones which I then lavished with some apricot Tow Jam I’d purchased earlier. I then slipped ‘Metal Machine Music’ onto the Hi Fi and forgot my troubles. By listening to Lou Reed’s.