So you’re driving along, perhaps you’re on your way home from a hard day at work, minding your own business, maybe listening to some tunes, thinking about chilling out a bit when you get indoors. You’re tired but you’re happy. That’s when it happens.
You don’t know what it is but you know it’s bad. You can feel it in your bones and if not your bones, your gut tells you it is or will be bad. Your heart sinks into your stomach and you start rehearsing the possible repercussions of this – whatever the hell this turns out to be – but there’s a glimmer of hope that tells you maybe it’s not too bad. You’re not an expert, after all. So maybe it’s nothing. A glitch. A fluke. A one off.
A glance in your rear view mirror kills off any seed of hope before it can take root. There’s a plume of white smoke following you as you slow down and pull over. Hazard warning lights on. Ignition off. Eyes closed. Curses, or possibly prayers, quietly but passionately uttered before you give the key a turn. The engine starts up but it’s not right. Abnormal. It sounds sick. Dying, even. But something else, not the car’s state of being, is fucking with you now. You’re hurt. Betrayed. Your car has revolted and is no longer with you. Not an enemy, not exactly, but not a friend, either.
You sigh and, because you’re a man, you do what you think you should do. Pop the bonnet and have a look. What you’re looking for, you don’t really know. But it’s what you do, on account of masculinity and gender roles and all that sociology bullshit. Right now, everything is bullshit.
Your eyes roves around the engine bay, scanning in the vain hope that what you see will suddenly become framed through Terminator vision, with flashing warnings and descriptions bleeping into your brain through your robot eyeball. If it was something obvious – like a missing engine or a lump of wood in its place – then maybe you could do something about it. But no, as far as you can tell, which isn’t very far, everything seems normal: no burnt cables, no torn belts, no leaking pipes, no remnants of an explosion. Now what?
Oh you fucker.
Cars and vans drive past you, drivers and passengers crane their necks. You catch sight of their expressions and you can read every one of them:
I’m glad I’m not you.
You scan the traffic on the off chance that a friend or even a remote acquaintance is amongst the trickle but of course there isn’t. Ordinarily, when things are good, you can spit and it’ll land on one of your friends. They’re everywhere, usually. Not more than five minutes pass when you see someone you know, on the road, going somewhere or nowhere. But not today, not right now. Today, the bastards have all decided to stay at home and watch telly or read a book or do some DIY or their ironing or something equally pressing. Yes, you realise that was a crappy pun but then, most puns are crap.
You sigh and ask yourself What now?
A phone call. A phone call on your mobile phone. Your mobile phone is your one and only friend right now. Technology is amazing, you tell yourself. Technology makes life so much better and easier. But your mobile phone can be a bit of a bitch when it wants to be… as you swipe it to life, it drops to 5% charge. No charging lead.
You make a call to the only person who can possibly help and it better count. The person you call is also your best friend right now but you know damned well that he doesn’t hold you in the same regard. You are a customer. You are in his hands. Time to pucker up and kiss his greasy arse.
‘Bro, how you doing? Listen. Car just fucking died on me, man.’
He doesn’t sound too interested but then, why would he? Not like you’re blood to him or anyone even remotely important. It’s not like you can ever do anything for him, other than pay him. But at least he asks you what’s happened. At least that’s something.
‘Just now, driving home: made a funny noise and all this white smoke and then it just died on me. It’ll start up but it’s making a right racket.’
Please let him say it’s something and nothing. A common fault with my car. Please let him tell me all I need to do is twiddle a knob or switch something off and on again or recite a poem or rap three lines of Tupac before it’ll be cured. Let it be something easy and quick. But no. The white smoke is all he needs.
‘From the exhaust, yeah?’
‘Yeah. From the exhaust.’
‘Sounds like turbo, to me.’
Your heart sinks further. You close your eyes and through gritted teeth, curse again. The phone is bleeping and blinking. Down to 3 per cent already. 2 measly per cent. Stupid fucking phone: bleeping and blinking is the last thing you need when you’re down to 3 fucking per cent.
Of course, he’s not one hundred percent absolutely iron clad bullet proof sure. He’ll need to have a look at it and check for a more accurate diagnosis but he’s seldom wrong. Regular car whisperer, this guy.
You go through the implications. For starters, life without this thing for however long it’ll take to get going again means taking the bus to work. Two busses, actually. Or lifts or taxis or James Bond style jet rocket pack that have yet to be invented. Things would be so much easier with James Bond style jet rocket packs: why the fuck hasn’t someone invented one? They’ve invented a million different ways to make coffee, to read books, to open tin cans, to live your life… but no James Bond style jet rocket packs?
And then, of course, there’s the cost of the repairs. You know it’ll be resolved sooner or later, one way or the other, but you’re worried. Anxious and maybe even pissed off. You have no control. You have no power in this situation. This thing, this box on wheels, you think you own it, but it owns you. Always has done and always will. You think it gives you freedom and pleasure. Sure, when it’s not against you like it is now, maybe it does help you feel happy, in control, independent and free. But you remind yourself that this thing costs – and not just time and money to keep the damned thing running. Every day, you hope it will do what it’s supposed to. You rely on it and have faith in it. There’s no getting away from it: you depend on it. Well, you think you do. Trouble is, even this episode will not change your mind. Once it’s back on the road, with you behind the wheel, coming from or going to wherever you want, all this will be behind you, the betrayal forgiven, the relationship restored.
Until, of course, the next time.