April 21, 2011
And Now For Something Completely Different...
Scott leans on the roof of the car that has just driven into his yard.
“How’s it going? D’you like the new car?” Roger, the visitor, grins up at Scott; cocky with a hint of provocation. “VE Commodore.”
“Yeah – when do I get a ride in it?”
“Now if you like.”
Scott stands back, glances over at the workshop, considers work in progress. They are wrecking out a Honda Prelude at the moment; buckets of shit they are, nothing fitting across models – except wheels. Still, you had to have the parts on hand. Then there was the Saab; typical – engine let go. Old guy touring the
South Island and stuck in town till they could find him a replacement.
The new Holden is too tempting – boss’s perks to check out the latest automotive technology.
“I’ll come, hang on a sec.” Scott is already peeling off his overalls, calling to Mike; putting him in charge for a bit. The phone rings and Scott takes it – appears outside, phone in hand; crunches across gravel, studded with windscreen chip, to check a stock rack. “Eighty-two Datsun ute? Rear windscreen? Yeah mate, we got one...”
Roger watches; amused. He knows it is not a simple matter for Scott to walk out the door, and it might be quarter of an hour before they get away. Tuesday morning; quiet; time to kill – but the thrill of the new car in his veins.
Then Scott is climbing into the passenger seat; time to go. Roger slips into reverse, manoeuvres skilfully between the stacks of wretched car bodies, eases out into the street – gentrified villas down one side, industrial iron along the other; heads out of town.
“We’ll go up to the lime works eh.”
It’s getting harder to find remote country roads. There are so many lifestyle blocks now, taking the remoteness out of ‘rural’. But up towards the limestone quarry is a stretch of road populated only by dreaming farm utes and, occasionally, logging trucks.
“Your turn,” Roger grins at Scott as he pulls over onto the grass verge. The two men exchange places, high-fiving as they cross in front of the bonnet. Then Scott is driving; feeling the smoothness of the new, picking up speed. Roger gives him the statistics: last year’s model, 700km on the clock, V6 engine, ABS brakes... Not as good as the V8, thinks Scott, but he keeps that to himself. He doesn’t want to deflate the moment. Roger wants Scott to feel the car – feel how good it is.
“D’you want to try a one-eighty?”
“Come on, you’d have no trouble, just slow down a bit – back to around sixty kay.”
“Nah, I’m not on the race track. I’d end up hitting a power pole or something.” Roger didn’t push. Scott was right. If you were going to about-face while driving at speed there was a lot to take into account: road width, surface, roadside obstructions, oncoming traffic...
Scott slows when he hits gravel, just beyond the quarry. They’ve left the lifestyle blocks behind. The fencelines up here are tufted with elder and whiteywood. They pass a massive old shearing shed with great peeling gums shading the sheep pens. The road begins to climb and wind into foothills. Gorse lines the road and rangiora flickers its leaves – white, green – in the morning sunlight. Pines take over from farmland; commercial plantations on hill country. But in the crooks in the road where the land folds around streambeds – wet or dry – there are pockets of indigenous forest. Roger points out the clematis flowering white amongst the black beech, and Scott thinks Donna would like it up here. Maybe he could bring her up for a drive before the clematis finished flowering. It wasn’t there all the time, according to Roger.
“Better head back soon,” thinks Roger, and Scott agrees.
“Floor it,” says Roger, when they are back on the seal.
“Yeah, why not,” grins Scott. Easy past the quarry – no trucks turning? Nah. Scott accelerates: ...Eighty, ninety, a hundred... and on. The needle on the speedo around to its limit; a hundred and eighty. Exhilarating, thinks Scott as farmland melts past his field of vision, but I shouldn’t be doing this.
“There’s something up ahead.” Roger keeps his voice calm. “Brake ... Scott, brake.” Urgency creeps in.
The distance is closing fast. Fast enough to make out the logging truck.
“Where the fuck did that come from?” Neither of them remembers seeing the truck on the way up, but they both know that there are logging routes and farm tracks all along this country road. Careless to think no one else would be out on a sunny weekday morning. Scott is braking, but the latest automotive technology is unfamiliar to him. ABS brakes: he doesn’t know their response time for high speeds. The car is slowing but the distance between it and the truck is closing too. He pumps the brake instinctively, mentally handling the skidding that he expects. The Anti-skid Braking System is designed to take the skidding out of emergency braking. Roger panics:
“Rip the brake on. Rip it on.” He means the handbrake now.
“Nah,” says Scott thinking of handling, he’s still going too fast to manage a one-eighty. “I’m going to overtake.”
Roger grimaces. The road is wide enough for two vehicles but it’s the kind of width that has drivers move out on to the gravel for comfortable passing. They’re close enough to count the logs now, if there weren’t other distractions. Scott is judging the width of road beside the truck. He doesn’t want to have to drive onto the gravel. Roger leans forward carefully; reaches toward the dashboard... Christ, what does he want to turn the radio on at a time like this for? thinks Scott. He pulls to the right, preparing for a race track manoeuvre as Roger flicks a switch and eases back into his seat. Ahead, the truck moves over, onto the gravel at the left; right over to the grass verge. Scott can’t believe it. He sails through the safe space, at about eighty.
“Don’t stop, keep going, speed up,” urges Roger. “You can’t stop yet.”
“Whaat!” Scott is shaking and drenched with sweat.
“Get off this road. Then you can stop.”
There’s a fork in the road, back onto shingle. Scott takes it.
“Don’t let the truckie see us stop.” Roger waves Scott on past a pine hedge before he’ll let him pull over. Scott stumbles out of his door, staggers onto grass, drops to his knees and rolls onto his back. On the roof of the Commodore the red and blue lights are still flashing. Scott understands now why the truck pulled over, understands why Roger needed him to keep going. His friend leans across the dashboard; flicks off the lights; sets his check banded cap on his head out of habit; comes to crouch beside Scott - Roger in his padded vest and his blue trousers.
“Well done mate. You okay?” He punches Scott in the shoulder.
“You bastard, but thanks. Your turn to drive – straight home eh.” And they both climb back into the car.