Announcement - it's a boy!

17:05, Apr 14 2014

The first car I ever bought on my own -  alone meaning without my father's help - was actually less expensive than the ski jacket stolen off the passenger seat in a 2008 break-in.

The smashed window on that 1983 Nissan Bluebird stationwagon  - christened Bella - was the only major repair I had in the four years that I drove it, nearly into ground, all over the South Island.

Bella was a car that I slept in, used to move house twice, and eventually drove to Balclutha to start a job at the Clutha Leader.

I still remember the gut feeling about her that made me hand the money over in an envelope.

I remember her like my first love.

The smugness of knowing my gut instinct was right on, the years to follow that included the smell of paprika in the carpets on hot days (I spilled a box of herbs and waited too long to clean it up) and the sound of the rain on the roof and the riverbed near Kinloch, where I would roll into camp just as the sun was going down, and unfurl a sleeping bag in the back.


After Bella was semi-retired to transport rubbish to the tip in Balclutha, I moved on.

Stella, the 1996 Toyota Starlet came to me with boy racer tyres and a Playboy sticker with accompanying bunny ears.

I redeemed her, scrapping off part of the sticker, de-earing the bunny and leaving the rest. I still question my decision to keep ''boy'' over ''play.'' Was I trying to be ironic? I don't remember.

This is one of the qualities about myself I am proud of.

That I can have great relationships with cars (yes, relationships) and get to places I need to go, in vehicles that people watch me pull up in, then say, with an annoying knowing in their voice, I give it a year.

A couple of times, it hasn't even made it that far.

But even when it hasn't, those breakdowns have toughened me up. I don't fear the worst.

Like breaking down on a highway at night, in a not-so-great part of a city, or an alternator going out in the middle of rush hour, or the transmission poetically dying in the same parking lot, and in front of the same employers the previous Volvo also chose to call it a day in, also because of the transmission.

Because that's already happened.

I've been there. My mettle's been tested and I've survived and subsequently learned an awful lot more about cars than I would if I was in a $15,000 car or truck that I had to get financed to afford.

And I love pulling up, five years later, with my own annoyingly knowing smile, pretty proud of myself that I took a gamble, and so far this baby (hearty pat on the roof) was working out just fine.

All to say, the cars I have loved came to mind this week when my father and I set off for another crapshoot.

And together with the prayers of my mother, my stubbornness about not paying a dime over $2000, and my father's belief in the luck of the Irish, combined with his knack for spotting a gem in the wrecking yard, we set off down the highway to scan the car yards of central California.

We were set with food for a tiresome day of car hunting, but in the end, we found him - and he is a him; can't explain it  - in the back of a used car lot after taking a wrong turn.

Wrong turns are kind of sign, right?

We both spotted the price in the window - $1499 - at the same time, and walked casually across the lot.

I am terrified of used cars salesmen. But the one guy who appeared to be in charge merely waved to us before walking up the steps to his office, a young kid trailing behind him.

This was another good sign, I thought, looking at this 1999 Saturn 5-speed with an odometer that sat at 212, 425.

Would a used car salesman straight up lie in front of his 8-year-old?

A week later, that remains to be seen.

I'm reluctant to give the Saturn a name yet.

I'm even superstitious about filling up the entire petrol tank. We've gone on little mini dates for groceries.

My dad finds something new that he likes about the car every other day, it seems. They've been spending lots of quality time together, by the light of the garage, most evenings.

Sure the Saturn has got a great stereo and no obvious leaks.  

But can he go the distance (not entirely sure what the distance is yet, since I'm still formulating a plan).

But whatever direction we head towards, can I trust him with all my earthly possession stuffed in the boot? Or will he break down and leave me stranded in Arizona?

He's not getting a name until we've gone a few hundred more miles, I've decided. If we even get that far.

And hey, time will tell, right?

Now I just need to pick a direction, and off into the sunset we go.



The Southland Times