Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Drive It Until It Dies"

Sheared bolts and a missed ferry, France 2008.

My car croaked last week.  Without any warning, on Thursday morning I turned the key and the starter motor made a horrible grinding noise and the engine refused to start.  I was marooned at home for the long weekend and right now I'm awaiting a diagnosis from my magician of a mechanic.  He's kept most of mine and my friends cars running and road legal for years because most of us around here figure that our hard earned cash is better spent on surfboards and chasing waves than on four fancy wheels and leather seats.  If a repair bill comes to more than a few hundred quid then it's probably more than the car is worth so it's time to hunt out another banger.  It's a "drive it until it dies" mentality that keeps the dream alive.

I hid my bus in the West Australian bush for three days whilst I hitchhiked home and organised a horrifically expensive tow-truck.  I was pleasantly surprised to return and find tht it hadn't been burnt out.

What little mechanical know-how I have has come from dealing with my broken down, limp-along cars; blown head gaskets, rusted out exhaust fixings, mashed splines, knackered distributor caps and all sorts of broken belts.  I'm not much good with repairing any of this but I'm getting to the point where I can tell what's what under the bonnet and understand what car whisperers tell me about my petrol-related problems.

When it's too windy to surf it's the perfect time to crack a beer, lift the bonnet and (in my case) try to pretend that I know which bit does what and pass the spanner.

Cars are almost as important to surfers as surfboards are, although none of us probably realise as much.  They're freedom, transport to and from the beach, to and from different beaches, they're the planes and trains of regular ol' road trips, accommodation, look-out stations and changing rooms.  And there's a certain sort of dirtbag pride in eeking a few more miles out of a car that's as old as you are.  If I had a brand new car then I'd wreck it within a week by smearing wax on the seats, filling the foot-wells with sand and making it smell like wetsuit boots.  On the outside it'd be caked in a paint-wrecking cocktail of salt and guano.  I'd probably be embarrassed to pull up in the car park to check the waves and I'd no doubt be skint.  Beater cars are brilliant.  They have character and they take on personalities to the point where you give a rolling metal box a name and include it in the surf-trip stories that you tell:  "You remember when Turtle broke down on the way out of Mundaka and we camped on a garage forecourt for three days" or "I slept in The Falcodore for three straight weeks that summer" and "how's about the time you set fire to the Casbah's engine?"
Little did I realise just how big a part mine and my friends beach-beaters had played in just about every surf trip for the past decade until I sat down to write this.  I wonder how much it's going to cost to repair my car this time around, and whether or not the story can continue or if I'll be looking for a new wagon to build some memories with?  Whatever happens though you can guarantee that I'll be patting the dashboard and saying thank you next time I successfully arrive at another beach to go for a surf.

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