There’d been a little rattle in Manuel for a week or so now. Nothing too bad we thought, but we booked it in for a service today. But last night on my way to singing class, I had a little adventure. Somewhere around Parliament House, the rattle turned to a clunk. Then when I stopped at the lights in Woden, Manuel stalled and wouldn’t budge. And of course I happened to be on a hill with half a dozen cars behind me.
I turned the engine over and Manuel gave a halfhearted urrgh urrgh urrgh before dying again. Up until that point I had completely adored Manuel, so compact and reliable compared with the piece of shit cars I’ve had before. But as soon as he misbehaved, I became filled with panic and rage. The light was going to be green in a second. I couldn’t bear the thought of being stranded. Like one of those stranded losers that break down at a major intersection and pace round with a mobile phone while every passing vehicle beeps in disgust. And I’m pretty crap on hills as it is. I’ve only been driving a stick for a few months. I have no idea what I am doing.
So in the end my tactic was to press all the pedals in a random sequence like a deranged organist, simultaneously screaming, “COME ON YOU LITTLE RED FUCKER!”
Manuel obediently limped around the corner.
I thought I was going to make it to my teacher’s house but then the revolting burning smell started.
I pulled over and called the NRMA dude. Then I called my sister, and we ranted and raged about our Piece Of Shit car that we only bought six months ago and how dare it do this to us!
Then I called Jenny and told her I wouldn’t be able to make it to singing class. The trio would be a duo tonight. But as it turned out, Inge hadn’t made it either due to “illness”. This made our teacher very suspicious of my “breakdown”.
He asked Jenny would she like to do the class solo. Jenny thought for three seconds and said, “Naaah.”
She left him huffing and harrumphing at his piano, apparently believing that the three of us had concocted this elaborate scheme to wriggle out of class.
Then she came to keep me company while I waited for the NRMA. He didn’t take long. And he was rather cute. I hoped that nothing too major was wrong with the car, but at the same time I hoped there was something majorly wrong with it, so I wouldn’t look like an idiot in the presence of such cuteness.
No such luck. I popped the bonnet and he peered under.
“Umm. Where’s your radiator cap?”
“You don’t have a cap on your radiator.”
Then I remembered.
Rhi had been checking the oil and water about two weeks ago. Manuel is her first car, so she’s never had to do that before. She kept asking me, “Am I doing this right?” and I was saying, “Yep, yep” without really looking. When she screwed the radiator cap back on, I’d thought to myself that I usually had to press down harder for it to go on. But I thought maybe she didn’t need to exert as much energy as I, being of superior strength and fitness. Now I realised we’d been driving around for up to two weeks without a radiator cap, letting things bubble and boil to the point of disaster.
During this time I’d complained to Rhi that the car “smelled funny”. She said it was the air conditioning. I said, “Air conditioning doesn’t smell like dirt and burny things.” But did I look into it further? Nooo.
“So there’s your problem,” NRMA dude said with a little grin.
“Umm. Why are there chicken feathers under your hood?” Jenny asked.
I peered closer and frowned. “Maybe we ran over a chicken somewhere along the line.”
“Empty radiator combined with BBQing chicken would explain the burning smell you mentioned,” said NRMA dude.
It was all rather humiliating. He got a bottle of water and topped up the radiator.
While Manuel gulped and sputtered in relief, I decided I had to try and redeem myself. “I know what you’re thinking, that I am a stupid woman driver who can’t do something as basic as keep her radiator cap on, but you have to know it wasn’t my fault!”
“Is that right?”
“I own this car with my sister, see. She’s never had a car before and the other day she was checking the oil and water and she was putting the cap back on and she asked me was it on properly and I said yep, yep but it looks like she didn’t put it on properly at all! Can you believe her? I mean how hard is to –”
“And you were supervising?”
“So why didn’t you check?”
“Because we were on our way out to lunch and I was hungry!”
“I really don’t think it’s fair to blame your sister.”
He topped up the radiator then we alln putted out to Philip to look for a radiator cap. It’s a suburb choked with car yards and petrol stations, but everything was either closed or cap-less. We were parked right next to a Ford dealership. There were dozens of Fords with Ford-y radiator caps just ripe to fit onto my own little Ford, but no Ford salesman around to help us.
“It’s a pity we can’t break in and steal one,” mused the NRMA dude.
“Well why don’t you?” I coaxed. “You have the tools!”
But no. In the end the only option was to limp back home with Jenny following me in case I broke down again.
“You’ll probably have to stop three or four times when the temperature gauge goes up, then fill ‘er up again and wait ten minutes before you go home,” NRMA dude explained. “Or if it dies, just call a tow truck.”
“Just be thankful you didn’t blow a head gasket!”
“Yes sir,” I said sheepishly.
It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, putting along and hoping the car wouldn’t explode. Miraculously, the gauge didn’t move at all.
Jenny drove in front of me and the NRMA guy followed behind. He’d said he had to go elsewhere, but ended up tailing us. Perhaps he didn’t trust my driving.
Finally we were back homen and I thanked the NRMA dude for his help. “Why is it whenever I call the NRMA it’s always something stupid?” I pondered. “On your TV ads it’s always high drama, like crumpled cars or people with their limbs on fire.”
“Heh,” said the NRMA dude.
“And your slogan, Call N-R-M-A For H-E-L-P. I think it should be Call N-R-M-A, You D-O-R-K.”
“Heh,” he said again. And off he went.
Jenny came bolting over from her car. “Did you see that? He was in behind you and I was in front of you! I was driving along thinking, ‘Woohoo! Shauna’s in a motorcade!”
“I know! A motorcade! I felt like JFK or something.”