1st - Yellow Van Man
By Matthew Roberts
“No ambulance. No bloody way. I'll die at home.”
“Dad, you’re not dying.”
He was. I still don’t know how he knew.
“If I’m going, I’ll go in the Commodore.”
“Dad, no one has weeded the Commodore in ages, let alone driven it.”
“Your mother loved that car. Always started for her.”
“And if it won’t start?”
Dad didn’t trust many people, but somehow if you drove a yellow van with blue writing on it your acts and words were unquestionable. So many family holidays paused while we waited in the sweltering bush or driving rain for Ken or Steve who would lift the bonnet and mumble in secret with Dad. That special language, which all too often included the shaking of heads and clicking of tongues.
He hated service centres and warranties; as adults we took to finding places for him but he’d always find fault somehow. Shysters. Bloody hopeless, the lot. Better to wait ’til it breaks down.
This yellow van man was called Geoff. He pulled a few plucky privet seedlings from the leaf litter at the base of the windscreen, then asked Dad to pop the bonnet. Dad pulled himself to his feet, ignoring my sister’s hand, then shuffled to the front, hand over hand on the possumpoo-splotched duco.
“The VS,” said Geoff. “One of the best.”
“Wasn’t it?”, Dad wheezed. “My wife gave up Corollas for this one.”
They stood there and stared at the engine in silence. Then Geoff lowered the bonnet without a word, smiled at my Dad and went to his van.
“What’s he going to do?” I asked Dad.
He looked at me half smiling, half something else.
“It’s had it. He’s getting the paperwork.”
Dad stuck to his guns, but in the end it was an ambulance that got him to hospital. When he came to he was livid.
“I said I’ll die at home!”
“No one has said you’re dying, Dad!”
“No, you’re right. No one has said it because no one has got the guts to.”
“The truth. You think I can’t read faces? I’m old but I'm not stupid.”
“The doctors said-”
“Yeah, yeah I know what they said. Wasn’t what their faces said”
“I’ve had it, son. Like the car. At least Geoff didn’t bullshit me. When it goes, it goes.”
I went round to his place after that, and finished what Geoff started.
I weeded the Commodore.
He wanted to be scattered at the Prom. We took my sister’s 2010 Outback. The only time it’d had trouble was when my nephews left the light on in the back row.
“Automatic lights-off function,” Dad had chortled while attaching jumper leads, “lights go off after 36 hours.”
Acts of toddler aside, the car never faltered.
We stopped at each of the places we could remember waiting for the RACV three decades ago. Seven times between Leongatha and Tidal River, my sister pulled over and killed the motor. We sat in silence mostly.
“Jacko,” my sister said suddenly at a clearing near Fish Creek.
“RACV guy’s name was Jacko when we broke down here. He had a glass eye-”
“-and a scar on his face, yeah.”
“Dad reckoned it was a war injury.”
“He was probably right.”
“It freaked me out. He pressed his nose against the window, to be funny I guess.”
“But it made you cry, I remember.”
“Dad laughed and told me not to be a cry-baby. But Jacko said sorry for upsetting me, and went and got lollipops for all of us.”
“Mum confiscated them the moment we were back on the road. Too sugary. She was ahead of her time, wasn't she?”
Down at Tidal River, coming back from the beach with an empty biscuit tin (“no bloody urn!”) my sister stopped.
“Here. We played breakdown trucks here.”
“Are you sure it was here?”
“Yep. You pretended to be Wacko Jacko and chased me into those bushes, remember?”
“Nope. Doesn't sound like me. I was a lovely big brother. Nope.”
I thought at first she was laughing at my hilarity, facing away from me.
She let me hug her though. First time in a long while.
My sister mumbled something through snot and polar fleece.
“What was that?”
“I said nothing bloody breaks down any more. Dad was right, we all live in denial because we don’t know what broken is. Six years I’ve had that car, six years I’ve paid my bloody membership. But the thing just keeps going. Never needed a Jacko or a Geoff. And next year I’ll pay again, and the year after that, and ...”
“Me too, sis. Me too.”
These days I drive a privet-loving, possumpoo-blessed 1996 VS Commodore.
When it goes, it goes.
That's why I’ll always be with RACV.